The 12 Best Glycolic Acid Cleansers According to Dermatologists

best glycolic acid cleansers
The Balance

When it comes to skincare, it's safe to say that no treatment is universal. But who would want that anyway? We love creating rituals that are unique to our skin and self-care needs. But there is one well-known wonder product that does claim to suit all skin types and concerns: glycolic acid. It's the closest thing we've found to a one-stop solution. 

What Is Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid is a colorless, odorless crystalline solid that is highly soluble in water. It is a common ingredient in many skincare products, especially chemical peels, due to its strong acidity and ability to penetrate skin.

I'm always particularly cautious when applying anything to my face with acid in its name, but after learning more about the glycolic variety, I have embraced it with open arms. It is known as an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and is extra effective at getting deep into our pores. The compound is produced in plants as they photosynthesize, so we also consume it frequently in our food.

Glycolic acid acts as a mild irritant in small quantities, helping to loosen dead skin cells and reveal the healthy dermis underneath. It also stimulates the production of collagen and elastin. Many dermatologists and aestheticians recommend it for all skin types because it will help to heal your skin.

We consulted with Jennifer Herrmann, an MD at MFC Dermatology, and Gregory Dylan of Gregory Dylan Beauty for product recommendations. Find what fits your needs among the selections below.

Meet the Expert

  • Gregory Dylan is a skincare expert and owner of Gregory Dylan Skincare. Gregory is a licensed esthetician and makeup artist as well as a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and Christine Valmy International School of Aesthetics.
  • Jennifer Herrmann is a board-certified, fellowship-trained dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon based in Beverly Hills. With a degree from Harvard Medical School, Jennifer specializes in skin cancer prevention, facial reconstructive surgery, laser treatment, and facial rejuvenation.
Skin + Pharmacy Anti-aging Glycolic Cream Cleanser
Skin + Pharmacy Advanced Anti-aging Therapy Glycolic Cream Cleanser $12

“I love the creamy texture of this cleanser and how it brightens and softens without overdrying and stripping. And at this price, it’s gentle on the wallet, too!” — Gregory Dylan

Replenix Acne Glycolic Acid Cleanser
Replenix Acne Solutions Gly/Sal Cleanser $26

“This is a great option for dull and acne-prone skin with a mix of salicylic and glycolic acids that help lift dead skin and gently exfoliate.” — Jennifer Herrmann

Peter Thomas Roth Glycolic Acid Cleanser
Peter Thomas Roth 3% Glycolic Solutions Cleanser $38

“The holy grail of glycolic cleansers, PTR delivers another acid-based cleanser that checks the boxes for all skin types. Addresses pores, texture, tone, and fine lines while conditioning with Panthenol, making it a truly versatile must-have cleanser!” — Gregory Dylan

Nip + Fab Glycolic Cleanser
Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Cleanser $6

“An effective cleanser that deep-cleans pores and purifies oily skin types, this works to banish breakouts while improving skin tone and all at a budget price.” — Gregory Dylan

Neutrogena Naturals Purifying Facial Glycolic Acid Cleanser
Neutrogena Naturals Purifying Facial Cleanser $8

“This is a great natural option excellent for sensitive skin as it lacks chemicals like parabens, dyes, sulfates, and phthalates.” — Jennifer Herrmann

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Glycolic Acid Cleanser
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Acne Face Wash Gel $15

“Two percent salicylic acid cuts oil and helps exfoliate, but it leaves skin smooth and cool due to its glycerin and menthol.” — Jennifer Herrmann

Dr. Gross Glycolic Acid Cleansing Gel
Dr. Gross Alpha-Beta Pore Perfecting Cleansing Gel $38

“This glycolic cleanser gets a supercharged performance with a team effort from its counterparts, mandelic acid and willow bark, for an effective and even exfoliation. Love the added ingredients that help to bind moisture and inhibit bacteria growth. Dr. Gross always nails it!” — Gregory Dylan

DNA Renewal Glycolic Acid Cleanser
DNA Renewal Foaming Gel Cleanser $42

“This is made with glycolic acid for gentle non-abrasive exfoliation to help remove dead skin cells and fade dark spots and hyperpigmentation for an even, brighter complexion.” — Jennifer Herrmann

Caviar and Cashmere Glycolic Acid Cleanser
Caviar and Cashmere HydraLuxe Creme $88

“Contains a light willow bark precursor of salicylic acid to help lightly lift dead skin. Added hyaluronic acid and the exclusion of sulfates help this cleanser keep skin clear without ever overdrying or overstripping.” —Jennifer Herrmann

Burt’s Bees Acne Glycolic Acid Cleanser
Burt’s Bees Natural Acne Solutions Purifying Gel Cleanser $8

“This is a light option with 1% salicylic acid. Its beetroot and evening primrose extracts can help calm sensitive skin.” — Jennifer Herrmann

Related Stories