I have to admit: I'm not one to stray too far outside my well-honed skincare routine, and I barely ever read about the ingredients that help keep my face clear and protected. It was only recently—and I won't admit how recent—that I learned about alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids, and even then, I was still weary about switching things up. That was until I learned about a certain alpha hydroxy acid that's been generating its fair share of attention: glycolic acid. "It's used as a chemical exfoliant," Dendy Engelman, MD, a dermatologic surgeon, says. Glycolic acid, which is derived from sugarcane, is the smallest acid in size, so it's the molecule that can get deep into the skin."
Don't worry, this isn't going to turn into a science exam about your pores, or even a pop quiz on all of the acid-related knowledge I can share. If anything, the basis behind how glycolic acid works can be summed up quickly, thanks to Dendy's straightforward explanation: "Chemical exfoliants work to break down cellular bonds so that dead skin cells can be removed from the top layer of the skin," she says. "Glycolic acid weakens the lipids that bond the top layer together, removing dull and dead skin cells."
Glycolic acid makes it possible for skin to stay hydrated and smooth because it "boosts collagen production and elastin production with the removal of waste and dead skin cells," Dendy notes. Therefore, it's an ideal ingredient to introduce into your skincare routine, even if you're a creature of habit like me. We've asked Dendy to recommend five glycolic acid toners worth a small adjustment, which she says should be used once to twice a week before becoming a daily habit. And since it's easy to try something new with a little extra support, we've also gathered the recommendations of Sephora and Dermstore reviewers, too.
"This toner has 2% glycolic acid concentration, so it's gentle for sensitive skin," Dendy says.
"This toner has an 8% concentration and combines witch hazel to soothe and exfoliate," she continues.
"This botanical-rich, alcohol-free toner helps keep pores from clogging by removing excess surface oil and dead skin cells," Dendy explains. "It features an exclusive alpha hydroxy (AHA) formulation, including glycolic acid, to gently exfoliate layers of dead cells, revealing vital skin underneath."
Dendy recommends this product because it "contains 8% glycolic acid," she notes.
"This contains lactic, glycolic, citric, and malic acid," Dendy notes. "Each acid is a natural, alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) derived from bilberry extract, sugar cane extract, sugar maple extract, and citrus extracts that provide mild exfoliation. They help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and enhance skin texture."
And Now, Our Top Five Based on Stellar Reviews
"This toner has worked wonders for my combination and acne-prone skin. I've been using it consistently for about a month and it has completely eradicated the stubborn comedones I had on my cheeks and chin. While it has an astringent feeling, it is non-drying and leaves the skin very refreshed." — Kerrann, a Sephora reviewer
"Never have I used a toner that left my skin refreshed and hydrated, yet removed all that excess oil and deep-cleansed my pores. This is pure magic. I use it every night for a deep-clean treatment following DERMAdoctor Ain't Misbehavin' Cleanser." — BeautyJunkie94, a Sephora reviewer
"I have sensitive, oily, acne-prone skin, and this toner has been great so far. I love the exfoliation it provides!" — LF, a Dermstore reviewer
"This toner makes my face feel clean and gets rid of whatever may be on it, but it doesn't have that strong burn like some toners do. I really like it." — ME, a Dermstore reviewer
"This toner is non-drying and evens out my complexion very well. It is a vital part of my day and night skin routine." — AV, a Dermstore reviewer