What is glycolic acid, and should you be using it?

Alyssa Tria
Shopping Editor
Glycolic Acid: what it is and why you need to use it this winter

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As a true skincare junkie and self-taught pimple-popping pro, I totally geek out on skincare science and new discoveries. But even with new and improved formulas and technologies hitting shelves, no ingredient could ever compare to how I hold glycolic acid. This magical active acid has been my pore-minimizing, acne and scar-clearing confidant for many years, leaving my skin smooth and bright and enhancing the look of my skin with and without makeup.

Falling under the alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) family, glycolic acid derives from sugarcanes. Best known for restoring the skin's radiance and luminosity, this water-soluble acid exfoliates the outermost layer of skin, the stratum corneum, eliminating debris, dead skin cells and excess sebum and preventing acne breakouts. As my gold standard for quickly eliminating stubborn hyperpigmentation and acne scarring, it also helps stimulate collagen production and elasticity.

Of course, like all other skincare ingredients, glycolic acid may not give you the same results as it gives me. Yes, it's great for quickly eliminating breakouts, but if you’re regularly dealing with hormonal cystic acne, you may want to layer glycolic acid with a BHA (beta hydroxy acids) like salicylic acid, which is oil-soluble and can deeply penetrate the blemish and tackle the problem head-on. But with that said, glycolic acid is super safe for all skin types, especially if you have oily and/or mature skin. 

So if you're experiencing either one or all of the following: enlarged pores, blackheads, hyperpigmentation and or fine lines, and now with winter upon us, dehydration, I highly suggest getting familiar with this superstar ingredient. To help you out, I've listed the best glycolic acid-infused skincare products on the market.

The Ordinary Peeling Solution

An effective 10-minute exfoliating solution made with 30 per cent glycolic acid, two per cent salicylic acid and Tasmanian Pepperberry to gently reveal a brighter and a more even complexion. To use: apply evenly across face and neck using fingertips, avoiding the eye area. Leave on for no more than 10 minutes and then rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water. 

The Ordinary Peeling Solution

Shop it: Amazon, $24

ExfoliKate Cleanser Daily Foaming Wash

This sulfate-free daily foaming cleanser contains AHAs and natural pineapple, pumpkin and papaya enzymes to purify without over-drying. “It's pricey but worth it. I feel like it seriously keeps my adult acne under control. I'm on my third tube and it usually lasts me about a year,” says one five-star review.

ExfoliKate Cleanser Daily Foaming Wash

Shop it: Nordstrom, $83


ISNTREE Clear Skin 8% AHA Essence

Powered by four per cent Glycolic acid and lactic acid, this essence is formulated to eliminate away dead skin cells, revealing a smoother and youthful complexion. After cleansing, use the essence as a primer to boost absorption and efficacy of the products applied as the next steps of your skincare routine. Great for sensitive skin, its also free of parabens, pigment, artificial fragrance, animal ingredients, surfactants, mineral oil, alcohol, silicone and fragrance.

ISNTREE Clear Skin 8% AHA Essence

Shop it: Soko Glam, $20 ($15 USD)


Pixi Glow Tonic

Pixi Glow Tonic



This bestselling cult-favourite toner gently accelerates cell renewal to reveal a brighter, glowing complexion. Skin tone is clearer, texture is smoother and more even. This alcohol-free formula gently tones and refines the appearance of pores & soothes for radiant, healthier-looking skin.

Shop it: Shoppers Drug Mart, $38


Vichy Normaderm Anti-Age: Anti-Imperfections, Anti-Wrinkle Resurfacing Care

Vichy Normaderm Anti-Age: Anti-Imperfections, Anti-Wrinkle Resurfacing Care



Vichy combines glycolic and lipo-hydroxy acids (LHA) with Vitamin C, that works as well on imperfections such as irregular texture, enlarged pores, dull complexion, as on wrinkles. This innovative skincare must-have also hydrates skin for up to 24 hours.

Shop it: beautyBOUTIQUE, $37


SKINFIX Resurface+ Glycolic Renewing Scrub

Formulated with both glycolic and lactic acid, this double-duty body peel and polish is designed to help slough off dead skin cells and leave a healthy, smooth glow while supporting natural cell turnover, reduces pigmentation, and brightens the appearance of the skin — smoothing out the look of rough, bumpy, and crepey skin, leaving it feeling soft.

SKINFIX Resurface+ Glycolic Renewing Scrub


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