Glycolic acid, an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) that’s derived from sugarcane, can be found in all sorts of products, from toners to washes to at-home peels. But one of the easiest ways to incorproate this ingredient into your routine is with a cleanser. Though the best glycolic acid cleanser for you will depend on your skin type and formula preference (oil, cream, foam, et cetera), they all work to mildly exfoliate skin and promote a clearer, smoother complexion.
Each of the cleansers below stands out in its own unique way. You’ll find an affordable, all natural formula, a Korean cleansing oil, a cleanser that doubles as a mask, and a few luxe splurges. Some are balanced out by other exfoliating ingredients, like salicylic acid, while others are super moisturizing. Scan this list to find the cleanser that feels best for you, but if you’re new to using glycolic acid, start by using your cleanser of choice only a few times a week. As your skin becomes more accustomed to the exfoliant, you can increase your usage to every other day or daily, depending on your skin type.
Scroll on to shop five of the best face washes with glycolic acid, all for $40 or less on Amazon.
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1. The Budget Buy
This sulfate-free cleanser from DERMA E is a safe, solid choice for most skin types. Made almost entirely of naturally derived ingredients, it contains glycolic acid for gentle exfoliation, skin-smoothing vitamin A, and antioxidant-rich papaya extract. Expect smoother, more luminous skin with this vegan and cruelty-free cleanser.
2. The Splurge
Murad’s AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser contains glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acids, so it’s a good choice for people with breakout-prone skin, since salicylic acid is one of the most effective acne-fighting ingredients out there. Despite this heady mix of acids, the formula is still relatively creamy and moisturizing, so it won’t leave your skin feeling stripped or tight. Rare for a skin care product, it has a 4.8-star average rating on Amazon.
3. The Cleanser That Doubles As A Mask
You can use CANE + AUSTIN’s Glycolic Acid Gelée Mask + Cleanser two ways: as a face wash, or as a treatment. Wash it off immediately to go the cleanser route, or leave it on for up to 10 minutes to give your skin a really deep, purifying clean. The brand suggests using it in the shower to amp up the pampering experience even further: Crank up the steam, slather on the mask, leave it on for a few minutes, et voila — smooth, radiant, even-looking skin.
4. The Cleansing Oil
If you swear by double cleansing or simply love cleansing oils, this is the rare oil-based cleanser that contains glycolic acid, let alone any exfoliating ingredients at all. Lactic acid is in here, too, for double the exfoliating power, while several plant-based oils — including jojoba oil — work to expertly remove makeup and leave skin feeling soft. It’s doesn’t contain any fragrance or sulfates, and it’s even capable of removing waterproof mascara with ease. Follow up with a water-based cleanser for best results.
5. The Body Wash
If you’re prone to body acne or rough, bumpy skin (like keratosis pilaris), you may want to consider using a glycolic acid body wash. Though this one isn’t exactly cheap, people really do swear by it — it’s a favorite of dermatologists, too. In addition to exfoliating glycolic acid, it also contains urea, another ingredient that’s known to be beneficial for treating bumpy, dry skin.
"Been using for over a year for my severe KP and it is the only thing that has worked!" raved one Amazon reviewer. Another wrote, "Amazing product. I have been using it for just over a month for my back acne and my back is almost flawless."
6. Editor’s Pick
My editor swears by ACURE’s Resurfacing Glycolic + Unicorn Root Cleanser. Not only does it look super fun, but it’s made with all natural ingredients and has a delightful, cream-to-foam consistency that leaves your skin feeling clean, but not stripped. You’ll find impressive-sounding ingredients like amethyst (!!!) and unicorn root in here, along with glycolic acid for exfoliation. Additionally, shea butter, glycerin, and jojoba esters provide a nice hit of moisture: The result is soft, bright skin. It’s sulfate-free, cruelty-free, and vegan, too.
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