The topc glycolic acid face wash products

The Top Glycolic Acid Face Wash Products for Amazing Exfoliation

Glycolic acid can help naturally exfoliate your skin, leave your skin looking refreshed and trigger changes in the dermis to even make you look younger. 

All of these benefits stem from the alpha hydroxy acid known as glycolic acid and you can get all of these benefits with certain washes.

Learn how to determine WHICH products are worth it and which aren't in this glycolic acid face wash guide: ​

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Why you Want Glycolic Acid in your Face Wash

Chances are high that you have already used some form of glycolic acid in your face washes without even knowing it!

And don't let the acid part of glycolic acid scare you, because in this sense it is extremely helpful for your skin.

Glycolic acid is part of a family of acids known as alpha hydroxy acids but which includes acids like lactic acid, glycolic acid, malic acid and others.

What's important here is that these acids have extremely beneficial effects on your skin.

Studies have been done to determine the exact benefits of these acids and have shown that glycolic acid and lactic acid tend to provide the MOST benefit with the LEAST amount of harm.

What do I mean by harm?

Well, because of the special properties which these alpha hydroxy acids possess they can cause some irritation, redness or swelling in certain people.

It turns out that glycolic acid (along with lactic acid) is probably the BEST tolerated while still providing you with extreme benefits.

What kind of benefits are we talking about?

#1. For starters glycolic acid has been shown to help reduce ​acne scars: 

Studies have shown that up to 45% of people who use glycolic acid notice an improvement in acne scars! 

You can see from the graph that almost everyone (except around 7% of people) noticed some kind of benefit in their acne scars ranging from mild improvement to very good improvement. 

glycolic acid and acne scars

​This type of improvement is amazing when you consider that the medical community thinks a prescription drug is good if it can help even 10% of people. 

What's even more amazing is that glycolic acid can be purchased over the counter in a cleanser (but you have to make sure you get a high enough concentration) and used at home.

Another important benefit is that you can get even better results if you increase the concentration of glycolic acid and use it as a chemical peel once a week. ​

​#2. Glycolic acid helps reduce hyperpigmentation and even skin tone. 

In addition to reducing acne scars, glycolic acid has been shown to improve pigmentary lesions and reduce hyperpigmentation. 

You can think of hyperpigmentation as changes to your skin color and tone that occur due to a variety of reasons including: acne, inflammation, rosacea, photodamage, etc. 

Studies have shown that over 50% of people who use glycolic acid noticed "good improvement" in their skin tone! ​

Glycolic acid and hyperpigmentation

Again, we aren't talking about a small number here - this is a HUGE improvement. 

But we aren't done yet:

Glycolic acid also has other benefits, one of the most important is its ability to exfoliate the skin.

Start around age 30-35 we naturally lose the ability to exfoliate our skin cells.

This leads to a "dulling" of the skin unless you either mechanically or chemically remove these skin cells.

Removing the excess skin cells in the epidermis leaves your skin looking refreshed and new and is REQUIRED if you want healthy and beautiful skin. ​

The entire list of glycolic acid benefits include: ​

  • Naturally exfoliates the upper layers of the epidermis leaving your skin looking fresh and clean
  • Helps reduce oil and sebum production
  • Helps promote collagen production and reduces fine lines and wrinkles
  • Helps directly treat acne, black heads and pimples by reducing oil production
  • Helps treat and prevent hormonal acne (especially if caused by PCOS or testosterone/androgens)

But, in order to get these benefits you must be using the right concentration and dose of glycolic acid. 

Purchasing a cheap and watered down glycolic acid will NOT lead to the desired results.

Below I will discuss the highest quality products that contain glycolic acid and other ingredients to naturally help improve your skin. ​

The Best Glycolic Acid Face Wash Products

You have two ways that you can use glycolic acid:

#1. Daily application with lower concentrations (in face wash, toners and other facial products)

#2. ​Once a week or once a month application in higher concentrations in chemical peels. 

In my opinion the best way to use glycolic acid is in small concentrations more frequently (preferably every day or 3-4x per week). 

Why?

Because higher concentrations like those found in chemical peels can potentially lead to peeling and irritation in certain people. 

The beautiful part is that you can really do both. 

You can start with a daily facial cleanser and then if you want further results you can purchase higher concentrations of glycolic acid and do a 5 minute chemical peel once a week. 

But for the purposes of this article we are going to focus on the best daily facial products that exist: 


#1. Overview of Jan Marini Skin Research Bioglycolic Face Cleanser

Overall Quality

Contains high concentrations of glycolic acid with non irritating inactive ingredients

Price

Moderate price range, but worth the splurge

Why I Love it

Works on a variety of skin types: normal, dry, oily, acne prone and sensitive

Why it works:

  • Contains: glycolic acid (to promote exfoliation and skin regeneration) and Sorbitol (which acts as a natural moisturizer)
  • Adequate concentrations of glycolic acid combined with non irritating inactive ingredients help soothe the skin while gently exfoliating. 

How to use it:

  • Gentle massage a small amount (dime size) into damp skin both morning and night. 
  • Start with once a day application for 7 days to make sure you tolerate the glyolic acid before using twice per day (morning and night)
Jan marini bioglycolic facial cleanser

This is my preferred brand if you don't know where to start. If you have oily skin, mature skin or aged skin you may need a stronger concentration.


#2. Overview of iS Clinical Cleansing Complex

Why it works:

  • ​Ingredients include: Willow bark extract (a natural and gentle exfoliator), sugar cane extract (natural and gentle form of glycolic acid to help reduce oil production)
  • This combination acts to provide your skin with natural forms of both salicylic acid and glycolic acid which help exfoliate the skin, reduce oil production and deep clean your pores without inflammation or irritation. 
  • This product also acts as both a toner and a make up remover which means you can save on other products and not have to risk reacting to these products (remember that a complete skin care line must include a toner)

How to use it:

  • This cleanser can be used in both the AM and the PM - I usually recommend starting with once a day usage (at night) and increasing to both morning and night if you need more of a boost. 
  • Can be combined with moisturizers but make sure you use the moisturizer AFTER the cleansing complex and only AFTER your skin is completely dry
  • I also recommend you combine this with active serum which naturally provides retinol and can seriously ramp up your skin care line. You can read more here
is clinical cleansing complex

This product is the best product for those with SENSITIVE skin. If you fall into that category jump straight into this complex because it is very light weight and won't cause irritation. 


#3. Anthony Glycolic Facial Cleanser

Overall Quality

Contains 5% glycolic acid with other anti inflammatory ingredients to nourish your skin

Price

Best price point of all high end glycolic cleansers

Why I Love it

Works best for those with very oily skin (adult onset acne, men, those with lots of black heads and those with acne prone skin)

Why it works:

  • Contains: Glycolic acid at 4.9% (to promote exfoliation,  calendula, chamile and aloe vera (to help provide moisture and nourish the skin) and Vitamin A, C & E (to provide protection and act as anti oxidants to reduce inflammation)
  • The combination of glycolic acid with anti inflammatory agents like natural vitamins helps to further reduce oil and cool down the skin. These combinations make this facial cleanser perfect for those who suffer from oily or acne prone skin. 

How to use it:

  • Apply a small amount to your hand and massage into your face in circular motions. Repeat daily in both the AM & the PM. 
  • Avoid use if you have sensitive skin (unless no other glycolic acid products are working for you). 
  • For acneic skin should be combined with a toner, retinol and Vitamin C serum for best benefits. 
anthony glycolic facial cleanser

Use this product if you have acne prone skin or skin with lots of oil production.


#4. Overview of Nu Derm Exfoderm & Exfoderm Forte

Overall Quality

Contains a combination of ingredients designed to both moisturize and exfoliate - should be used after cleansing and toning. 

Price

Highest price but backed by one of the best brands in the industry

Why I Love it

This product is NOT a facial cleanser but more of a moisturizing exfoliator and really helps for those with wrinkles and heavy skin damage. 

Why it works:

  • Contains alpha hydroxy acids (to promote skin regeneration and turnover), glycolic acid (to promote exfoliation), lactic acids (removes dead skin cells) and caprylic triglycerides (to gently moisturize). 
  • The combination of lactic and glycolic acid makes this moisturizer act more like a cleanser than a true moisturizer, but this extra step may be very beneficial for older more mature skin. 

How to use it:

  • Should be used in the AM (not the PM) and after cleansing, toning and the application of the Clear FX. 
  • This product adds another layer of complexity to the Obagi system but may not be necessary for every person
  • This product comes in two forms: Exfoderm Forte and Exfoderm -> the exfoderm forte is designed for people who have oily skin, whereas the exfoderm should be used for those with normal to dry skin types
Obagi nu derm exfoderm forte

Use exfoderm forte if you have oily or acneic skin at baseline. 

obagi nu derm exfoderm

Use this exfoderm if you have normal to dry skin at baseline. 

*Note: This is NOT a facial cleanser but acts more as a moisturizer that ALSO exfoliates. I recommend that you consider using this product if you have mature skin or if your primary goal is younger looking skin or anti-aging. 


#5. DDF Glycolic 5% Exfoliating Wash

Overall Quality

High concentration allows for deeper penetration into pores (part of the reason why it's great for males)

Price

Moderate price point of high end glycolic cleansers but one of the strongest in terms of ability

Why I Love it

Best option for MEN and great for those who tend to need STRONGER products and who don't have sensitive skin

Why it works:

  • Contains: Glyolic acid at 5%, Aloe vera (help moisturize the skin and improve skin penetration of glycolic acid), Vitamin E, Zinc & Magnesium (help reduce local inflammation and really reduce oil production)
  • The combination allows for deep pore cleansing which is why it is better suited for men. Glyolic acid helps exfoliate while zinc and magnesium help reduce oil production to prevent black heads and acne. Can still be used for women who suffer from adult onset acne or menstrual related acne

How to use it:

  • Because of the strength this product should only be used once daily. Using this product two times per day may result in changes to skin pH and acid mantle. 
DDF glycolic exfoliating wash

Men or women who suffer from hormonal or menstrual related acne should use this product FIRST. Avoid if you have sensitive skin. 


Other Tips to Consider when Buying a Glyolic Acid Face Wash

#1. Watch for the concentration. 

Remember that not all facial products are created equal.

In general, especially when it comes to facial products, you get what you pay for and you should NOT skimp on spending money on a facial cleanser.

Why?

Because chemicals placed on your skin do get absorbed transdermally and may low quality ingredients may cause issues or prematurely age you!

​Glycolic acid cleansers are no different. 

I recommend looking for a product with around 5% glycolic acid concentration (assuming you want to use daily).

Any higher concentration should be used for chemical peels only and should not be applied daily.

#2. Does the product contain other ingredients? 

Another point worth considering is the synergy of glycolic acid with other active ingredients.

Most skin care products (who know what they are doing) will combine anti inflammatory vitamins like C, E and A to the product to enhance the function of glycolic acid.

Adding other ingredients can help improve the quality and effectiveness of your cleanser.

Does that you mean you NEED to have other ingredients?

Not necessarily.

Especially if your other skin care products contain these ingredients.

Remember, too much of a good thing isn't always good.

Try to match your skin care regimen so that you don't overdo it with certain nutrients and vitamins. ​

#3. Do you have sensitive skin? 

​If you have sensitive skin make sure to start low and go slow!

​Glycolic acid is generally well tolerated but you should use caution if you have sensitive skin. 

If you fall into this category I recommend starting with a less frequent dosing schedule - something like every other day or 3-4x per week instead of each day.

It's possible to have sensitive skin but also suffer from acne and therefore you may need the stronger glycolic acid products.

If you fall into this category just make sure to listen to your skin and don't overdo it.

You will know that you've used too much if you start to develop redness or peeling. ​

#4. Are you more interested in looking younger or anti-aging? 

If you're looking for younger skin then glycolic acid is perfect for you!

That being said I recommend that you use products that are focused on this outcome.

Why?

Because anti-aging nutrients and vitamins differ from the basic ingredients in skin care lines.

If you are serious about anti-aging then the Obagi products are probably your best bet.

You can learn more about using the Obagi Nu derm system ​to make your skin look younger here

#5. ​Do you suffer from acne or oil production? 

Acne, oil production and black heads - these are serious issues and glycolic acid can help.

Just realize that if you want to treat acne with a cleanser you will need a heavy duty cleanser with at least 5% glycolic acid.

Another trick is to find products targeted towards men (like the last product on my list).

Why?

Because these products are meant to be absorbed deep into your pores and contain ingredients like Zinc which reduce androgen influence on your skin cells.

​Back to you

Have you been using glycolic acid face wash products? 

Are they working for you?

Why or why not?

Leave your comment below so that we can find the BEST products out there! 

Kat Rich

Hi! I'm Kat and I write these posts. I'm obsessed with eyebrows, hair and anything related to fitness. Right now I do microblading, 3d brows and semi-permanent eyebrows in Mesa, Arizona as a certified microblading artist. I'm a licensed cosmetologist and have been for over 10 years as well. I love experimenting with new products and love to share my experiences. Have questions? Leave them below!

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