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Glycolic acid reigns supreme in the skincare world—it's a favorite among dermatologists, skincare experts, and Byrdie editors alike for its litany of benefits. The alpha-hydroxy acid is an excellent chemical exfoliant, great at dissolving dead skin cells that can lead to clogged pores and a generally lackluster appearance, but has wrinkle-fighting benefits, too. "Glycolic acid is a must," comments Renée Rouleau, celebrity esthetician, and Byrdie's go-to skincare guru. "It chemically nixes the cell buildup that leads to clogged pores and blemishes, and it's also an anti-aging mainstay."
There’s no shortage of different ways to incorporate the superstar ingredient into your routine, but toner is arguably the easiest. Come bedtime, wash your face, then simply apply it all-over, before any serum or moisturizer. Yep, it’s as simple as that.
Ready to try one? Read on for our favorite glycolic acid toners.
Best Overall: SkinCeuticals Conditioning Toner
Byrdie Associate Editor Holly Rhue vouches for the efficacy of this fan favorite, a top pick for those with normal to oily skin. It touts both glycolic acid and salicylic acid, a dynamic duo that easily smooths, brightens, and purifies pores. Bonus points for the addition of eucalyptus oil, which makes for a delightfully cleansing and refreshing feel.
Runner-Up, Best Overall: Peter Thomas Roth 8% Glycolic Solutions Toner
This earns our vote for offering one of the highest concentrations of glycolic acid of any product on this list, great for glycolic acid veterans who are looking to up their game. But don’t worry, despite the potency, calming allantoin, aloe, and chamomile in the formula offset the likelihood of any irritation or redness. We also like the pump-top applicator, which makes it easy to dispense just the right amount of product.
Best Budget: The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
We do a double-take every time we look at the price tags of any product from this brand, and this toner is no exception. Like the other offerings, it focuses on a singular star ingredient—in this case, it’s (obviously) glycolic acid at a powerful 7% concentration. And while that’s the star of the show, it’s paired with amino acids, ginseng, and aloe vera for extra radiance-boosting and skin-soothing.
Best Drugstore: Pixi Glow Tonic
A hero product for both the brand and a team Byrdie staple, this formula is lauded as much for the affordable price tag as it is for the effective-yet-gentle formula. Glycolic acid is balanced out with soothing aloe and ginseng, which increases circulation for further glow-enhancing effects. It leaves your complexion clear and radiant, without any unwanted redness or uncomfortable tingling sensation.
What Our Testers Say
"After a month of use, I do feel like my skin looks brighter and clearer, and I think the dark spots are clearing up, too." — Adam Hurly, Product Tester
Best for Combination Skin: Mario Badescu Glycolic Acid Toner
Aloe vera is a naturally derived ingredient known for its soothing and moisturizing properties. The aloe plant's inner gel mucilage (the part that's used in skin care products) is made up of 99.5% water.
As a general rule of thumb, glycolic acid is a great ingredient for all skin types, but if your complexion is both oily and dry, this particular toner is worth trying. With a lower, 2% concentration of glycolic acid, there’s no risk of it irritating dry spots even more so given the fact that it’s coupled with hydrating aloe.
Best for Dry Skin: Reviva Labs Glycolic Acid Facial Toner
Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring polysaccharide found in the human body. It acts as a cushioning and lubrication agent for our joints, nerves, hair, skin, and eyes. When used in skincare, it acts as a moisture binder, which means that it will attach itself to the water in the cells (while also attracting and holding water from the air) making them plump.
Sure, toners are more often associated with oily skin types, but that doesn’t have to be the case. The right formula (AKA this one) can be super effective for dry skin, too. Fun fact: Glycolic acid actually has some subtle hydrating effects, and here it’s combined with ultra-hydrating hyaluronic acid and aloe vera, too.
Best Splurge: Glamglow Supertoner Exfoliating Acid Solution Toner
The brand’s first-ever toner comes in hot and is worth every penny. Glycolic acid is just one component of a six-acid blend that offers impressive exfoliation, while astringent witch hazel and detoxifying charcoal clear gunk and grime from pores. It also absorbs quickly into the skin, without leaving behind any tacky or sticky residue.
The contents of this toner can separate as it settles, so make sure to give the bottle a thorough shake before you use it.
Best Brightening: Bolden Brightening Glycolic Acid Toner
No matter whether you’re looking to fade dark marks caused by sun damage, leftover acne scarring, or who the heck knows what, this formula gets the job done. That’s because yes, it contains exfoliating glycolic acid, but there are also some highly-effective additional brightening ingredients in the mix. Namely, niacinamide, licorice root extract, and algae extract, which has the added benefit of also being a powerfully protective antioxidant.
Best for Acne-Prone Skin: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Clarifying Solution Acne Toner
Those dealing with breakouts should definitely consider adding a toner into their routine; it’s a simple way to both give the skin a bit of a more thorough cleanse while also reaping the exfoliating benefits. This one is ideal for acne-prone skin—it's oil-free and combines glycolic acid with oil-dissolving salicylic acid to further ward off clogged pores, blackheads, and whiteheads.
Best Natural: Evolve Beauty Rainforest Rescue Blemish Serum
Made with 100% natural and 64% organic ingredients, there are no potentially worrisome chemicals to be found in this formula. Safe for all skin types, it combines glycolic acid with fruit-based acids—malic acid from apples and citric acid from citrus fruits—along with salicylic acid, too. The subtle fragrance is natural, too, as is even the preservative, an ingredient derived from sugar cane.
Best Exfoliating: Glossier Solution
This standout is so good, it even got Byrdie Senior Editor Hallie Gould (a devotee to a much pricier toner) to convert. Credit a trifecta of different acids—AHAs (including glycolic and lactic), BHA, and PHAS, a very gentle type of acid—all of which work together to dissolve cells and improve the texture, tone, and feel of your skin. Plus, despite how well it exfoliates, it’s still gentle enough for everyday use, thanks to the addition of soothers such as niacinamide and glycerin.
What Our Testers Say
"Spots that felt rough or bumpy were smoother, and the blackheads around my nose started to disappear. By the end of the four weeks, my complexion was a lot less dull and looked overall much healthier and radiant." — Jenna Igneri, Product Tester
Best Spray: CosRX AHA/BHA Treatment Toner
Spray-on toners are the jam when it comes to easy applications—there are no cotton pads required, simply spritz wherever needed, anytime, anywhere. This particular mist is yet another formulation that offers that powerhouse pairing of glycolic acid with beta hydroxy acids to help refine pores and texture and keep excess oil at bay. On that note, this one is also great for hard-to-reach spots on the body that are also prone to breakouts (like your back and chest).
Glycolic acid earns a spot in pretty much everyone’s skincare routine, and incorporating it via a toner is one of the easiest ways to do so. There are options to fit every skin type and need, though both the SkinCeuticals Conditioning Toner and Pixi Glow Tonic are universal team Byrdie faves. If brightening is your goal, try the Bolden Brightening Glycolic Acid Toner. If you’re battling blemishes, consider an option that pairs glycolic acid with salicylic acid. Both the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Micro-Exfoliating Astringent and the CosRX AHA/BHA Clarifying Toner fits the bill.