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The day I learned about the versatile glory of glycolic acid toners was the day my skin went from "eh" to "damn, girl." Skin-health experts agree that out of all the hundreds of buzzy skincare ingredients on the market, glycolic acid can always be trusted to keep breakouts, wrinkles, dullness, and congested skin at bay.
"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 are several ways to incorporate glycolic acid into your routine—skincare brands work the stuff into their cleaners, lotions, serums, and peels—but one of our favorite ways to exfoliate is with glycolic acid toners. It's simple: You wash your face at night with a gentle cleanser, apply one of these glycolic acid toners with a toning pad (Rouleau's are my favorite), then follow up with your favorite serum and moisturizer. Couldn't be simpler. Especially since we rounded up the best glycolic acid toners on the market for every skin type.
Read on to find the right glycolic acid toner for you.
This cute and affordable skincare gem has been a Byrdie go-to for years, especially for those of us with temperamental skin. Just ask our former assistant editor Erin, who says, "Although it does offer a power-packed dose of exfoliating glycolic acid, it's gently balanced with other glow-intensifying ingredients like aloe vera and ginseng to keep the skin calm and clear, never red and angry. Simply put, it can't be beat."
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.
This tried-and-true glycolic acid toner is what Byrdie editors with combo skin types reach for when all else fails. Its 2% glycolic acid concentration means it's gentle enough to use every day, especially since the formula is packed with soothing aloe vera.
Lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid that works to exfoliate the skin. Its molecule is slightly larger than glycolic acid, meaning it works a bit slower and doesn't penetrate the skin's outermost layer as easily.
I once had the feeling of AHA's described to me as a "tolerable tingle"—enough of a zing to tell you it's working, but not so much that you feel like your face is going to melt off. With its double-duty combination of glycolic and lactic acids, a tolerable tingle is exactly what this trusty pick from DermaDoctor offers.
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.
Dry skin types, this one's for you: Though the product will definitely exfoliate you to glowy goodness, it's also formulated with hyaluronic acid and aloe vera to make sure your skin is soothed and moisturized.
SK-II is one of the Byrdie team's favorite high-end lines (and if you've ever given its famed sheet masks a try, you know why). The luxury Japanese brand pays top dollar to ensure its formulas are effective and proprietary, and this brightening toner is no exception. AHAs combine with "Pitera," an ingredient unique to SK-II that's rich in amino acids, vitamins, and organic acids to give the skin an extra dose of exfoliation. The product is also fragrance-, alcohol-, and animal cruelty–free.