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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: 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 likely less risk of it irritating dry spots even more so given the fact that it’s coupled with hydrating aloe.
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 meant 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, meant to increase 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 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: AHAs like Glycolic acid actually have 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 promises impressive exfoliation, while astringent witch hazel and detoxifying charcoal are meant to 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 meant 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 meant 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 fit the bill.
What to Look For in a Glycolic Acid Toner
When it comes to choosing a glycolic acid toner, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner first recommends looking into the concentration of glycolic acid in the product. “The higher the concentration, the greater the amount of acid in the product itself,” he says—and the greater the amount of acid in the product, the more potent (and potentially irritating) it will be. If you’re new to skincare acids, try starting at a concentration below 8%, but once you’ve built up a tolerance, a concentration between 8% and 10% will deliver visible results.
Another important factor Dr. Zeichner says to keep in mind is the pH of the product itself. “The lower the pH, the more potent of an effect it will have on the skin in terms of exfoliation,” he says. “At the same time, the lower the pH, the harsher the effect will be on the skin.” Acid toners with a pH of around 2 are generally quite effective, and it’s important to note that they won’t be very effective at a pH above 4.
Because glycolic acid can be on the harsher side, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley King recommends looking for a toner that contains hydrating ingredients. “Look for products that combine glycolic acid with lactic acid, as this is a great combination that gently exfoliates and hydrates the skin,” she says. “Lactic acid is an AHA that also has humectant properties.” In addition to lactic acid, she says that aloe vera, glycerin, and chamomile are other great hydrating or skin-calming ingredients to look out for.
Meet the Expert
• Renée Rouleau is a celebrity esthetician and the founder of her eponymous skincare brand, Renée Rouleau Skin Care.
• Dr. Joshua Zeichner, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and the Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
• Dr. Hadley King, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in medical and cosmetic dermatology. She is also a clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.