12 Best Glycolic Acid Cleansers (Tested & Reviewed for 2023)

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1

Best Overall Glycolic Acid Cleanser

Dermalogica Daily Glycolic Cleanser Face Wash

Daily Glycolic Cleanser Face Wash

1

Best Overall Glycolic Acid Cleanser

Dermalogica Daily Glycolic Cleanser Face Wash

Cons
  • Bottle doesn’t disclose the glycolic acid percentage outright

“Low and slow” is my skincare mantra these days, and Dermalogica just gets it with this low-potency Daily Glycolic Cleanser. It uses three percent glycolic acid that’s gentle enough to be non-irritating (in fact, Dr. Saedi approves it for sensitive skin) but potent enough to breathe life into dull and dry skin like mine, gradually lightening those persistent dark spots that have haunted me through the years. Just note you’ll have to use it v consistently to see results.

  • Size: 5.1 fl oz
  • Format: Gel
  • Skin types: Combination, oily, dry, sensitive, dull

Glowing customer review: “This is my go-to cleanser for everyday use. It makes my skin look so bright and even. I struggle with texture and unevenness the most so I love that this cleanser actually helps so much with brightening and smoothing everything out!”

2

Best Drugstore Glycolic Acid Cleanser

L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives 3.5% Pure Glycolic Acid Cleansing Gel

Revitalift Derm Intensives 3.5% Pure Glycolic Acid Cleansing Gel

2

Best Drugstore Glycolic Acid Cleanser

L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives 3.5% Pure Glycolic Acid Cleansing Gel

Now 16% Off

Cons
  • Contains sulfates, which may be drying for certain skin types

As someone who studies the beauty aisle for a literal living, finding a drugstore face wash starring glycolic acid is straight-up rare. That’s why I’m hooked on recommending this one, featuring a 3.5 percent glycolic acid concentration, leaning towards the lower end of the derm-recommended spectrum. In addition to glycolic acid, this cleanser contains with soothing aloe extract and exfoliating salicylic acid, The latter is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that not only clears dead skin cells, but also dives into pores to rid them of oil and debris, thus preventing breakouts.

  • Size: 6.7 fl oz
  • Format: Gel
  • Skin types: Acne-prone, oily, combo

Glowing customer review: “This is the second tube I’m using. The very first time I used it, I noticed a considerable difference in my skin. My skin texture became soft, smooth, and looked clean overall. Two of my co-workers noticed difference over time.”

3

Best Glycolic Acid Cleanser for Dry, Flaky Skin

Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser

AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser

3

Best Glycolic Acid Cleanser for Dry, Flaky Skin

Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser

Pros
  • Uses chemical and physical exfoliators to buff away flakes and rough texture

Dry skin struggles? Been there. Skipping the nitty-gritty details of my flaky winter skin woes, occasional exfoliation has proven to be a game-changer. When dead skin cells build up over time, it becomes harder for hydrating ingredients to absorb and do their job. Enter this creamy Murad face wash, which boasts a trio of chemical exfoliants (including glycolic, lactic, and mandelic acids) and tiny jojoba beads for a lil physical exfoliation too. As promised, you’re covered in the nourishment department, too, with hydrating sodium PCA.

  • Size: 6.75 fl oz
  • Format: Cream
  • Skin types: Dry, combo, oily, dull

Glowing customer review: “I’ve been using this a few times a week and it keeps my skin glowing without being harsh or drying. May seem expensive but you only need a little dime-sized shmear. At 54 years old, people always ask what I use and compliment my skin. Thank you, Murad!”

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4

Best Glycolic Acid Cleanser for Wrinkles

Derma-E Anti-Wrinkle Cleanser

Anti-Wrinkle Cleanser

4

Best Glycolic Acid Cleanser for Wrinkles

Derma-E Anti-Wrinkle Cleanser

Now 24% Off

Cons
  • May be drying due to the presence of multiple actives

Derma-E meant business when they dubbed this the “anti-wrinkle” cleanser. The formula doesn’t hold back, leveraging the exfoliating prowess of glycolic acid (no surprises there) and incorporating my second favorite skincare ingredient: retinol. Quick FYI: Retinol is proven to kickstart cell turnover and expedite collagen production, helping to smooth out fine lines and wrinkles with consistent use.

  • Size: 6 fl oz
  • Format: Gel
  • Skin types: Dry, combo, oily, acne-prone

Glowing customer review: “Been using this for a few months and I love it! I’ve seen a little improvement to my creases and under eye area. I’m 23 so I don’t need anything too powerful for my ‘wrinkles’, just a little something as a preventive measure. I feel like this does the job of minimizing those pesky little creases in my face while also cleansing my skin without drying it out.”

5

Best Foaming Glycolic Acid Cleanser

Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Cleanser

ExfoliKate Cleanser

5

Best Foaming Glycolic Acid Cleanser

Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Cleanser

Now 45% Off

The first time I used this cleanser I was fascinated by its transforming texture. A mere pea-sized amount of the creamy green paste transforms into a gentle foam. IMO, the minimal amount of product needed to cleanse your face justifies the higher price tag. As for the formulation, it uses triple exfoliation with glycolic and lactic acids, fruit enzymes, and natural silica beads for physical exfoliation. The result is skin that feels shockingly soft and baby-smooth.

  • Size: 4 oz
  • Format: Cream
  • Skin types: Dry, combo, oily, acne-prone

Glowing customer review: “I’ve used this face wash almost everyday for 2 years and it’s done me justice. From the very first time I used it to even now, my skin is noticeably brighter, softer, and I’ve never had major breakouts while using it. It does its job so well I’ve been able to minimize my skin care routine to just cleansing, moisturizing, face oil, and a weekly mask.”

6

Best Powerful Glycolic Acid Cleanser

Botanic Tree Glycolic Acid Face Wash

Glycolic Acid Face Wash

6

Best Powerful Glycolic Acid Cleanser

Botanic Tree Glycolic Acid Face Wash

It’s no secret that this glycolic acid face wash is one of the most popular picks on Amazon. It contains 10 percent glycolic acid, which, by now, you know, is certainly on the high end, but recommended by Dr. Henry for those with oily skin. It’s also got salicylic acid for deeper exfoliation, glycerin for hydration, and a medley of nourishing ingredients such as seaweed extract and shea butter to cushion its exfoliating effects.

  • Size: 6 fl oz.
  • Format: Gel
  • Skin types: Oily, combo, acne-prone, dull

Glowing customer review: “After even the first use my skin felt softer, renewed, and notably fresher. I have somewhat sensitive skin, so per instructions, I’ll only use 2-3x per week. I did notice using it 2 days in a row made my cheeks pink, so it’s not an everyday product for me, but I love it. Add it to your weekly skincare mix if you feel like your complexion is lackluster.”

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7

Best Multitasking Glycolic Acid Cleanser

Glow Recipe Blueberry Bounce Gentle Face Cleanser

Blueberry Bounce Gentle Face Cleanser

7

Best Multitasking Glycolic Acid Cleanser

Glow Recipe Blueberry Bounce Gentle Face Cleanser

Cons
  • Contains added fragrance which may be irritating for some skin types

I’m a sucker for the deliciously enticing offerings from Glow Recipe, and the brand’s Blueberry Bounce gel cleanser is no exception. It melts off the day’s makeup, exfoliates with glycolic acid, hydrates with hyaluronic acid, and protects against environmental aggressors with blueberry extract. But my fave thing about it is that it doubles as a clarifying mask. Dr. Saedi recommends leaving it on for five minutes to “maximize absorption” before washing it off to find practically poreless skin.

  • Size: 5.41 fl oz.
  • Format: Gel
  • Skin types: Combo, oily, dry

Glowing customer review: “I wish I had taken a before and after picture! This makeup remover/face wash made an immediate difference on my skin after even just the first wash. I had taken a break from wearing makeup for almost 5 years, then I began wearing makeup again but my face did not react well. I tried other face washes but they didn’t improve my skin. This one worked immediately!”

8

Best Glycolic Acid Cleanser for Oily Skin

Innisfree Volcanic Pore Clearing Facial Cleanser with AHA + BHA

Volcanic Pore Clearing Facial Cleanser with AHA + BHA

8

Best Glycolic Acid Cleanser for Oily Skin

Innisfree Volcanic Pore Clearing Facial Cleanser with AHA + BHA

Cons
  • Too strong/harsh for dry or sensitive skin types

Don’t be fooled by this glycolic acid cleanser’s fluffy, lightweight texture; this bb means business. It uses salicylic acid to dissolve gunk and excess oil in pores, little volcanic clusters to absorb any lingering oil, plus a blend of lactic and glycolic acid to nix dead cells and smooth the surface of your skin. It’s truly the perfect choice for anyone with super oily skin that’s prone to clogged pores and blackheads.

  • Size: 5.07 fl oz
  • Format: Foam
  • Skin types: Oily

Glowing customer review: “It’s so perfect for oily skin! It’s the first product that showed significant results within just a couple days. It lathers very nicely, you don’t need a lot of product. A new staple in my skincare routine.”

9

Best Glycolic Acid Cleanser for Acne-Prone Skin

Hero Cosmetics Clear Collective Exfoliating Jelly Cleanser

Clear Collective Exfoliating Jelly Cleanser

9

Best Glycolic Acid Cleanser for Acne-Prone Skin

Hero Cosmetics Clear Collective Exfoliating Jelly Cleanser

Cons
  • Contains dissolving konjac jelly beads that some shoppers deem unnecessary

When Hero Cosmetics (the brand behind my fave pimple patches) launched skincare, I legit raced to scoop up this transforming jelly-to-foam cleanser. It addition to glycolic acid it uses a second type of AHA called mandelic acid to dissolve dead skin cells and lighten any post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation from old breakouts. The formula also has willow bark extract to clear your pores and prevent breakouts too. And can we talk about the aesthetically pleasing bottle? I’m one of many Amazon shoppers who think it doubles as decor.

  • Size: 5 fl oz
  • Format: Gel
  • Skin types: Acne-prone, combo, dry, sensitive

Glowing customer review: “My dark spots and breakouts are fading and I could scream with how happy that makes me. My skin did a literal 360 after using this line. I highly recommend and hope it can help others like it’s helped me!”

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10

Best Glycolic Acid Cleanser for Dull Skin

SkinCeuticals Glycolic Renewal Gel Cleanser

Glycolic Renewal Gel Cleanser

10

Best Glycolic Acid Cleanser for Dull Skin

SkinCeuticals Glycolic Renewal Gel Cleanser

Cons
  • Some testers said it made their skin red and tingly

This top-rated cleanser delivers a potent exfoliating punch with 8 percent glycolic acid, working overtime to brighten dull skin and smooth texture by shedding dead skin cells. It’s a reliable choice for those already well-acquainted with the ingredient or looking to get their oily skin in check. Dr. Henry advises 5 to 10 percent for oily or dull skin, stressing how regular exfoliation keeps skin looking clear and glowy.

  • Size: 5 fl oz
  • Format: Gel
  • Skin types: Dull, oily, combo

Glowing customer review: “Absolutely love this. I have uneven skin (bumpy/uneven texture) AND dry skin, and my dermatologist recommended this. I’ve been using it for a year and will never change. It smooths out my skin and doesn’t dry it out like washes with benzoyl peroxide.”

11

Best Glycolic Acid Cleansing Oil

Hanskin Pore Cleansing Oil AHA

Pore Cleansing Oil AHA

11

Best Glycolic Acid Cleansing Oil

Hanskin Pore Cleansing Oil AHA

Cons
  • Some reviewers said they needed to follow up with a second foam-based cleanser to get their face to feel fully clean

Few things are more satisfying than watching my makeup melt away with a cleansing oil—especially this multitasking formula from Hanskin. Jojoba and sunflower seeds oils gently dissolve face, eye, and lip makeup (even the waterproof kind), while glycolic and lactic acids help smooth the surface of your skin and leave your skin look bright and glowy.

  • Size: 10.14 fl oz
  • Format: Oil
  • Skin types: Dry, combo, oily, acne-prone

Glowing customer review: I’ve used other oil cleansers/ balms before and they broke me out or just left my skin very clammy. This cleanser is very lightweight and easy to wash off, leaving my skin super soft and moisturized. It is great for taking off sunscreen and makeup; it gets brownie points for not breaking me out and lasting a really long time.”

12

Best Clean Beauty Glycolic Acid Cleanser

Alpyn Beauty Creamy Bubbling Cleanser with Fruit Enzymes and AHAs

Creamy Bubbling Cleanser with Fruit Enzymes and AHAs

12

Best Clean Beauty Glycolic Acid Cleanser

Alpyn Beauty Creamy Bubbling Cleanser with Fruit Enzymes and AHAs

Cons
  • Contains essential oils that may irritate sensitive skin types

If you’re into clean beauty, look no further than this plant-based glycolic acid cleanser from Alpyn Beauty. It’s got glycolic acid (of course) as well as gentle exfoliating enzymes, hydrating hyaluronic acid, and brightening vitamin C. What you won’t find in the formula? Any potentially questionable ingredients, like synthetic fragrance or dyes, phthalates, and parabens.

  • Size: 4 fl oz.
  • Format: Cream
  • Skin types: Oily, combo, dry

Glowing customer review: “I am OBSESSED with this cleanser!! It’s so creamy and doesn’t leave that tight feeling on my face after use. My skin feels clean yet hydrated after each use and the packaging is absolutely beautiful! This stuff is amazing for everyday use.”

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Which glycolic acid cleanser is best?

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Sorry, but pinpointing the *single* best glycolic acid face wash is challenging, since it hinge on subjectivity and varies with your skin type. (That’s why we curated this comprehensive list of 12.) Dermatologists hold differing views on the ideal potency of glycolic acid in a cleanser, but there’s consensus on recommending a lower concentration (between 2 to 5 percent) for sensitive skin and a higher percentage for those with oily skin to capitalize on glycolic acid’s exfoliating benefits.

Also key? Ensuring that your chosen percentage is complemented by ingredients tailored to your skin’s unique needs and goals. For instance, “if your skin is super sensitive or acne-prone, look for cleansers that are gentle, fragrance-free, and with lower concentrations of glycolic acid to minimize irritation,” says Dr. Saedi. Whereas “if you have dry skin, look for formulations that also contain ingredients that are hydrating, like glycerin or hyaluronic acid.”

Can I use glycolic acid face wash everyday?

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Whether or not you can use glycolic face wash everyday “depends on your skin type and the cleanser itself,” says Dr. Castilla. Dr. Henry seconds this, emphasizing that “as long as you are using the right concentration for your skin type, glycolic acid is safe to use on a daily basis.”

For beginners, Dr. Henry recommends “starting with a lower percentage and using it just a couple of times a week.” If your skin tolerates it well (aka you’re not experiencing any flaking or irritation), you can then gradually increase the usage to more days.

How to choose the best glycolic acid cleanser:

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Choose your concentration wisely.

As mentioned previously, glycolic acid cleansers come in a variety of different strengths and percentages. As a general rule, “you want to start slow and build your way up, especially if you have sensitive skin,” says Dr. Castilla. “If the concentration is not listed on the bottle, pay attention to where it is listed in the ingredients list. The closer glycolic acid is listed to the top of the ingredients list, then there is likely a high percentage in the formula.

Consider the texture.

“Glycolic acid cleansers typically come in three varieties: cream, foam or gel,” says Dr. Castilla. While it might seem like a personal preference, Dr. Castilla explains that each type of texture caters to specific skin needs. “Foaming cleansers tend to be harsher and more suited towards oily skin. Cream cleansers are gentler and are best for sensitive skin types. And gel cleansers work well for combination or oily skin types,” says Dr. Castilla.

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Meet the experts:

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  • Carmen Castilla, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and a clinical instructor at Mount Sinai in New York, NY. Dr. Castilla specializes in personalized treatment plans in both cosmetic and medical dermatology.
  • Michelle Henry, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and Mohs surgeon and the founder of Skin Aesthetic Surgery in New York, NY. Dr. Henry’s areas of expertise include skin cancer treatments, aesthetic surgery, and treating skin of color.
  • Nazanin Saedi, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist, a clinical associate professor at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, PA, and a department co-chair of the Laser and Aesthetics Surgery Center at Dermatology Associates of Plymouth Meeting. She specializes in a wide variety of cosmetic, medical and surgical procedures

Why trust Cosmopolitan?

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Marisa Petrarca is a contributing beauty writer for Cosmopolitan.com with over five years of experience researching and writing about makeup, skin, and hair, ranging from from skin-tightening cream to face fillers. She discussed glycolic acid cleansers with the three dermatologists featured in this story and dove into reviews, research, and her skincare stockpile to recommend the best products.

Headshot of Marisa Petrarca

Marisa Petrarca

Marisa Petrarca is a contributing beauty writer for Cosmopolitan.com. In the rare case that she’s not working on a story, you can find her testing new makeup, skin, or hair launches, binge-watching bad reality TV, or diligently working (but failing) to get her inbox to zero. Her work has appeared on The Zoe Report, POPSUGAR, and GRAZIA USA, among others. Follow her on Instagram for corgi photos and shameless self-promotion. 

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