Take a peek into your skin care arsenal, and chances are you’ll find a product featuring glycolic acid. It’s one of the more researched AHAs, which is why you can find it in many clarifying formulas—namely, cleansers, toners, serums, and renewal masks, according to board-certified dermatologist and founder of MMSkincare Ellen Marmur, M.D.
Other popular products are those pre-medicated pads (the beloved gly-pad, if you’ve heard your derm toss the term around), known for removing sweat and residual makeup if a full-on cleanse feels like too much—after a workout, perhaps.
In terms of procedures, that’s where peels come into play: A glycolic acid peel is one of the most common AHA peels used in dermatologist’s offices. That said, it’s not a venture you should take on in the comfort of your own home: “In a clinical setting, doctors generally use a glycolic acid peel that is 40 to 50 percent glycolic acid,” says King, whereas an at-home product will likely have a 10 to 20 percent solution. That’s because trained professionals can take one look at your skin and know whether it could benefit from that heavier exfoliation, or whether you should stick to a clarifying cleanser and call it a day.
That said, it’s best to take it slow with glycolic acid (and all exfoliating products, for that matter) until you know just how your skin is going to react. As always: do a patch test before applying new products to the face.