How do I Choose the Best Glycolic Acid Moisturizer?

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  • Written By: Jennifer Voight
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2019
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The key to choosing glycolic acid moisturizer is to select one that contains enough of the active ingredient to be effective without containing so much glycolic acid that the skin becomes irritated. It can be helpful to start with a lower concentration of glycolic acid, generally no more than 10% to 12%, and apply moisturizer every other night at first. Anything that contains less than 10% glycolic acid will probably not contain enough of the active ingredient to be effective. Matching the type of moisturizer to skin type is important, too. Dry skin types may benefit from a rich cream moisturizer, while oily skin types should seek out an oil-free water-based moisturizer.

If a 10% concentration is well-tolerated, then the glycolic acid moisturizer may be applied every night. Once the skin tolerates the moisturizer without irritation, then a slightly higher concentration may work. If at any time the skin shows signs of irritation or redness, glycolic acid moisturizer should be applied less often. It may also be applied, left on for 30 minutes, and washed off with baking soda and water. Usually, irritation will diminish with regular use and eventually go away.


A glycolic acid moisturizer differs from a regular moisturizer in that it contains a type of acid derived from sugar cane called glycolic acid. Also known as alpha-hydroxy acid, or AHA, glycolic acid is a skin exfoliant that works by naturally loosening the bonds that hold old skin cells to the lower layers of the dermis. When newer skin is exposed, the face appears more youthful and fine lines are less evident. Moisturizer forms a seal on the surface of skin, locking in moisture. By keeping the skin plumped with moisture, signs of aging are less evident.

Glycolic acid moisturizers may contain different additional active ingredients or different forms of glycolic acid to create formulations good for the many different skin types. There are glycolic acid moisturizers that contain a form of “time release” glycolic acid that stretches the active time of the ingredient over the course of the day. This may help to reduce irritation.

Some contain salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, ingredients used in the treatment of acne. These moisturizers reduce acne breakouts with regular use. The exfoliating action can also reduce the appearance of acne scars.

While glycolic acid is an effective anti-aging ingredient, it is very strong and can cause significant skin irritation. All people react differently to glycolic acid. High concentrations of glycolic acid are used in chemical peels performed by dermatologists.

These peels often exceed 50% glycolic acid but rarely go over 70%. Any consumer should keep a healthy respect for the strength of this ingredient when choosing a glycolic acid moisturizer. Glycolic acid can cause skin to be highly sensitive to the sun so using sunscreen can be important.


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