For skin that is sun damaged and wrinkled, exfoliation is indispensable and glycolic and alpha hydroxy acids are extremely effective and (relatively speaking) gentle, as well as being natural (glycolic comes from sugar cane and AHAs from fruit or lactic acids). Products with these ingredients can be used fairly intensively at first (as much as every other day), but it is a good idea to gradually pull back once you start to see results and then use a glycolic/AHA about once a week for a pick-me-up.

One of the tricky things about glycolic potions and lotions is that pH level does matter. The lower it is, the more likely the glycolic acid product is going to sting and damage cells. The higher the pH level, the more likely the acid will be compromised (at least that seems to be the consensus). Few manufacturers reveal the pH balance of their glycolic products – La Vie Celeste being an honorable exception.  So with the rest of these Five Best glycolics, I’m going with feel – they are good exfoliators without too much of a sting in the tail. Based on my subjective experience, they are listed from strongest to gentlest.

Luximyl GlycoPeel 20 Rapid Exfoliation Lotion ($60). GlycoPeel is designed to be used with Lumixyl’s Topical Brightening Crème. However, it is a very good exfoliant even used solo. Based on glycolic, malic, lactic and citric acids, GlycoPeel 20 is reinforced with useful antioxidants including green tea, wheat, algae, yeast, comfrey root (which can speed up the replacement of skin cells as well as providing some protection against the sun) and plantain, a very good source of vitamins A and C and with a reputation for soothing irritated skin. There are several other good things, ultimately far outweighing the bad (propylene glycol, and phenoxyethanol). I’ve been using it on my knees, which (trust me) need the help and results are fantastic. Read the full review of GlycoPeel.

Juice Beauty Green Apple Peel The full strength version is a bit too strong for my face, but it is a great exfoliator for the sun-damaged skin on my neck and I appreciate the refreshing apple scent and the mostly organic ingredients (with nothing to dislike apart from phenoxyethanol and sodium hydroxide). There is also a “sensitive” version. The glycolic comes from organic cane sugar and the other hydroxy acids are from apple, lemon, grape and milk.

Somme Institute Transport Pads ($58). These glycolic soaked pads are useful for wiping over the skin or rubbing into a specific area. They also have Somme’s signature combo of vitamins A, B3, B5, C and E, plus antioxidant green tea, grapeseed, chamomile and aloe. Unfortunately, there are some of the usual suspects in the preservative department. Read the full review.

La Vie Celeste’s Restorative Exfoliating Gel Mask ($60 in the TIA shop). With a 5% concentration of glycolic in a soothing base of organic aloe, this lovely mask is given a helping hand by exfoliating bamboo grains, licorice and bearberry extract (this is loaded with alpha arbutin a natural – and safer – hydroquinone). Organically sourced antioxidants include white tea (supposedly better than green tea) and melon. Gentle, but more effective than other 5% glycolic formulations that I have tried. Read the full review.

Reviva Labs Glycolic Acid 5% ($25). When I first saw the list of ingredients in this gentle glycolic acid cream, I refused to believe it was complete – no fillers or nasty chemicals and preservatives. There is a 5% concentration of glycolic acid that has been obtained from sugar and rhubarb. According to Renova, they use actual strands of glycolic that enter the skin’s own natural polymer structure, supposedly to penetrate more effectively to induce better exfoliation. There is also extract of vitamin-packed pumpkin and peach. I found this to be the gentlest of all the formulations. While it doesn’t pack all that much punch, its great for someone taking a cautious approach to getting to know glycolic. And you can’t complain about the price.


Ingredients in Lumixyl GlyoPeel

Water/Aqua/Eau, Glycolic Acid, Glyceryl Stearate, Cetearyl Alcohol, Dimethicone, PPG-12/SMDI Copolymer, Propylene Glycol, Lactic Acid, Citric Acid, Malic Acid, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Algae Extract, Saccharomyces Cerevisiae Extract, Lavandula Angustifolia Oil, Symphytum Officinale Rhizome/Root Extract, Plantago Ovata Seed Extract, Olea Europaea Leaf Extract, Crithmum Maritimum Extract, Polyacrylamide, Glycerin, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol, Ammonium Hydroxide, C13-14 Isoparaffin, Ethylhexylglycerin, Hexylene Glycol, Glucosamine HCL, Sodium Hyaluronate, Sodium Acetate, Glutamine, Proline, Colloidal Silver, Urea, Leucine, Serine, Cellulose, Laureth-7.

Ingredients in Juice Beauty Green Apple Peel

Organic Hydroxy-Acid Juice Solution Of Pyrus Malus (Apple) Juice (Malic), Citrus Medica Limonum (Lemon) Juice (Citric) & Vitis Vinifera (White Grape) Juice (Tartaric), Organic Raw Cane Sugar (Glycolic), Salix Alba (Willow Bark) Extract (Salicylic), Organic Milk Peptides (Lactic), Organic Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Glycerin, Hydroxypropyl Starch Phosphate, Sodium Hydroxide, Organic Algae Extract, Sclerotium Gum, Tocopheryl Acetate & Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Ascorbyl Palmitate (Vitamin C), Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A), Phospholipids, Magnesium Aspartate, Zinc Gluconate, Copper Gluconate, Phenoxyethanol, Benzyl Alcohol, Potassium Sorbate, Tetrasodium Edta, Xanthan Gum, Azulene, Citrus Reticulata (Mandarin), Litsea Cubeba (May Chang) & Cinnamomum Camphora (Ho Wood) Pure Essential Oils

Ingredients in Somme

Water, Glycolic Acid, Polysorbate 20, Green Tea Extract, Ethoxydiglycol, Ammonium Glycolate, Molecular Dispersion Technology (MDT5), Panthenol, Chamomile Extract, Aloe Powder, Menthol, Tetrasodium EDTA, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, Grapeseed Extract, Palma Rosa Extract, Ylang Ylang Extract, Jasmine Extract, Geranium Extract, Lavender Extract, Marigold Extract, Galbanum Extract

Ingredients in La Vie Celeste

Aloe Vera (Aloe Barbadensis) Leaf Gel*, Aqua (Purified Water), Sclerotium Gum, Bamboo Grains (Bambusa Vulgaris) Extract, Kaolinite (Pink Clay), Glycolic (Hydroxyacetic) Acid, White Tea (Camellia Sinesis) Extract*, Bearberry (Acrtostaphylos Uva Ursi) Extract*, Licorice (Glycyrrhiza Glabral Licorice) Extract*, Melon (Cucumis Melo) Extract*, Chamomile (Anthemis Nobillis) Flower Extract*, Cosmocil CQ (Polyaminopropyl Biguanide), Grapefruit Seed Extract (Citrus Paradis) Extract*, Sodium Hyaluronate (Hyaluronic) Acid.

Ingredients in Reviva

Purified water, 5% glycolic acid polymer (extracts of sugar and rhubarb), extracts of pumpkin, peach, sage, comfrey, chamomile, witch hazel, vitamins A, D, E, safflower oil, sunflower oil.