While you’ll find glycolic acid packed into serums, toners, gels, and lotions, glycolic acid pads are the least-fussy way to work this overachieving exfoliant into your skin care routine. In addition to their namesake ingredient, the best glycolic acid pads are saturated in solutions containing other potent ingredients, like soothing witch hazel, hydrating aloe, brightening antioxidants, or other chemical exfoliants for an extra polishing boost.
After you sweep the pads over your face, you can target other areas on your body that could use some smoothing and evening — like your hands, neck, decolletage, or virtually anywhere else. But heads up: Like other exfoliants, glycolic acid can cause some dryness and redness, especially if you’re already prone to sensitive skin. Stick to using them a couple of nights per week to start, follow up with moisturizer, and don’t mix them with other abrasive ingredients, like retinol or benzoyl peroxide. And always apply an SPF of at least 30 the next morning, since glycolic acid can make your skin more photosensitive than usual.
Buff your way to brighter, clearer skin with any of best exfoliating pads featured below.
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1. The Best-Sellers
While the masses cannot always be trusted, they do tend to get it right on Amazon — and there’s something to be said for over 2,500 people giving a tub of glycolic acid pads a perfect five-star rating after trying them. Most reviewers report seeing a visible improvement in their skin’s texture, firmness, and clarity within a week. Strength-wise, these are about as close to an in-office glycolic acid peel as you can get ("light" in-office peels contain at least 20% glycolic acid, the same percentage you’ll find in here). Witch hazel, allantoin, green tea extract, vegetable glycerin, and other calming ingredients temper that intense exfoliation. For $25, you get 50 pads.
2. Best For Sensitive Skin
Depending on your skin type, experience with exfoliation, and/or willingness to take measured risks, 20% glycolic acid may seem kind of nightmarish. In that case, these First Aid Beauty exfoliating pads are more your slower, steadier speed. In here, glycolic acid is buffered by lactic acid, a less intense AHA that’s safer for dry and sensitive skin types. As is always the case with FAB products, the formula features lots of soothing, calming, and moisturizing ingredients — like aloe, green tea extract, hyaluronic acid, and antioxidants — and it’s free of common irritants like artificial fragrance, colorants, and preservatives. These are actually gentle enough to use daily, if you’re so inclined. Choose from tubs containing 28 or 60 pads.
3. Best Value
These Nip + Fab glycolic acid pads contain just 5% glycolic acid, plus lactic acid and mandelic acid (another gentle AHA), so they’re also a good choice for the conservative exfoliators among us. They’re the best choice for the fiscally conservative among us, too: This supersized tub of 100 pads costs under $20 on Amazon. Formula-wise, I like the addition of niacinamide, glycolic acid’s natural companion, which also works to reduce hyperpigmentation and improve your skin’s texture.
4. Best Small Batch
If you don’t want to commit to a whole tub of peel pads — maybe you’re giving glycolic acid a test run, or you’re doing a targeted treatment for a limited amount of time, for instance — consider this order of five peel pads from Bliss. These are the same peel pads Bliss estheticians use during spa facials, so the quality is professional-grade. Plus, they’re individually wrapped, so they’re handy for travel (or for throwing in your medicine cabinet/under your sink/in your desk drawer). Reviewers love them for more than just the convenience factor, too: Almost across the board, users say their skin looks glowier and feels softer almost immediately; and, thanks to skin-soothers like calendula and witch hazel, they’re not irritating for sensitive skin.
5. Best For Breakouts
Pretty much everything Peter Thomas Roth makes earns cult status (the brand’s hashtag is literally #PTRCult), but these Max Complexion Correction Pads are one their perennial best-sellers. In addition to 10% glycolic acid, the solution is spiked with 2% salicylic acid, which makes them a “miracle product” (as one reviewer raves) for clearing active breakouts. These are especially effective for minimizing the appearance of enlarged pores too, according to customers — that’s likely thanks to salicylic acid’s deep-cleaning, pore-unclogging abilities. Note that the formula contains fragrance and alcohol, so they might not be suitable for people with very sensitive or reactive skin.
6. Best Splurge
Since their debut two decades ago, Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel has become the alpha and omega of at-home peel pads — one reason why they’re so expensive. Another reason: You’re paying for a patented, two-step system, which involves one exfoliating pad, courtesy of five AHAs/BHAs; and one to neutralize and rehydrate your skin. Since they’re so effective at essentially everything — clearing, smoothing, brightening, firming, the works — you won’t need to use (or spend money on) any other treatments. Follow it up with a serum and/or moisturizer, and you’re good to go.
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