Glycolic acid can help brighten skin, improve uneven skin tone, erase acne and fine lines, and more.
Some people are willing to go to extremes to achieve perfect skin, and it’s not uncommon to scroll through your Instagram feed and see celebs opting for beauty treatments that range from intriguing to seriously bizarre (we’re looking at you, vampire facials). But most people can't book an expensive facial or chemical peel at the drop of a hat.
Enter glycolic acid pads. Many dermatologists offer in-office glycolic acid peels as a service, but you can also find over-the-counter pads that are pre-soaked in a glycolic acid formula to help brighten and improve skin tone. In other words, they offer many of the same benefits you'd get from a pricey facial condensed into a portable pad that can be easily swiped over your face for instant results.
"Glycolic acid is a time-tested exfoliator," says William Kwan, MD, a San Francisco-based dermatologist. "It's been used for decades and is helpful for treating acne, as well as fine lines and wrinkles."
Debra Jaliman, MD, a dermatologist based in New York City, tells Health that these little pads can be incredibly helpful for people who struggle with uneven skin texture. "Someone who has bumpy skin, oily skin, or someone who is acne-prone would want to use glycolic pads to exfoliate and unclog their pores for clearer skin," she says.
One jar of these powerful pads should last you a long time; S. Manjula Jegasothy, MD, CEO and founder of Miami Skin Institute, recommends using them no more than twice a week to reap the benefits without irritating skin.
Below, dermatologists recommend their favorite over-the-counter glycolic acid pads for clearer, glowy skin in just one swipe.
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel
L'Oréal Revitalift Bright Reveal Peel Pads
Pixi by Petra Glow Peel Pads
Glycolix Elite Treatment Pads 10%
"I love these pads for use in the morning after gently cleansing skin. After several minutes, splash with water, pat dry, and continue with antioxidants (vitamin C) and sunscreen moisturizer. Never use glycolic acid peel pads directly before applying retinol or retin-A, as this can lead to significant irritation. Since retinoids are used at night, I have patients use their glycolic pads in the morning to avoid over-irritating sensitive skin."
—Jennifer MacGregor, MD, a dermatologist based in New York City