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Best AHA Exfoliants

AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) are brilliant ingredients for exfoliating skin. Here is what an AHA product must have to earn a spot on the Best Products list:

  • The right pH range essential for efficacy
  • Contain an amount of AHA(s) research has shown to be effective
  • Not contain any needless irritants
  • Antioxidants and other beneficial ingredients
  • Not be packaged in a jar

An effective AHA product needs to have between 5% and 10% concentration of one or more of these ingredients: glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, mandelic acid, or tartaric acid. Among those, glycolic acid is by far the most common.

You may use an AHA product every day. Some may find that twice a day is best, while others once every other day, depending on your skin type and its response. Any AHA product you're considering must have a pH between 3 and 4, which is critical if those ingredients are to be effective as exfoliants.  All of the AHA options on this list contain beneficial ingredients such as skin-identical ingredients, antioxidants, and/or anti-irritants. You will find AHA products reviewed throughout this site with a happy face rating (although not necessarily a Best), and these are options if your singular goal is exfoliation. However, the choices on the Best Products list are preferred.

AHAs are best for those with normal to dry skin, and not as effective for oily or acne-prone skin. This is because AHAs cannot penetrate oil and, therefore, cannot get into the pore lining. Salicylic acid (BHA) should be considered if acne, oily skin, or blackheads are your concern. It can penetrate oil and, therefore, can get into the pore where it can improve and repair pore function while dissolving blockages of dead skin cells and oil that contribute to blackheads and acne. Whichever exfoliant you choose, always monitor your skin's response, and remember, irritation is never the goal.

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