If you're hoping to achieve clearer, brighter, smoother skin, a good place to start is with an AHA serum. But how to choose the best one for you? While almost all of the best AHA serums contain lactic or glycolic acids for gentle exfoliation, they'll typically appear alongside other, more targeted ingredients, so think about your primary skin concerns, as well as more obvious factors like your skin type and budget.
All AHAs are useful for accelerating skin cell turnover, but if you’re dealing with breakouts, glycolic acid is the most effective AHA for treating acne and blemishes. However, if you have sensitive skin or skin that's prone to dryness, lactic acid is typically less drying, as is the lesser-known AHA mandelic acid.
If you're new to AHA serums, start by using yours once or twice a week. Then, as your skin begins to adjust, you can increase your usage to every other day, or daily if your skin can tolerate it. Another tip: Since using products with AHAs can make your skin more photosensitive, it's important to be diligent about your daily sunscreen application.
With those tips in mind, scroll on to shop six of the best AHA serums on the market right now.
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1. Best Splurge
Sunday Riley Good Genes is probably the best-known AHA serum on the market, and one of the most universally beloved serums out there, period. It contains lactic acid for gentle exfoliation, as well as skin-brightening licorice, the astringent lemongrass, and soothing aloe. Mainly, it works to promote clear, bright, even-looking skin both immediately and over time. The lightweight, slightly runny texture is really nice, too, since it absorbs quickly and layers well under makeup and other skin care products. It's not cheap, true — but as its cult-favorite status indicates, it's worth the price.
2. Best Budget Buy
On the other end of the price spectrum, spa brand Bliss makes this really nice night serum that's under $25. It contains glycolic acid and the gentler poly-hydroxy acid, as well as a fruit-derived acid complex derived from sugar cane, lemon, orange, and apple to treat congested skin. The addition of squalane helps seal in moisture overnight without being greasy, so it won't totally dry your skin out. This affordable serum is also vegan and cruelty-free, like all Bliss products.
3. Best For Acne-Prone Skin
Falling somewhere between luxe and budget beauty, Paula's Choice RESIST Advanced Smoothing Treatment contains four different AHAs (glycolic, lactic, malic, and tartaric acids) and the acne-fighting BHA salicylic acid to unclog pores, and thereby reduce the risk of future breakouts. This serum also contains collagen-building peptides and ceramides for moisture, along with other skin-soothers and antioxidants like green tea, allantoin, oat extract, and licorice. It's a nice product for most skin types, but it's a particularly great choice for anyone dealing with frequent breakouts.
4. Best For Brightening
Topical vitamin C is great for fading unwanted hyperpigmentation and promoting clearer, more even-looking skin, so if those are your main goals, go with Murad's Environmental Shield Vita-C Glycolic Brightening Serum. As its name suggests, it contains glycolic acid and vitamin C to simultaneously exfoliate and brighten your skin, without the use of harsh
5. Best For Travel
These brilliant little capsules from European skin care brand ISDIN are designed to work together during the day and night. Pigment Expert, used during the day, contains glycolic acid and licorice extract to brighten and even out skin tone, while Night Peel exfoliates and boost's Pigment Expert's effects. You get 20 travel-friendly capsules total, and each one is enough for one or two full face applications.
6. Best Mandelic Acid Serum
One more budget-friendly AHA serum for your consideration: Naturium's Mandelic Topical Acid 12%, which combines mandelic acid, niacinamide, and other fruit-derived acids to gently exfoliate, promote a more even tone, and encourage generally smoother, firmer skin. For just $20, what's not to love?