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The Best AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid) Serums Review – Ultimate Review & Guide

The Best AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid) Serum for Your Skin Type¬†– You’ve probably come across a ton of serums and creams that promises to give you that smooth, ageless Jennifer Lopez skin.

And I’d you’re like me, you’ve probably tried more than your fair share of fancy and expensive bottles.

If you’ve been on the hunt for a good serum that has anti-aging, skin rejuvenation, and spot lightening in its laundry list of benefits; chances are it has alpha hydroxy acids in its formulation.

If you can invest in only one skincare product, it should be your serum. The other steps in your routine like cleansing and moisturizing have functions that can be done effectively by products that won’t break the bank.

Serums however, are made to be packed with a multitude of active ingredients whose sole goal is to nourish and restore your skin. You only want to feed your skin the best ingredients if you want the best long-term results.

Your skin will thank you when you’re 40 and doesn’t look a year over 30. ūüôā

In this article, you’ll get a brief on what alpha hydroxy acids¬†are, how it can benefit your skin, and most importantly, how you can choose the best AHA serum for your skin type.

AHA Serum Benefits

Alpha hydroxy acids are one of the most effective active ingredients used to fight the signs of photoaging. Studies have shown significant improvements in skin hydration, elasticity, tone, texture, and smoothing wrinkles.

When applied to the skin, AHAs stimulate exfoliation of dull, rough skin while promoting cell renewal.

It was initially used in dermatology to treat serious skin conditions. However, as AHAs was found to promote softer, smoother skin, lightened blemishes, faded wrinkles and age spots; it soon began to have a major role in skincare. Further studies have also shown improvements in the skin’s barrier function and restored firmness.

In one study, a twice daily application of 4% L-lactic acid formulations (pH 3.7-4.0) lead to significant improvement in protective barrier function and deduces sensitivity to common skincare irritants like sodium laureth sulphate (SLS) after 4 weeks.

Other benefits of AHAs to the skin include:

  • helping diminish the appearance of fine lines and hyperpigmentation (acne spots)
  • rejuvenates dull, lifeless skin
  • smoothens out skin texture
  • evens out skin tone
  • combat mild acne, blackheads, and whiteheads
  • maintain proper moisture levels in the skin

The higher the concentration of the acid and the lower the pH (measure of acidity) of the product, the more effective it will be. However, the strength of the formulation is also related to its ability to cause skin irritations.

One way to minimize this is by raising your skin’s tolerance to acids and lowering your skin’s¬†pH levels through AHA toners.

Once the skin is conditioned enough, you can deliver higher concentrations of acids in the form of serums or chemical peels for more dramatic benefits.

What you should know before buying AHAs

Everyone’s skin is different. It’s affected by the type of skin we were born with, our hormones, the environment, the skincare and makeup we use on a daily basis–the list goes on.

However, having a good idea of what your skin needs and its current condition is crucial in picking the right products.

There are several things you should consider before delving into AHA serums.

When you’ve gone through these general guidelines, you’ll have a better chance of picking the right product for your skin and be able reap all the benefits AHA serums have to offer.

Here are the basic guidelines in choosing the right AHA for your skin:

  1. Choose the right type of AHAs for your skin type to maximize its benefits РIdentify the skin issues you want to address and use the kind of AHA that would be most beneficial for your needs. The list of products below identify the AHAs active in each product, as well as outlines what type of skin issues it can address.
  2. Be aware of your skin’s sensitivity or resilience to active ingredients – AHAs and other active ingredients are generally more effective at higher concentrations. That said, you might be tempted to use AHAs on a daily basis right off the bat. This is one of the most common missteps in choosing AHAs. Acids can be highly irritating if applied to the skin without preparation. Our skin needs to be introduced to the acids slowly, starting from the lowest concentration possible, and worked all the way up. With this, you can avoid issues like irritation, redness, and other complications. As mentioned, this can be done through low concentration products like AHA toners.
  3. Incorporating it successfully into your skincare regime Рknowing how to layer your skincare is crucial in getting the product to reach your skin and be fully effective. One basic rule of thumb is: products should be applied from the lightest to thickest consistency. So your serum should be layered sometime after cleansing and before your moisturizer. Another important point to remember is to wait until your serum is fully absorbed before layering on the next product. This should be around 5-15 minutes.
  4. Be wary of skin irritation vs. allergic reaction – Whenever you’re introducing a new product to your skin, especially if it has potentially irritating actives like acids, it’s important to check if you’re allergic to any of the ingredients. This is done by doing a patch test. This way, you’ll be able to differentiate between an allergic reaction and skin irritation. If it reacts in your patch test outside your face, you’re likely allergic. It’s best to take note and avoid the product overall. If it reacts within your face, it’s probably irritation. This isn’t a lost cause by far. One of the most common misconceptions people have is just because a product is irritating, it’s not working or you won’t be able to use the product anymore. You actually just need to start with a lower concentration of acids and work your way up.
  5. Observe precautions when starting to use acids if you have sensitized skin – If you have aggressively overused a product and currently have over-sensitized skin, it may be best for you to transition away from these harsh products to allow your skin to recover. Reset your skin’s natural barrier by going back to basics–a gentle cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen. Try going by this for a few weeks and slowly incorporate your products to better acclimatize your skin and avoid irritations. Generally, two weeks is sufficient for your skin to rebuild its compromised skin barrier.

How to incorporate the best AHA serums in your skincare routine

Below is a general skincare routine you can follow, applicable for all skin types. If you have several products that you layer, you can insert them between your serums and moisturizers.

One quick rule in layering products: apply them on from the thinnest to the thickest consistency. Make sure to also give them a few minutes to absorb. This technique will make sure that all your products are in full effect and work in synergy.

  1. Cleansers
  2. Toners – You can use facial cottons to sweep of any excess dirt left by your cleanser. If you do a double cleanse or you’re confident with your cleansing routine, you can just¬†gently tap the toner¬†onto your skin to save product.
  3. Serums or other corrective products with active ingredients – start once every few days and work up to daily application
  4. Moisturizers – Or products with thicker consistencies and/or are oil-based.
  5. Sunscreen (AM) or Night Cream (PM) – Sunscreen is crucial if you have exfoliators in your regimen. They help protect your skin from any photosensitivity that AHAs bring.

Our recommendations¬†for the best AHA serums¬†are based on our comprehensive analysis of the product’s formulation, claims, value for money, and consumer reviews. We make an effort to be as objective as possible and¬†give advice in good faith; however, our reviews may¬†still contain conjectures and opinions based on our research and personal experiences.

It’s important to know that as with any product (especially cosmetics), what may be¬†perfect for you may not be right for the next person. So as much as we want to¬†guarantee that these will¬†be everyone’s next holy grail,¬†results can still be affected by¬†individual factors like your current skin condition, the environment you’re in, use of the product, reaction to your other skincare, and so on.¬†For best results,¬†make sure to choose a product that is suited for your skin type and skin issues.

This website is for informational purposes and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Product or service details are collected directly from the manufacturer and other reputable sources during the time of this review, and cited in the Resources section. We try to keep on top of new formulations when we can, and update our data accordingly.

At the end of every review, there will be a link for you to check current discounts and other customer reviews on Amazon. These, along with some other links that redirect you to third party sites, are affiliate links where we earn a small commission if you do decide to make a purchase. This is at absolutely no extra cost to you and will help in maintaining the quality of the site.

This website is our passion project, and our editorial content is not influenced by advertisers or affiliate partnerships. The choices we make take extensive research (which we actually enjoy because we’re weird and nerdy like that), including data from credible academic papers and user sources available.

Bottom Line: We objectively review a laundry list of top performing products, pick the best ones based on our results, and present them to you¬†with all the key info¬†so you can choose the most suitable one for your skin. If¬†you¬†decide to buy something, we earn a commission that helps cover site costs like hosting, design, research materials, etc. You don’t have to of course, thank you¬†for visiting us nonetheless. ūüôā

Editor’s Choice: The Best AHA¬†Serums

We’ve chosen the best¬†AHA toners based on our analysis, product specifications, value for money, and consumer reviews.

Make sure to choose a product that is suited for your skin type and skin issues for best results.

Sunday Riley - Good Genes

Sunday Riley’s line are cult favorites and holy grail products to many skincare enthusiasts.

Their products are very potent, just below prescription level concentrations, but formulated so it’s gentle and non irritating.

This serum is known for its immediate and dramatic effect on the skin. It’s been credited with smoothing, brightening, and plumping effect the day after using it a night cream.

Key Active Ingredients:

  • Pharmaceutical-grade Lactic Acid – superior is its ability to signal the skin cells to increase hyaluronic acid production, which results in a dramatic increase in dermal moisturization; ideal for sensitive skin as it’s one of the gentlest and safest acids to use; helps maintain the skin’s natural pH level; works well with skins of color¬†and those prone to dryness, discoloration, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation
  • Licorice – an antioxidant which helps get rid of free radicals–one of the leading causes of skin aging, helps heal inflammation and skin irritations, fades dark spots and post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (acne spots)
  • Lemongrass – increases circulation for a healthier complexion

Expected results from long term use includes reduction of dark spots, fine lines and wrinkles, restoration of sun damaged skin, increased skin firmness, and an evened out skin tone.

This serum can be used as a night time serum or under foundation for a flawless application.

Cons: Highly coveted, so it’s hard to come across it especially during winter.¬†It’s also one of the most expensive serums out there and will be one of your skincare investment piece. The¬†concentration can be too potent for very sensitive skin, so best to to a patch test before going all out.

Ideal for: All skin types especially dry skin, dehydrated skin, mature skin; winter seasons, those with fine lines and wrinkles, dull and uneven skin tone, sagging skin

Check for current discounts & other customer reviews on Amazon

ZIA CARINI Silk Luxury 20% Vitamin C Serum

A professional spa-quality serum that has an all natural, vegan, cruelty-free, and gluten-fee formulation.

It is hypoallergenic and has no parabens, sulfates, and other potentially dangerous additives or fillers.

Key Active Ingredients:

  • Glycolic Acid – One of the fastest reacting AHA that ensures all other ingredients penetrate the skin effectively; accelerates cell turnover to help fade dark spots and promote healthier, younger looking skin
  • Salicylic Acid – A¬†beta hydroxy acid that works in tandem with glycolic acid to unclog pores and loosen deep-seated oils and dirt to be easily washed away during cleansing
  • Vitamins C + E + A – a potent blend of the most powerful natural antioxidants which helps prevent and correct signs of skin aging
  • Tri-peptide matrixyl – rebuilds collagen and hyaluronic acid, which helps repair damaged skin and restore its firmness
  • Polysilicone-15 – Provides sunscreen protection against UVB rays

The consistency is smooth and silky, ensuring quick absorption. Perfect for oily and acne-prone skin.

Their bottle is unique as well–an airless pump that prevents oxidation of your vitamins, ensuring full potency until the last drop. Great for travel.

They also have a 100% money back guarantee, which is always reassuring as a consumer as it shows their confidence are results-based rather than just marketing.

Cons: Not fragrance-free as expected, which is a little disappointing considering it’s a hypoallergenic product. It has a light citrus scent.

Also a flip¬†side for products with such a variety of blended active ingredients, you’re likely going to get a small portion of each at a time. This is unlike serums like Sunday Riley’s Good Genes above or the La Roche-Posey Effaclar¬†below, where the limited ingredient list allows it to deliver its benefits at a very potent rate.

Ideal for: All skin types especially sun damaged skin, oily and acne-prone skin, mature skin, and dry skin

Check for current discounts & other customer reviews on Amazon

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Pore-Refining Anti-Aging Facial Serum

A long standing product that remained in the brands best selling list throughout the years.

This pore-minimizing serum targets large and open pores and works to soften and visibly reduce its appearance.

The consistency of the serum is light and especially fast absorbing, making it ideal for oily skin.

The formulation is also non-comedogenic; reducing any possible incidences for blackheads, whiteheads, and acne formation.

Fragrance-free and paraben-free. This doesn’t contain excessive additives that can potentially cause irritations (which is what La Roche is known for).

Key Active Ingredients:

  • Glycolic Acid – this type of AHA has one of the smallest compound of all the acids, which makes it very easy to penetrate the skin and help deliver beneficial properties; accelerates collagen production and improve skin firmness; helps fade¬†spots and dark patches as it works to continuously exfoliate the skin
  • Lipo-hydroxy acid (LHA) –¬†a relatively new type of hydroxy acid that, aside from its usual hydroxy acid properties of skin exfoliation and renewal, has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties as well; it also provides micro exfoliation¬†and latches on to oil more effectively than glycolic acid (which is water-soluble and more effective on dead skin cells); LHA can also operate at a much lower pH than normal acids so there is a lower potential for irritation

Cons: While targeted for oily and acne prone skin, this product should be treated as a booster to your skincare lineup instead of an acne-solution. If you have cystic acne or blackheads, this can only minimally help you actively fight those if used on its own.

This serum would work best in tandem with your medication as it will boost efficacy by helping your other products penetrate the skin more easily.

Ideal for: oily skin, acne-prone skin with large pores, sensitive skin, rough and dull skin

Check for current discounts & other customer reviews on Amazon


DUFFY, D. (1998). Alpha Hydroxy Acids/Trichloroacetic Acids Risk/Benefit Strategies. A Photographic Review. Dermatologic Surgery, 24(2), pp.181-189.

Greive, K., Tran, D., Townley, J. and Barnes, T. (2014). An antiaging skin care system containing alpha hydroxy acids and vitamins improves the biomechanical parameters of facial skin. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, p.9.

Michalun, N. and Michalun, M. (2001). Milady’s skin care and cosmetic ingredients dictionary. 1st ed. Australia: Milady Thomson Learning.

SUEKI, H. (2001). Pharmacological Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) on Human Skin. Nishi Nihon Hifuka, 63(3), pp.221-225.

VIDT, D. and BERGFELD, W. (1997). Cosmetic use of alpha-hydroxy acids. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, 64(6), pp.327-329.

VORARAT, S., AROMDEE, C. and PODOKMAI, Y. (2002). Determination of Alpha Hydroxy Acids in Fruits by Capillary Electrophoresis. Analytical Sciences, 18(8), pp.893-896.

WOLF, B., PASTER, A. and LEVY, S. (1996). An Alpha Hydroxy Acid Derivative Suitable for Sensitive Skin. Dermatologic Surgery, 22(5), pp.469-473.


The Best AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid) Serums Review - Ultimate Review & Guide Overall rating: ★★★★★ 4.6 based on 3 reviews
5 1

Nothing beats Sunday Riley

5 5 1
‚ÄúSunday Riley is the de facto if you're looking for the highest quality AHA. It commands a high price tag because there's really nothing like it out there (and they know it). Results are instant and sustaining. It's a STRONG formula though, I can't stress that enough. This is not for sensitive skin. If you can get past this, you'll be hard-pressed not to call this your holy grail.‚ÄĚ

5 5 1
‚ÄúSkin acids are most effective as serums because it stays and absorbs into the skin. AHA cleansers are literally just washed away after a few seconds! Invest in a good serum and maximize your results.‚ÄĚ

4 5 1
‚ÄúNever heard of Zia Carini but I've been looking for a vegan serum so I think I'll give that a go. Thanks for the tips!‚ÄĚ

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