Acne-Prone Skin Dry Skin Mature Skin Oily Skin Sensitive Skin The Best AHA & BHA Products (Alpha & Beta Hydroxy Acids)

5 Exceptional AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid) Serums for Clear & Radiant Skin

You’ve probably come across a ton of serums and creams that promises to give you that smooth, ageless Jennifer Lopez skin.

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

This much is true: if you can invest in only one skincare product in your daily routine, it should be your serum.

Other steps like cleansing and moisturizing have functions that can be done effectively through 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.

And you only want to feed your skin the best ingredients if you want effective and long-lasting results.

You’ll thank your skin when you’re 40 and don’t look a day over 30. 🙂

Your ideal serum should promote anti-aging, skin rejuvenation, and spot lightening among its laundry list of benefits.

And serums that have these inclusive set of characteristics usually have a good dose of alpha hydroxy acids in its formulation.

In this article, you’ll get a deeper understanding of how AHAs benefit your skin.

Most importantly, and this is where most people do it wrong, you’ll learn how to properly use and incorporate AHA serums into your daily skincare routine.

Once you have a grasp of these key points, you will not only maximize the benefits of alpha hydroxy acids but also avoid the usual pitfalls most people that start using AHAs fall into.

Now without further ado, let’s start.

How AHAs Can Fix Your Skin


Alpha hydroxy acids are one of the most effective active ingredients found in skincare today. AHAs are used in the treatment of acne, scarring, pigmentation, dryness, and wrinkles. In fact, it is one of the most popular ingredients used to reverse the leading cause of skin aging today: photodamage (sun damage).

When applied to the skin, AHAs stimulate the exfoliation of old, roughened skin to promote cell renewal. Basically, this method tells your skin to speed up its regeneration process. This process includes efficient exfoliation, proper moisturization, and collagen synthesis for skin firming and recovery.

When we were younger, this isn’t really something we had to worry about because our skin is working at its optimal efficiency. However, as we grow older and expose our skin to damage, this regeneration process gradually slows down. This results in a slew of issues like clogged pores, dull skin, wrinkles, dryness, uneven skin tone among others.

AHAs can invigorate and revitalize your skin so it’s able to regenerate quickly and correct the damage that your skin has incurred throughout the years.

Video: How alpha hydroxy acids work in your skincare | Science of your Skincare by Dr. Sam Bunting
(Featured: NeoStrata Bio-Hydrating Cream PHA 15REN Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask)

The Benefits of AHA Serums


AHAs stimulate the exfoliation of old, roughened skin to promote cell renewal. This process speeds up the skin regeneration process.

Clinical trials have shown that hydroxy acids bring significant improvements in skin hydration, elasticity, tone, texture, and in smoothing wrinkles.

Alpha hydroxy acids were actually initially used in dermatology to treat other serious skin conditions like hyperkeratosis.

However, when they found that AHAs also promote softer and smoother skin, lightened blemishes, faded wrinkles and age spots; it soon began to have a major role in cosmetic skin care.

Further studies have also shown improvements in the skin’s barrier function and restored firmness.

In one scientific 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 reduces sensitivity to common skincare irritants like sodium laureth sulphate (SLS) after 4 weeks.

Major benefits of AHA serums 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
  • restore hydration and maintain proper moisture levels in the skin
  • improve skin barrier function and skin firmness
  • improve effectivity of other skincare products

The higher the concentration of the acid and the lower the pH (the 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 sensitivity.

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 results.

What You Should Know Before Using AHAs


Everyone’s skin is affected by the skin type 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 to 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 – Identify 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 identifies 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 – knowing 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 to 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 skin care 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 cotton to sweep off 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. 🙂

Editor’s Choice: The Best AHA Serums


We’ve chosen the best AHA serums 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 include 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 pieces. The concentration can be too potent for very sensitive skin, so best to do 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

Drunk Elephant – T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum

An award-winning product from another cult favorite brand, Drunk Elephant.

Drunk Elephant is cruelty-free, and known for using only non-toxic and clean ingredients based on biocompatibility. They don’t use alcohol, silicones, chemical screens, fragrance, dyes, or SLS; making their products compatible with every skin type.

Their T.L.C. Framboos™ Night Serum is a distinct combination of 12% AHA + BHA. This, along with its high-tech gel formulation and ideal pH level of 3.8-4.0, sinks into the skin for maximum absorption.

A supporter of the IEF (International Elephant Foundation).

Key Active Ingredients:

  • 12% T.L.C. Framboos™ AHA blend: (Glycolic, Tartaric, Lactic, and Citric acids) – a unique blend of acids that effectively dissolves dead skin cells and resurfaces dull skin for a brighter, smoother, and more even complexion
  • 1% Salicylic Acid – unclogs pores and loosens sebum
  • Raspberry Fruit Extract – calms and rehydrates damaged skin; has antioxidant properties
  • Cactus Extract – soothes skin while using hydroxy acids
  • Horse Chestnut – helps improves the appearance of redness and broken capillaries
  • Galactoarabinan (polysaccharide extracted from larch trees) – acts as a gentle exfoliant, minimizes the appearance of fine lines while preventing moisture loss
  • Phytostem Buddleja Davidii Meristem Cell Culture – plant-derived, cultured stem cells with potent antioxidant properties that help defend against photodamage and oxidative stress
  • Virgin Marula Oil – exceptionally absorbable oil, high in critical antioxidants and omegas 6 and 9; helps nourish and rejuvenate skin
  • White Tea Leaf Extract – a potent antioxidant that provides soothing benefits
  • Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer – has an exceptionally small molecular weight that is able to deeply penetrate skin to deliver intense hydration, reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and promote firmness
  • Yeast Extract – brightens and reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, helping to minimize skin stress and soothe redness.

Cons: Because of its clean formulation, this comes with quite the price tag in comparison with other AHA serums. Also, those who are used to higher concentrations of acids in their skincare may not see much difference.

Ideal for: All skin types especially sensitive skin, with vegan preferences, dull & uneven complexion

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 of 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 compounds 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

SkinResource.MD Age-Limit Advanced Refinishing Serum

A staple in many clinics, this unique serum is specially made for those with very sensitive skin.

The Age-Limit™ serum utilizes a patented AHAminoPlex™ molecule that prolongs the delivery of glycolic acid to the skin. This process, along with a host of clinically-proven soothing plant extracts, allows the skin to tolerate acids with little to no irritation.

It delivers all the benefits of AHAs including exfoliation, cell turnover, hydration, reduction of fine lines and wrinkles; without the need to have resistant skin.

The gel can be applied in the evening or during the day. It does not flake, crack, or discolor so it can work well under makeup.

It also does not contain parabens, fragrance, colorants, or preservatives.

Key Active Ingredients:

  • Glycolic Acid & Lactic Acid – Combined AHAs for easier penetration and extra hydration
  • Pentylene Glycol – Provides extra hydration
  • White Tea Extract (camellia sinensis leaf), Kola Extract, Mate Extract, Guarana Extract – clinically proven skin-calming plant extracts
  • Sea Whip Extract (pseudopterogorgia elizabethae) – Extra-strength soothing

Cons: Those with experience with and have a high tolerance for acids may gain little benefit with its patented formulation. If you already have resistant skin, it may be best to go with serums stronger concentrations like Sunday Riley or (shown above) to maximize the product and your dollars.

Ideal for: All skin types especially extra sensitive skin; previously intolerant of glycolic acid; aging skin, ashy or rough/scaly and sun-damaged; clogged and acneic skin

Check for current discounts & other customer reviews on Amazon

Resources:

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.

Reviews:



5 Exceptional AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid) Serums for Clear & Radiant Skin Overall rating: ★★★★★ 4.7 based on 4 reviews
5 1

Nothing beats Sunday Riley

★★★★★
5 5 1
Sunday 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.

★★★★★
5 5 1
Skin 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.

★★★★☆
4 5 1
Never 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!

Drunk Elephant!

★★★★★
5 5 1
Been a fan of DE for years, glad that it made the list. This article is incredible by the way, thank you!

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