What Makes AHA Serums Essential & Unique
You’ve probably come across a ton of serums and creams that promises to give you that refined glass skin complexion.
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 dark spot correction among its laundry list of benefits.
And serums that have these inclusive sets of characteristics usually have a good dose of alpha-hydroxy acids in their 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.
Ask the Expert: What You Should Know Before Using AHAs
by SAMANTHA WELCH, ESTHETICIAN
Everyone’s skin is affected by the skin type we were born with, our hormones, the environment, the skincare, and the 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 for choosing the right AHA for your skin:
- 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.
- Always use sunscreen once you start incorporating alpha-hydroxy acids in your skincare regimen.
All products with AHA results in UV sensitivity, so it is extremely important to use sunscreen during the day. This protects the skin from sun damage, which can lead to premature aging and skin discoloration.
Hyperpigmentation also can become more pronounced after sun damage, and a single day of sunburn can undo months of treatment.
- 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 working 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.
- 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.
The 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 3-5 minutes.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- What Makes AHA Serums Essential & Unique
- Ask the Expert: What You Should Know Before Using AHAs
- Buying Cheat Sheet:
- Esthetician’s Choice: The Best AHA Serums
- Sunday Riley – Good Genes (Lactic Acid)
- PHACE BIOACTIVE Clarifying Serum (Salicylic, Glycolic, Citric & Dioic Acid + LHA)
- NEOSTRATA Glycolic Renewal Serum (Glycolic Acid)
- Jan Marini Bioclear Face Lotion (Glycolic Acid, Azelaic Acid, Salicylic Acid)
- La Roche-Posay Effaclar Pore-Refining Anti-Aging Facial Serum (Glycolic Acid, Lipo-hydroxy Acid)
- La Roche Posay — Glycolic B5 10% Pure Glycolic Acid Serum (Glycolic Acid, Tranexamic Acid, Kojic Acid, Lipo-hydroxy Acid)
- Admire My Skin – Ultra Potent Brightening Serum(Lactic Acid + Azelaic Acid, Kojic Acid, Salicylic Acid)
- Erno Laszlo AHA Resurfacing Sleep Serum (Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid)
- The Nue Co. – THE PILL Skin Supplement – All-In-One Active Ingredient Face Serum (Glycolic, Lactic, Mandelic, Malic, Tartaric, Citric Acid)
- Drunk Elephant – T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum (Glycolic, Tartaric, Lactic, & Citric Acid blend, Salicylic Acid)
- Baie Botanique – Rose Regenerating Serum, 2-in-1 Serum & Toner (Glycolic Acid)
- Vivant Skin Care 8% Mandelic Acid 3-in-1 Serum (Mandelic Acid, Lactic Acid)
- ZIA CARINI Silk Luxury 20% Vitamin C Serum (Glycolic Acid, Salicylic Acid)
- What are AHA Serums?
- What are the Benefits of AHA Serums?
- How to Incorporate the Best AHA Serums in Your Skincare Routine
- 12 Exceptional AHA Serums (Alpha Hydroxy Acid) for Clear & Radiant Skin
- Recommended Acne Programs
Buying Cheat Sheet:
- Best Lactic Acid AHA Serum — Sunday Riley – Good Genes (Lactic Acid)
- Best AHA Serum for Acne, Best AHA Serum For Oily Skin — PHACE BIOACTIVE – Clarifying Serum (Salicylic, Glycolic, Citric & Dioic Acid + LHA)
- Best Glycolic AHA Serum, Best AHA Resurfacing Serum — NEOSTRATA – Glycolic Renewal Serum (Glycolic Acid)
- Best AHA Serum for Acne Scars, Best AHA Resurfacing Night Serum — Jan Marini – Bioclear Face Lotion (Glycolic Acid, Azelaic Acid, Salicylic Acid)
- Best AHA Refining Night Serum — La Roche-Posay – Effaclar Pore-Refining Anti-Aging Facial Serum (Glycolic Acid, Lipo-hydroxy Acid)
- Best AHA Serum for Hyperpigmentation & Acne Marks — Admire My Skin – Ultra Potent Brightening Serum (Lactic Acid + Azelaic Acid, Kojic Acid, Salicylic Acid), La Roche Posay — Glycolic B5 10% Pure Glycolic Acid Serum (Glycolic Acid, Tranexamic Acid, Kojic Acid, Lipo-hydroxy Acid)
- Best AHA Night Serum — Erno Laszlo – AHA Resurfacing Sleep Serum (Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid)
- Best Natural AHA Serum — The Nue Co. – THE PILL Skin Supplement – All-In-One Active Ingredient Face Serum (Glycolic, Lactic, Mandelic, Malic, Tartaric, Citric Acid)
The Best AHA Serums
Refine your skin to perfection with our curated list of cult favorites & dermatology clinic staples.
The highest-rated & best-selling in the industry, these AHA serums are formulated by the leading brands in the world with the highest scientific rigor.
For the best results, choose a product that is suited for your skin type and skin concerns.
Sunday Riley – Good Genes
Best for: All skin types especially dry skin, dehydrated skin, mature skin; Winter seasons, Fine lines & wrinkles, dull & uneven skin tone, Sagging skin
Sunday Riley’s lines 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 as 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 that helps get rid of free radicals–one of the leading causes of skin aging, helps with 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 nighttime serum or under foundation for a flawless application.
*Clinically tested and proven to significantly improve the appearance of lines and wrinkles in 3 minutes. Results were obtained via profilometry analysis. 100% of women said their skin looked and felt significantly smoother and more radiant, with visibly reduced lines and wrinkles. 100% of women said this was the most effective skin-plumping product they have ever used and would definitely recommend this product to a friend.
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
Video: “Good Genes is my go to skincare product!” PHOEBE DYNEVOR
PHACE BIOACTIVE Clarifying Serum
(Salicylic, Glycolic, Citric & Dioic Acid + LHA)
Best for: Oily & Acne-prone skin, Scars, Congested pores, Excess sebum, Uneven skin tone, Aging skin (fine lines & wrinkles), Sensitive skin
This oil-free, clarifying serum is specially designed to correct adult acne. This includes general symptoms such as clogged pores, excess sebum, scars, and uneven skin tone.
It has an original blend of 5 alpha-hydroxy + beta hydroxy acids that aim to reduce the number and severity of acne blemishes. Soothing botanicals also assist in healing the skin. All this while also smoothing out the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
You can use this as a spot treatment or all over your face.
- Salicylic Acid + LHA – BHAs are lipid or oil-soluble, which makes them effective in decongesting sebum-filled pores; also work as an effective exfoliant, with anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties
- Dioic Acid – helps fade scars, dark spots, and uneven tone
- Glycolic + Citric Acids – AHAs that exfoliate, brighten, improve texture and fine lines, shrink the appearance of enlarged pores
- Turmeric + Arnica Extracts – antioxidants with healing and damage repair, anti-inflammatory properties, helps tighten and firm the skin
- Centella Asiatica + Ginger Root – boosts collagen production, assists in wound healing improves elasticity, anti-bacterial
- Cucumber Extract – soothes redness and inflammation
In a clinical study after 28 days, of subjects were tested:
96% agreed the product reduced skin’s roughness + dryness
96% agreed the product reduced the appearance of dull skin
95% agreed their skin felt younger + appeared healthier-looking
95% agreed their skin had a more youthful glow
91% agreed their skin appeared more even-toned
91% agreed the product improved their skin’s overall appearance
Labeled as an OTC drug by the FDA. (This means it passed a more rigorous certification process vs. cosmetics.)
Dermatologist tested and approved. Hypoallergenic. Non-comedogenic.
Formulated without: fragrances, parabens, synthetic dyes, phthalates, sulfates, propylene glycol, formaldehyde, TEA.
Cons: Skin irritation may occur if you use this in conjunction with another topical acne medication. You can start once every other day to acclimate the skin and build up to 3x daily as needed.
Ideal for: Oily & Acne-prone skin, Scars, Congested pores, Excess sebum, Uneven skin tone, Aging skin (fine lines & wrinkles), Sensitive skin
Video: PHACE BIOACTIVE Clarifying Serum
NEOSTRATA Glycolic Renewal Serum
Best for: All skin types, Rough & Dull skin, Uneven skin texture
Prescribed by dermatologists worldwide, Neostrata is known for having one of the best formulations for active ingredients, including glycolic acid.
This brand has been proven effective by rigorous scientific studies through the years and is a staple of cosmetic clinics.
This particular serum is used by skin care specialists as a primer for procedures like in-clinic peels, improving their efficacy.
This AHA resurfacing serum is a potent combination of 10% glycolic acid and antioxidants to promote skin resurfacing at an optimal pH.
It improves the appearance of your skin’s texture for a smoother, brighter, more refined complexion. Use once or twice a day, as tolerated by your skin.
Follow by a soothing and reparative moisturizer like the NEOSTRATA Bionic Face Cream, or your preferred moisturizer.
It absorbs well and applies smoothly without feeling greasy.
Perfect for layering other products like retinol and helping your skin absorb other nourishing ingredients.
Key Active Ingredients:
- 10% Glycolic Acid — a high-potent AHA that increases cell turnover to renew skin texture and appearance
Cons: You may need to build up tolerance if you have sensitive skin. Use once or twice a week to start.
Best for: All skin types, Rough & Dull skin, Uneven skin texture
Video: Supercharged SKIN CARE | GLYCOLIC ACID by Dr. David Lim
Jan Marini Bioclear Face Lotion
(Glycolic Acid, Azelaic Acid, Salicylic Acid)
Best for: Normal to Combination skin, Oily skin
The Bioclear Face Lotion is Step 3 of Jan Marini’s “The Skin Care Management System™”, voted as the best skincare system for 11 consecutive years by NewBeauty Magazine’s Annual Beauty Choice Award.
This alpha hydroxy acid face serum is a potent combination of 3 clinically proven acids: glycolic, salicylic, and azelaic acid.
This blend of AHAs comes as a multi-functional resurfacing serum that reduces the appearance of acne scarring, large pores, redness, uneven texture, wrinkles, and fine lines.
Results will deliver you dramatically clearer, smoother, and more radiant skin.
These particular acids are also great in combating acne. Just be careful that your skin isn’t sensitized when you use this. It’s quite strong and can further irritate sensitive skin. Repair your skin barrier first before trying any new acids.
Shake well before using. Apply a few drops to your face in the morning and evening.
Key Active Ingredients:
- Glycolic Acid — one of the most widely used AHAs that helps exfoliate and renew the skin
- Azelaic Acid — has anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties that are effective against acne and rosacea
- Salicylic Acid — a beta-hydroxy acid that cuts through oil to clear out pores and dissolves dead skin that can clog pores
Cons: Can be too strong for sensitive skin. To build tolerance, start twice a week and gradually increase use to twice a day (morning and evening). You may experience some minor flaking as your skin renews itself at the beginning of using this product. You can follow this up with a hydrating, non-comedogenic moisturizer.
Best for: Normal to Combination skin, Oily skin
Video: Jan Marini Bioclear Face Lotion Review | Nadia Vega, Esthetician
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Pore-Refining Anti-Aging Facial Serum
(Glycolic Acid, Lipo-hydroxy Acid)
Best for: Oily skin, Acne-prone skin with large pores, Sensitive skin, Rough & Dull skin
A long-standing product that remained on the brand's best-selling list throughout the years.
This pore-minimizing serum targets large and open pores and works to soften and visibly reduce their 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 improves skin firmness; helps fade spots and dark patches as it works to continuously exfoliate the skin
- Lipo-hydroxy acid (LHA) – is 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.
Best for: Oily skin, acne-prone skin with large pores, sensitive skin, rough and dull skin
Video: Anti-Aging Acne Skincare | Effaclar by LaRochePosayUSA
La Roche Posay — Glycolic B5 10% Pure Glycolic Acid Serum
(Glycolic Acid, Tranexamic Acid, Kojic Acid, Lipo-hydroxy Acid)
Best for: All skin types, Dark spots, Hyperpigmentation, Acne marks, Discoloration, Age spots, Uneven skin tone, Dull skin, Uneven skin tone
One of the best aha serums for hyperpigmentation and acne marks.
This lightweight serum combines four exfoliating hydroxy acids with vitamin B5 to reduce dark spots and hyperpigmentation.
Suitable for different skin tones.
It takes 2 weeks to achieve brighter and more even skin tone and 4 weeks to significantly diminish skin discolorations like acne marks and age spots.
In 8 weeks, clinical studies have shown visible improvements in radiance, skin tone evenness, and overall skin quality.
- Concentrated 10% Pure Glycolic Acid – considered the gold standard in dermatology for chemical exfoliation; Acclaimed for visibly improving skin tone and texture by accelerating cell turnover
- Kojic Acid – has skin-lightening properties to reduce visible skin discolorations
- Tranexamic Acid (TXA) – a brightening agent that interferes with melanin production to reduce hyperpigmentation and improve skin complexion; makes this the perfect aha serum for acne marks
- Lipo-hydroxy Acid (LHA) – a derivative of salicylic acid used for skin renewal and skin clarity
- Vitamin B5 – Panthenol (provitamin B5) is an essential ingredient used in La Roche-Posay formulas to soothe and moisturize
- La Roche-Posay Thermal Spring Water – Another core La Roche-Posay ingredient; A natural antioxidant that contains a unique blend of minerals, trace elements, and a high concentration of selenium
Apply 3-4 drops every evening on the face and neck. It can be used alone or as a booster to your favorite moisturizer.
Suitable for sensitive skin & sensitive eyes. Allergy-tested. Fragrance-free.
Non-comedogenic. Oil-free. Paraben-free.
Cons: Even though presented as safe for sensitive skin, it can still cause irritations in some people. If your skin is very sensitive, do a spot check first at the corner of your jaw or a dark spot before applying it to your face. You can also follow up with a soothing moisturizer until your skin has acclimatized to the strength.
Ideal for: All skin types. Dark spots, Hyperpigmentation, Acne marks, Discoloration, Age spots, Uneven skin tone, Dull skin, Uneven skin tone
Video: How to use Glycolic B5 10% Pure Glycolic Acid Serum | La Roche-Posay (NEW)
Admire My Skin – Ultra Potent Brightening Serum
(Lactic Acid + Azelaic Acid, Kojic Acid, Salicylic Acid)
Best for: Dark spots, Hyperpigmentation, Acne, Fine lines, and Wrinkles
Admire My Skin's Ultra Potent Brightening Serum is a great affordable dupe for high-end brands like Murad's Rapid Dark Spot Correcting Serum, Dermalogica's Powerbright Dark Spot Serum, or the Caudalie Vinoperfect Radiance Dark Spot Serum.
The Ultra Potent Brightening Serum is a potent blend of medically-proven ingredients designed to target specific skin concerns like dark spots, hyperpigmentation, acne, fine lines, and wrinkles.
Key Active Ingredients:
- Synovea® HR – A proprietary ingredient that improves dark spots by inhibiting melanin production in the skin. Synovea® HR also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, which can protect the skin from damage caused by free radicals and environmental stressors. This can help prevent further hyperpigmentation and dark spots from forming.
- Azelaic Acid – A naturally occurring acid with anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, and it can improve the appearance of acne, rosacea, and hyperpigmentation.
- Lactic Acid (L) – A type of alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) that exfoliates the skin, removes dead skin cells, and improves overall skin texture.
- Kojic Acid – A natural ingredient derived from mushrooms that has skin-brightening and antioxidant properties, and can reduce the appearance of dark spots and hyperpigmentation.
- Salicylic Acid – A beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that exfoliates the skin, unclog pores, and improve the appearance of acne and other skin blemishes.
- L-Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) – A powerful antioxidant that protects the skin from environmental damage, improves skin texture, and reduces fine lines and wrinkles.
- Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Water – A natural astringent that tightens pores and reduces inflammation and redness in the skin.
The Ultra Potent Brightening Serum is designed for spot treatment and has a lightweight and fast-absorbing consistency, making it ideal for layering under moisturizers or makeup.
It's part of the “Trifecta Glow System,” a complete 3-month skincare regimen for correcting hyperpigmentation, dark spots, sunspots, age spots, liver spots, and rough, uneven skin.
The Trifecta Glow is an advanced system that needs time to work, and I recommend at least 4 weeks of daily use for best results.
Consistency and daily use are key, but if you have sensitive skin, I advise starting twice a week before gradually increasing your frequency. Skipping the daily routine may delay results, but it is safer for sensitive skin.
Once you see your skin start to peel gently, use a hydrating moisturizer to avoid redness and irritation. It's also important to apply sunscreen religiously in the morning to ensure you don't undo any progress.
I recommend getting a 3-month supply of the set for better results and saving money in the long run.
With regular use, the Trifecta Glow System can fade dark spots and improve overall skin tone, leaving you with a brighter and more even complexion.
Cons: Works better with the Trifecta Glow System, instead of just a standalone product. The set is also very potent and can cause irritation to sensitive skin.
Ideal for: Spot treatment for age spots, liver spots, sun spots, dark spots, or discoloration anywhere on your face or body
Video: HOW I GOT RID OF MY HYPER-PIGMENTATION IN 3 WEEKS! | AN HONEST REVIEW | ADMIRE MY SKIN POTENT SERUM
+ Promos & Coupon Codes **
Erno Laszlo AHA Resurfacing Sleep Serum
(Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid)
Best for: Dull skin, Uneven skin tone, Mature skin, Fine lines and wrinkles
Established in the 1920s, Erno Laszlo has accomplished what very few brands have been able to do: a century of groundbreaking skincare.
They have pioneered the concept of a bespoke “skincare routine” and introduced cleansing oils and bars as the double cleanse we know today.
Their most prominent celebrity clients through the ages include Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Greta Garbo, and Jackie Onassis.
Products once sold exclusively are now available, though their high-end customization service remains private to their members-only institute in Soho.
Erno Laszlo’s latest clean skincare favorites include the Memory Sleep Mask and the AHA Resurfacing Sleep Serum.
This powerful 15% AHA resurfacing night serum is clinically proven to improve skin clarity and reveal younger-looking skin.
Exfoliating acids glycolic and lactic work overnight to dissolve dead skin cells, leaving your skin softer and more supple in the morning.
Added to the blend is a Wild Plum cocktail that gives your skin natural radiance and Goji Berry to improve hydration.
Easy to absorb and apply with their very nifty dropper. One pump will be enough to treat your entire face.
You’ll feel a slight tingling sensation when you first start using this but nothing alarming. If you have dry skin and experience a bit of flaking, pair it with a hydrating moisturizer before going to bed.
Excellent for fine lines, dry skin, and dull complexions.
- Lactic Acid — a gentle exfoliating acid for sensitive skin, hydrates and brightens the skin
- Glycolic Acid — delivers fast results while you sleep, improving skin texture and clarity
- Wild Plum cocktail of Kakadu, Illawarra, and Budekin — enhances skin luminosity
- Goji Berry — for hydration that targets fine lines
– 85% of users reported an improvement in skin clarity
– 89% of users reported that their skin felt renewed and refreshed in the morning
– 85% of users felt that skin was softer, restored, and more supple
– 97% of users felt that this product absorbed quickly
– 89% of users felt that skin was significantly smoother in the morning
Free from: Parabens, Phthalates, Sulfates, Urea, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, Colorants, and Fragrance.
Cons: Has a slight scent for those sensitive to fragrance. May be too strong for sensitive skin. Best to use once or twice a week to begin, then every evening as you build tolerance.
Ideal for: Dull skin, Uneven skin tone, Mature skin, Fine lines and wrinkles
Video: Erno Laszlo AHA Resurfacing Sleep Serum Review | Nadia Vega, Esthetician
The Nue Co. – THE PILL Skin Supplement – All-In-One Active Ingredient Face Serum
(Glycolic, Lactic, Mandelic, Malic, Tartaric, Citric Acid)
Best for: All skin types; Inflamed, Puffy, Dry, Dull, and Tired skin
From brands who paved the way, to the innovative and state-of-the-art cosmetic formulations of the future.
Clean beauty has taken over the skincare industry.
Brands are now sourcing ethical and sustainable ingredients with formulas free from preservatives, parabens, and preservatives.
The Nue Co. is fresh at the forefront, developing an all-in-one face serum made from natural ingredients that have decades of scientifically-backed efficacy.
One of the best natural AHA serums, this offers a single daily dose of every essential nutrient for the skin.
They’ve taken out the complexity of layering skincare and offer a one-step solution to exfoliate, hydrate, and tighten your skin.
It brightens the skin as it exfoliates, plumps as it hydrates, and tightens as it supports long-term collagen production.
It can also reduce breakouts and reduce fine lines.
The Pill uses an extraordinary six AHAs naturally derived from sugars and the primary acids for exfoliation: Glycolic, Lactic, Mandelic, Malic, Tartaric, and Citric acids.
The Pill also targets skin inflammation with calming plant compounds and complex actives.
Use once a day in the morning as your pick-me-up. One to two pumps on dry skin, followed by your moisturizer.
- Glycolic Acid — derived from sugar cane, smallest and lowest in molecular weight, making it the easiest AHA to absorb
- Tiger Grass Extract —a potent antioxidant rich in amino acids, well-known for its wound-healing properties
- Lemon Extract —a mild exfoliator and source of Citric Acid
- Kakadu Plum Extract — a potent source of vitamin c, e, and antioxidants to help brighten and soothe irritated skin
- Pineapple Extract — an enzyme-rich AHA that helps skin cell regeneration for improved elasticity
- Sugarcane Extract — another naturally-occurring exfoliant that brightens the skin
- Hyaluronic Acid — clinically proven to reduce fine lines and promote skin smoothness after eight weeks of use
- Glycerin — a humectant that mimics the skin’s natural moisturizing factor by preserving its barrier
- Lactic Acid — the gentlest of AHAs derived from fermented sugars that moisturize and brighten the skin
- Sodium PCA — replenishes the skin due to its humectant properties and ability to absorb moisture from the air
- Larch Tree Extract — reduces the epidermal water loss, thereby maintaining the skin’s moisture and fortifying its barrier
- Passion Fruit Extract — a soothing plant oil that helps relieve dry skin
- Licorice Root Extract — soothing and anti-inflammatory
- Caffeine — instantly reduces puffiness and promotes skin tightening
- Isoamyl Laurate — a lightweight, plant-based oil that leaves a velvet feel to the skin
- Grape Seed Extract — high in omegas and antioxidants to protect against free radicals while firming and evening out skin tone
Organic, vegan, and cruelty-free.
Cons: For sensitive skin, this cocktail of ingredients might trigger allergic reactions. Make sure to patch test.
Ideal for: All skin types; Inflamed, puffy, dry, dull, and tired skin
Video: THE PILL all-in-one serum
Drunk Elephant – T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum
(Glycolic, Tartaric, Lactic, & Citric Acid blend, Salicylic Acid)
Best for: All skin type, Vegan, Dull & Uneven complexion
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).
- 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 the 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.
100% free of fragrance, silicones, and essential oils.
*Consumer Testing Results: 98% found skin was smoother. 96% found skin was softer. 93% found skin felt retexturized and refined. 93% found skin had a healthy, radiant glow. 91% found skin looked more even-toned, brighter, and luminous.
*in an independent consumer testing panel of 50 women ages 25 to 55.
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 with vegan preferences, dull & uneven complexion
Video: Drunk Elephant Review Part 1 | Marula, Juju, Pekee, C-Firma, TLC Framboos!
Baie Botanique – Rose Regenerating Serum, 2-in-1 Serum & Toner
Best for: Dry & dehydrated skin, Mature skin, Vegan, Dull & uneven complexion
Another award-winning product from the UK, this rose enriched anti-aging serum is formulated with a laundry list of botanicals and bio actives. It is 80% organic and 98% natural.
This regenerating serum aids in cell renewal, cell turnover, and restructuring of your skin. It increases collagen production, improves elasticity, noticeably tones the skin, and combats the appearance of wrinkles & fine lines. It leaves the skin brighter, softer, visibly toned, and enhances the overall complexion.
Vegan, Cruelty-free, Toxin-free. Not tested on animals. 100% free of parabens, propylene glycol, phthalates, synthetic colors & fragrances, EDTA, PEGS, sulfates, and petrochemicals.
It comes in a lightweight gel formula that allows for easy application.
- 15% Hyaluronic Acid (plant-based) – One HA molecule can hold up to 1,000x its weight in water. This is of the most effective skincare ingredients to attract & retain moisture. It boosts skin hydration and restores elasticity to the skin.
- Glycolic Acid – Increases cell turnover and improves skin texture
- Rose Water (Rosa Damascena) & Rose Absolute – Helps nourish & moisturize the skin
- Aloe (Aloe Barbadensis Leaf) – Anti-inflammatory
- Witch Hazel (Hamamelis Virginiana) – Conditions the skin and helps restore the suppleness of the skin
- Kojic Acid/Reishi (Wildcrafted Ganoderma Lucidum) – Brightening
- White Willow Bark/Salicylic Acid – Helps fight acne, a gentle and all-natural exfoliant
- Organic Oils including Rosehip Seed Oil (Organic Rosa Canina), Jojoba Oil (Organic Simmondsia Chinensis)
- Essential Oils include: Melissa Essential Oil (Melissa Officinalis), Rosewood Essential Oil (Aniba Rosaeodora var Amazonica), Rose Geranium Essential Oil (Pelargonium Roseum)
- Botanicals include: Organic Licorice (Glycyrrhiza Glabra), Lemon Balm (Wildcrafted Melissa Officinalis), Chinese Ginseng (Wildcrafted Panax Ginseng), Organic Anise (Pimpinella Anisum), Horseradish (Armoracia Rusticana), Schisandra (Schisandra Chinensis), Fennel (Foeniculum Vulgare), Centella Asiatica (Gotu Kola), Horsetail (Equisetum Arvense), Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale), Wild Geranium (Geranium Maculatum)
- Vitamin E (Tocopheryl Acetate)
Cons: Whilst the long list of botanicals has a tremendous amount of benefits, it also increases the potential for irritation, especially for sensitive skin.
Best for: Dry & dehydrated skin, Mature skin, Vegan preferences, Dull & uneven complexion
Vivant Skin Care 8% Mandelic Acid 3-in-1 Serum
(Mandelic Acid, Lactic Acid)
Best for: Normal, Combination, Oily Skin, Acne-prone Skin; Fades Blemishes, Uneven color, Hyperpigmentation, Wrinkles; Darker skin tones
A dramatically unique AHA serum that works to target 3 primary skin issues—acne, aging, and irregular pigmentation. It’s safe for all skin tones and is a great alternative to hydroquinone (skin brightener), glycolic, and skin too sensitive for benzoyl peroxide.
Formulated with mandelic and lactic acid, it gradually resurfaces the skin to reduce the signs of skin aging, blemishes, and acne scars. The results will be a firmer, brighter, and more even skin tone, as well as a refinement in pores and texture.
This is an ideal serum if you’re just starting an exfoliation routine.
- Mandelic Acid – A natural skin lightener that is effective in targeting discoloration, age spots, acne, and wrinkles while minimizing irritation. Naturally derived from bitter almonds.
- Lactic Acid – One of the gentlest AHAs, derived from fermented milk. It exfoliated dead skin and encourages cell renewal. It also aids in regulating pH and acts as a moisture binder.
- Urea – Promotes skin rehydration
- Sodium PCA – One of the skin’s natural moisturizing factors, it helps repair the skin and repels polluting aggressors like smoke and UV rays
- Niacinamide – a water-soluble form of Vitamin B that acts as an anti-inflammatory agent and firms the skin
- Inositol – A part of the Vitamin B family that provides maintenance to the cell membrane
Cons: From experience, the consistency can be a bit heavy once applied. You might need to wait for at least 10 minutes (in my case) for it to absorb. One good trick for easier absorption is to apply on damp skin.
Best for: Normal, Combination, Oily Skin, Acne-prone Skin; Fades Blemishes, Uneven color, Hyperpigmentation, Wrinkles; Darker skin tones, Skin too sensitive for benzoyl peroxide, hydroquinone, & glycolics
ZIA CARINI Silk Luxury 20% Vitamin C Serum
(Glycolic Acid, Salicylic Acid)
Best for: All skin types; Sun damaged skin, Oily & Acne-prone skin, Mature skin, Dry skin
A professional spa-quality serum that has an all-natural, vegan, cruelty-free, and gluten-free 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 BHA (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 is 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.
Best for: All skin types especially sun-damaged skin, oily and acne-prone skin, mature skin, and dry skin
Recommended Acne Programs
If you're suffering from severe acne, it's best to undergo a program that will help you get to the root of the problem and address the causes.
- The Acne No More System by Mike Walden – Restores hormonal balance to achieve permanent clear skin for life.
- The “Trifecta Glow” System – A highly potent brightening treatment guaranteed to reduce the appearance of dark spots & acne scars within 4 weeks.
- La Roche-Posay – Effaclar Dermatological 3 Step Acne Treatment System
- Murad – Acne Control Kit – Breakout Skin Care Kit
- Mario Badescu – Acne Starter/Control/Repair Kit
- Dermalogica – Clear Start Breakout Clearing Kit
- Sunday Riley – About Acne Kit
What are AHA Serums?
When applied to the skin, AHA serums can stimulate the exfoliation of old, roughened skin to promote cell renewal. Basically, this method tells your skin to speed up its regeneration process.
AHAs or 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 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, and uneven skin tone among others.
AHA serums 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.
What are the Benefits of AHA Serums?
Clinical trials have shown that hydroxy acids bring significant improvements in skin hydration, elasticity, tone, texture, and 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, and lighten blemishes, faded wrinkles, and age spots; they soon began to have a major role in cosmetic skincare.
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 reduced 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 the effectiveness of other skincare products
- stimulate the exfoliation of old, roughened skin to promote cell renewal. This process speeds up the skin regeneration process.
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.
How to Incorporate the Best AHA Serums in Your Skincare Routine
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.
Total Time Needed :
Step-by-Step Daily Skincare Routine:
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- DUFFY, DAVID M. MD1 Alpha Hydroxy Acids/Trichloroacetic Acids Risk/Benefit Strategies. A Photographic Review, Dermatologic Surgery: February 1998 – Volume 24 – Issue 2 – p 181-189 doi: 10.1111/j.1524-4725.1998.tb04135.x
- Sueki, Hirohiko. (2001). Pharmacological Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) on Human Skin.. Nishi Nihon Hifuka. 63. 221-225. 10.2336/nishinihonhifu.63.221.
- Tran, Diana & Townley, Joshua & Barnes, Tanya & Greive, Kerryn. (2015). An antiaging skin care system containing alpha hydroxy acids and vitamins improves the biomechanical parameters of facial skin. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology. 8. 9-17. 10.2147/CCID.S75439.
- Ditre CM, Griffin TD, Murphy GF, Sueki H, Telegan B, Johnson WC, Yu RJ, Van Scott EJ. Effects of alpha-hydroxy acids on photoaged skin: a pilot clinical, histologic, and ultrastructural study. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1996 Feb;34(2 Pt 1):187-95. doi: 10.1016/s0190-9622(96)80110-1. PMID: 8642081.
- Tran D, Townley JP, Barnes TM, Greive KA. An antiaging skin care system containing alpha hydroxy acids and vitamins improves the biomechanical parameters of facial skin. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2014 Dec 19;8:9-17. doi: 10.2147/CCID.S75439. PMID: 25552908; PMCID: PMC4277239.
- Bioactive, P. PHACE BIOACTIVE®: pH Optimized Skin Care® | Marisa Vara Arredondo.
- DailyMed – PHACE BIOACTIVE CLARIFYING SERUM- salicylic acid cream.
- Dermatologist Recommended Skin Care.
- Drunk Elephant Skincare.
- Innovative – Botanical – Skincare » Baie Botanique | USA.
- La Roche-Posay Skincare, Sunscreen, Body Lotion Official Site.
- Michalun, N. and Michalun, M. (2001). Milady’s skin care and cosmetic ingredients dictionary. 1st ed. Australia: Milady Thomson Learning.
- Riley, S. Sunday Riley.
- VIDT, D. and BERGFELD, W. (1997). Cosmetic use of alpha-hydroxy acids. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, 64(6), pp.327-329.
- Vivant Skin Care.
- 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. [Source]
- WOLF, B., PASTER, A. and LEVY, S. (1996). An Alpha Hydroxy Acid Derivative Suitable for Sensitive Skin. Dermatologic Surgery, 22(5), pp.469-473. [Source]
- Zia Carini Beauty.