What is Lactic Acid?
In the natural world, Lactic Acid is commonly found in dairy products like milk and yogurt.
In the skincare world, Lactic acid is an Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA), a class of exfoliating chemicals which also includes Glycolic, Citric, Malic, Tartaric and Mandelic Acids. If you want to know more about exfoliating acids, head over to our exfoliating acids cheatsheet.
Though Lactic Acid is water-soluble like Glycolic Acid but owing to its larger molecular size, it stays more on the outer layers of the skin. Being a keratolytic, it exfoliates dead skin cells from the skin’s surface by breaking down and dissolving the structure of dead skin cells without causing irritation, making way for a fresh layer of skin cells. Not just that, Lactic Acid chemically attracts water molecules to itself, drawing moisture to the newly exfoliated skin.
Being a gentle but effective exfoliator, it is suitable for all skin types, especially for those with sensitive skin. It is widely used in skincare products for mature skin and acne prone skin.
What does Lactic Acid do for your Skin?
Lactic Acid is a milder AHA so it gently exfoliates the outer layer of the skin by dissolving the bonds that hold the dead cells together, lifting and removing them to reveal brighter looking skin as well as an improved and even skin texture.
All AHAs are exfoliating agents but Lactic Acid has an added benefit as it helps improve the skin’s natural moisture factor.
3. Reduces the appearance of Fine Lines and Wrinkles
Collagen is responsible for keeping your skin firm but as you age, the Collagen production in your body reduces. Lactic Acid accelerates skin cell renewal which increases Collagen production. Lactic Acid not only renews skin cells but also improves hydration which is the key to reducing fine lines and wrinkles as well as preventing new ones from forming.
4. Fights Acne
The exfoliating properties of Lactic Acid clear out dead skin cells and excessive oil that clog pores and trigger breakouts.
5. Treats Bumpy Skin
Lactic Acid is an important ingredient in lotions and creams used to treat keratosis pilaris, a.k.a ‘chicken skin’, bumps that appear on the back of your arms and legs. Regular usage of lotions with Lactic Acid can smooth out the bumpiness.
What Skin types can use Lactic Acid?
One of the main reasons behind the popularity of Lactic Acid as a skincare ingredient is its suitability for all skin types. Lactic Acid is milder as compared to other AHAs and that’s why it is well tolerated by all skin types, including sensitive skin.
However, if you have sensitive skin, it is best to start out using products with lower concentrations (5%) of Lactic Acid as it gives your skin some time to get used to the acid. Even for other skin types, if you are using Lactic Acid products at home, it is best not to go beyond a concentration of 10-12%.
How can you Incorporate Lactic Acid in your skin care routine?
To start with, Lactic Acid cleansers are an easy addition to your skincare routine. They are especially a good choice for sensitive skin because it can be easily rinsed off and Lactic Acid does not penetrate the skin, limiting irritation. A gentle and cleansing Lactic Acid face wash is also great for acne-prone skin.
Our recommendation is the Aminu Essentials AHA Face Wash, a gentle cleanser with its lightweight gel formula effectively removes excess oil and impurities from the surface of the skin, leaving the skin refreshed and hydrated with an improved complexion. If you are looking for a body wash instead then we’ll suggest Aminu’s Zen Mood AHA Body Wash. With its effective combination of AHA exfoliants, essential oils and activated charcoal, this gentle cleanser makes your skin feel fresh and hydrated.
2. Creams and Lotions
If you are looking for a solution to dry skin then creams with Lactic Acid are your best bet as they often include other moisturising ingredients like Ceramides. Leave-on treatments like lotions and creams are best suited for night-time use.
Serums usually have a stronger formula because they combine Lactic Acid with other exfoliating acid. Having a higher concentration, serums are likely to show better results in battling fine lines, wrinkles and uneven skin tone. Serums are also best suited to be used at night, after cleansing.
We recommend using MartiDerm’s Night Renew 10 Ampoules with the perfect overnight formula that renews and repairs your skin, improving skin elasticity and skin tone. Moreover, it is suitable for all skin types, including acne-prone skin thanks to its non-greasy formula.
Since, serums have a stronger formula, it is important that you use them correctly. If you are unsure about using a serum, we have a complete guide on how to use a serum for you.
4. Peels and Masks
Peels and masks are meant to deliver a quick but strong burst of exfoliation which means they have a higher concentration of Lactic Acid and other active ingredients. These products are not designed to be used daily, but rather once or twice a week.
Dr. Sheth’s Basic Brightening Extra Gentle Daily Peel is a perfect solution for managing pigmentation, blemishes and uneven skin. This lotion peel is formulated specially for Indian skin, making it suitable for normal, combination, oily and sensitive skin.
SkinPot.Co’s Hyper-Repair Exfoliation Peel is also an excellent choice if you are looking for a deep cleansing of clogged pores and lightening pigmentation. Being on the stronger side, we recommend using this peel only once a week.
Are there any Side Effects of using Lactic Acid on your skin?
1. Sun Sensitivity
As Lactic Acid is an exfoliating agent which sloughs away dead skin cells, it makes the new layer of skin cells vulnerable to UV rays. Make sure to include sunscreen in your morning routine if you are regularly using Lactic Acid products the night before. Using a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher helps in protecting the new and healthy skin from sun damage. For effective sun protection, the mineral-based Ozone Signature Natural Sun Protector provides a broad spectrum protection from UV and UVB radiation.
2. Skin Irritation
Though it is a gentle Hydroxy Acid, apart from increasing your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, it can also cause mild redness, swelling, dryness and itchy skin. Mild stinging and redness is normal when you start using a lactic acid product and as long as these symptoms are mild and last for 45-60 minutes after using the product, you have nothing to worry about. It’s always a good idea to start out slow with a lower concentration of Lactic Acid and doing a patch-test before using a new product. If you are unsure about doing a patch test or tend to skip it completely before using a new product, read our blog on the importance of doing a patch test and how to conduct one successfully.
What are some Ingredients that should not be mixed with lactic acid?
1. Vitamin C
Avoid mixing Lactic Acid with Vitamin C as this combination will push the product’s pH towards the acidic side which can cause skin irritation.
If you are using topical retinoids like Retin-A or Refissa then they are already exfoliating your skin so there is no need to double-up the exfoliating by adding a product with Lactic Acid. If you are pregnant, substituting retinoids with Lactic Acid in your anti-aging treatment is a good and safe option.
3. Other AHAs
To avoid excessive skin dryness, don’t use it with other AHAs at the same time.
Overall, Lactic Acid is a gentle and popular AHA with a good safety track record and as long as you follow the instructions on the products you’re using, you are bound to see results in the medium to long term. With Lactic Acid, the most important thing to keep in mind is to protect your skin from the sun by using sunscreen daily.
Lactic Acid offers different benefits in different concentrations but as a recommended practice start out slow, especially people with sensitive skin. This ingredient is incredibly well suited for sensitive and acne-prone skin but it is important to give your skin some time to get used to a new product before increasing the concentration and its frequency in your daily routine.
- Srishti Mehra