The secrets you didn’t know about lactic acid for skin your face will thank you for
Skin saviour lactic acid has been a game-changing addition to my skincare routine back in the days when I was battling with severe acne and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Yes, indeed, it was instrumental in stopping my face from looking like a frying pan and helped me achieve that inside out glow. Lactic acid has become the best friend I didn’t know I had.
I bet you want to know what the fuss is all about lactic acid for skin, and what it can do for your face. So, let’s do a little dip dive.
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WHAT IS LACTIC ACID?
Lactic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) and a humectant used as a skincare ingredient in over-the-counter beauty products and professional dermatologist treatments.
As an organic acid, it is naturally found in the human body blood, muscle tissue, and skin as well as in many fermented foods such as dairy, soy sauce, beer, just to name a few.
However, the lactic acid for skin used in today’s beauty products and treatments are synthetically produced to improve its stability and efficacy.
Lactic acid supports gentle skin exfoliation, helps clear acne breakouts, brighten dark spots and improve skin firmness and thickness, minimise the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and it enables your skin to attract and retain moisture.
As the gentlest of the alpha-hydroxy acids, lactic acid is suitable for most skin types and considered the darling of sensitive skin types.
Some of the common names used to identify lactic acid on the ingredient list of cosmetic products include:
- Lactic Acid
- L-Lactic Acid
- D-Lactic Acid
Lactic acid salts are also used in beauty products, and they could be identified as:
- Sodium Lactate
- Potassiu Lactate
- Calcium Lactate
- Ammonium Lactate
You will also find lactic acid esters in skincare product labels listed as:
- Lauryl Lactate
- Myristyl Lactate
- Methyl Lactate
- Butyl Lactate
- Cetyl Lactate
- Ethyl Lactate
Let us dig a little deeper into lactic acid skin benefits, and how you can potentially add it into your skincare regimen.
HOW DOES LACTIC ACID AFFECT MY SKIN?
The main lactic acid skin benefits are:
Exfoliates dead skin cells
As a keratolytic, lactic acid softens the top layer of the skin known as the epidermis to facilitate gentle exfoliation of accumulated dead skin cells. The extent of exfoliation depends on the concentration of lactic acid, its pH, and other ingredients in the cosmetic formulation.
The exfoliation process helps accelerate cell turnover and stimulates cell renewal, thereby supporting skin rejuvenation.
Improves skin firmness and thickness
A 1996 clinical study on the epidermal and dermal effects of topical lactic acid, revealed that a 5% lactic acid containing product used twice a day for 3 months helped improve the epidermis firmness and thickness, smoothness and texture, and fine lines and wrinkles.
On the other hand, when using a 12% lactic acid treatment similarly, both the epidermis and the dermis got firmer and thicker. Additionally, there was clinical improvement in skin smoothness and in the appearance of lines and wrinkles.
Lactic acid helps calm your inflamed skin resulting from acne. It helps dissolve the plug of skin cells that build up around the hair follicle, smoothing out skin bumpiness.
A 2002 clinical study of 5% aqueous solution of lactate as a preventative treatment for acne vulgaris in 22 patients over one year highlighted that most patients showed a significant reduction in both inflammatory and non-inflammatory lesion counts.
Fades mild hyperpigmentation and melasma
Like its AHA cousins, lactic acid helps lighten mild skin discoloration such as age spots, sun spots or dark marks resulting from hyperpigmentation, by removing the outer layer of the skin to gradually reveal a smoother and brighter complexion.
In a 2005 study 92% lactic acid was found to be a new effective and safe peeling agent in the treatment of melasma. Patients were treated every 3 weeks until the desired response was achieved.
Reduces fine lines and wrinkles
Lactic acid may also help improve signs of ageing. Consistent use of lactic acid at the right concentration supports the collagen renewal process and can help firm and thicken your skin.
This in turn may result in the improved appearance and texture of fine lines and wrinkles on your face.
Treats eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea
Lactic acid has been shown to be helpful in topical treatments formulated to treat eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea.
A 2017 clinical review of moisturisers for eczema found some evidence that it shortened flares. A 2018 study suggests that lactic acid may help reduce itching in eczema after the first use and restores skin barrier function.
If you suffer from eczema, psoriasis or rosacea, it might be worth seeking medical advice from your doctor or dermatologist before adding lactic acid into your skincare routine.
Lactic acid is the most hydrating AHA. Its humectant properties enable it to attract water molecules and draw moisture to your exfoliated skin to support skin hydration and minimise the formation of new fine lines and wrinkles. The lower the pH of the lactic acid product, the greater the water absorption.
Lactic acid helps prepare your skin to better absorb other skincare ingredients in your skincare routine, making skincare products more effective in tackling your skin concerns.
POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS
There are some drawbacks to using lactic acid. Some of them include:
When you start using lactic acid regularly as per your recommended treatment, you might notice that your skin becomes more sensitive to the sun.
This is because the lactic acid shedding process that occurs to get rid of dead skin cells on the epidermis reveals fresh new skin that is more vulnerable to UV sun damage.
In some cases, sun sensitivity may continue for up to 4 weeks after you’ve ceased using your lactic acid containing product.
Daily use and reapplication of an excellent sunscreen should be included in your skincare routine to protect your skin from harmful sun rays and free radicals.
Skin irritation in the form of redness, peeling, swelling, dryness, itchiness, and burning can occur as a result of using lactic acid. This might go away within an hour, but it may persist a lot longer. In which case, consider stopping using your treatment and seek medical advice.
LACTIC ACID TREATMENT OPTIONS TO LOOK FOR
A wide range of lactic acid treatment options are available on the market for you to identify the most suitable treatment for your skin type.
Over-the-counter lactic acid containing products vary widely in concentration, from 2% to more than 30%.
If it is your very first time using an over-the-counter lactic acid containing product and you have sensitive skin, start off with a very low strength product of between 2% and 5%.
Only use a much higher concentration of over-the-counter lactic acid containing product once you are confident that your skin can handle it with very minimal to no side effects.
Cleansers and Toners
Lactic acid cleansers and toners are ideal for people with sensitive skin because they are rinse-off products. They do not sit on your skin for a prolonged period of time, which can help minimise irritation.
They are good entry points into the world of AHAs. Some cleansers and toners worth checking out include:
- Aesop Parsley Seed Facial Cleanser 200 ml
- Eucerin Dermo Purifyer Facial Toner for Blemish Prone Skin 200ml
- Rodial Vitamin C Brightening Tonic 200 ml
- Eucerin Dermo Purifyer Face Scrub for Blemish Prone Skin 100ml
- REN Micro Polish Cleanser 150ml
Creams, Lotions, and Serums
Leave-on treatments such as creams, lotions, and serums are great options if you want to use lactic acid containing products long term to gradually improve and maintain your skin health.
Lactic acid containing creams, serums, or lotions are best applied at night time to help minimise your skin sensitivity to the sun. When using such products, always remember to apply and reapply your sunscreen all day.
Use products as recommended by manufacturers. If irritation occurs, stop using the product to allow your skin barrier function to repair. And once irritation dissipates, reintroduce your lactic acid cream, serum, or lotion at a lower frequency to allow your skin to get used again to your product(s).
Some lactic acid containing creams, lotions, and serums worth checking out include:
- Drunk Elephant Protini™ Powerpeptide Resurf Serum 30ml
- First Aid Beauty KP Smoothing Body Lotion with 10% AHA 170g
- Fade Out Advanced Brightening Night Cream 50ml
- Perricone MD Blemish Relief Calming Treatment and Hydrator 59 ml
- Florena Anti-Wrinkle Day Cream 50ml
- Cosmedix Simply brilliant 24/7 brightening serum 30 ml
At-home Peels and Masks
At-home lactic acid peels and masks should generally be 10% or less. Their higher concentration is strong enough to deliver an upgraded exfoliation within the comfort of your home.
At-home peels and masks are not recommended for daily use, as they can cause severe skin irritation and sun sensitivity.
Apply your lactic acid containing product as recommended by the product manufacturer.
Some at-home peels and masks that might be worth your hard earned coins include:
- Deciem The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA 2% 30ml
- Deciem The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA 30ml
- Oskia Liquid Mask Lactic Acid Micro-peel 10% 30ml
- Cosmedix Pure Enzymes Cranberry Exfoliating Mask 60g
Professional Grade Lactic Acid Peels
Professional grade lactic acid peels range in concentration level up to 92%. The concentration used in salon treatments is based on your health and skincare needs.
You will need a series of peels as recommended by your dermatologist or aesthetician to achieve your desired skin health.
Professional grade lactic acid peels with concentration of 10% and above, including those available over-the-counter such as The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution are best used with dermatological support.
Get assistance from a Board certified dermatologist or a licensed aesthetician, at a medical spa, or a cosmetic surgery office before using such peels.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Can I use lactic acid everyday?
In most cases, no, you should not use lactic acid products everyday, as these might cause skin irritation and increase skin sensitivity to the sun.
However, the lactic acid concentration in a product formula may help determine whether a product can be used everyday. Always read your cosmetic product recommended use from the product manufacturer.
If you are using a rinse-off product with low-strength lactic acid such as a cleanser, then the product manufacturer will indicate whether or not the product is suitable for daily use.
What can you not mix lactic acid with?
- Avoid using lactic acid with vitamin C (ascorbic acid) at the same time, because this combination will negate ascorbic acid’s efficacy and might increase your skin irritation.
- Likewise, avoid using lactic acid in conjunction with topical retinoids such as retinol or retin-A, as these might trigger over exfoliation. Alternate days and times of use.
- Do not use lactic acid should together with salicylic acid, unless both skincare ingredients have been specifically formulated at the right concentration for a product or a treatment
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10. Cleveland Clinic. Understanding the ingredients in skin care products. Updated March 1, 2015 – my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/10980-understanding-the-ingredients-in-skin-care-products