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What is Lactic Acid, and How Does It Benefit The Skin?

Posted by Ellie Swain on Dec 23rd 2022

What is Lactic Acid, and How Does It Benefit The Skin?

Back in Ancient Egyptian times, Cleopatra would soak in milk for softer, smoother skin while unknowingly reaping the benefits of the exfoliating acid present in sour milk – lactic acid.

While applying spoiled milk to your skin to soften fine lines and tackle blemishes sounds a bit unbelievable, that’s pretty much what lactic acid does.

We’re not suggesting you splash rotten milk onto your face nightly, though, so don’t worry. But you may or may not know that beauty brands have caught onto this practice, integrating lactic acid into serums and cleansers to treat the skin.

Today, lactic acid is regarded as one of the most popular alpha hydroxy acids on the market, commonly used to enhance skin tone and texture and lightly exfoliate the skin.

Want to learn more about lactic acid and how it improves the skin? Keep reading.

What is lactic acid?

Lactic acid is a skincare ingredient that provides various benefits when included in a well-formulated exfoliating product. Lactic acid is often used in a pH-correcting formula, such as one that’s designed to be left lingering on the skin or a high-strength peel that can be rinsed off after several minutes.

This popular skincare ingredient works by gently breaking the bonds that hold onto dead, dry skin cells. A rinse-off peel with lactic acid is a popular beauty product featuring the ingredient used weekly or every other week to remove dead skin cells.

When we’re young, these dead skin cells tend to shed on their own, but various factors, such as sun damage, aging, and some skin issues, can slow or even prevent this process. This leads to a buildup of dead skin that contributes to an older, duller-looking complexion.

By regularly using a beauty product with lactic acid, you can have a younger, more radiant complexion.

What are the benefits of lactic acid?

So, how exactly does lactic acid improve the skin?

Firstly, lactic acid can kill bacteria. Research surrounding lactic acid’s efficacies relating to the skin is limited, but a 1985 study discovered that the ingredient helped to combat skin infections in newborn infants. The study also found that lactic acid could kill bacteria in adults, too, including irritating, acne-causing bacteria.

Likewise, researchers found that lactic acid could help maintain firmer, thicker skin, leading to fewer lines and wrinkles. As well as this, lactic acid has been proven to treat acne lesions, increase skin turnover rate, and help the skin hold moisture and remain hydrated.

How do you use lactic acid?

If you’re new to lactic acid, try incorporating a lactic acid product like a serum or toner into your skincare routine on a three-on/three-off schedule. So, you could apply the acid for three nights before taking a break for three nights. During your ‘time off’, treat your complexion to hydrating and nourishing ingredients that feed the new cells you’ve revealed.

While you’re using lactic acid (or any other acid), you should stop using potent exfoliating products like retinoids or scrubs.

Lactic acid encourages the growth of new skin. If you’re using lactic acid, you may have a lack of pigment, so this could cause increased susceptibility to sunburn.

Always, always use at least SPF 30 when using lactic acid. You should be doing this anyway, but even more so when using this powerful ingredient, as it makes your skin more prone to skin damage.

Lactic acid products to try

The beauty world is awash with products featuring lactic acid, but here are some of our favorites.

Murad AHA BHA Exfoliating Cleanser

The Murad AHA BHA Exfoliating Cleanser boasts the benefits of exfoliation in the convenience of a cleanser. The creamy formula is best incorporated into your cleansing routine to be used two to three times a week for smoother-looking skin.

With lactic acid as one of the key ingredients, the exfoliating cleanser helps to transform dull, dry skin into a fresher, more vibrant complexion. The cleanser also helps to improve the penetration of any treatment ingredients you may apply after the solution.

PCA Skin Nutrient Toner

The unique PCA Skin Nutrient Toner is pumpkin-based and also contains lactic acid. The toner helps to refine the appearance of pores, gently exfoliating and delivering added nutritional goodness to the skin, including vitamins, amino acids, and enzymes.

Together, this combination of ingredients gently exfoliates the skin for a vibrant glow.

Do you want more skincare advice? Here are beauty rituals from around the world to try at home .