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Lactic acid... the lesser known hero

Lactic acid... the lesser known hero

Lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA).

Lactic acid is used to exfoliate the skin, lighten dark spots, and improve the look of fine lines and wrinkles.

What Is Lactic Acid?

Lactic acid, one of the most popular AHAs is naturally found in dairy products; it's what gives yogurt and soured milk that distinctive tang. Historically, dairy products have been used by people across the world to soften and beautify the skin.

Cleopatra was said to regularly bathe in milk to keep her skin looking lovely. And it probably worked, thanks to lactic acid.

Health Benefits

Lactic acid exfoliates the skin. It helps the older, dull cells on the skin's surface to slough away by dissolving the bonds that hold them together. Lactic acid speeds up cell turnover and stimulates cell renewal.

That's what's happening on the cellular level below the skin, but what you'll see on the skin is a brighter complexion, as well as smoother and softer skin.

Lactic acid is popular for two main reasons:

  • It can create real change in the skin if used regularly.
  • It's one of the more gentle hydroxy acids used in skin care.

All alpha hydroxy acids exfoliate and improve skin texture, but lactic acid has an extra benefit you won't get from other AHAs. Lactic acid helps improve the skin's natural moisture factor, or the way the skin keeps itself hydrated. Basically, lactic acid helps to keep the skin moisturized and feeling less dry.

When you use lactic acid regularly, it can also improve signs of aging. It stimulates collagen renewal and can firm your skin. Hyperpigmentation, such as sun and age spots, fade and fine lines and wrinkles soften and smooth out.  Unfortunately, lactic acid won't improve those deeper lines, though.

Lactic acid is also a key ingredient in treatments for keratosis pialris, otherwise known as  "chicken skin" bumps on the backs of the arms. Lactic acid helps dissolve the plug of skin cells that build up around the hair follicle, smoothing out the bumpiness.

It's also used in topical treatments to treat eczema, rosacea and psoriasis.



Possible Side Effects

Even though lactic acid is gentler than other AHAs like glycolic acid and mandelic, it is still a potent treatment. There are some drawbacks to using lactic acid.


Sun Sensitivity

The most important thing you need to know before you start using lactic acid: As with all AHAs it can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. As the acid sloughs away skin cells, it leaves new cells more vulnerable to UV damage.

When you start using lactic acid, you must be committed to protecting your skin from the sun. And not just on days you're actively applying your lactic acid product.

Use SPF 30 or higher sunscreen daily to protect your skin from sunburn and sun damage. If you don't, you could inadvertently be making the very issues you're trying to improve (like dark marks and wrinkles) worse in the long term.


Skin Irritation

Besides sun sensitivity, lactic acid can also cause skin irritation. Be on the lookout for;

  • Redness
  • Burning
  • Peeling
  • Dryness
  • Itchy skin
  • Swelling

Minor redness, burning, and itching isn't uncommon when you first apply a lactic acid product. So long as it is mild and goes away within an hour or so, you're OK.

If it's moderate to severe, doesn't go away after a short period of time, or if you have swelling or a rash, wash it off right away.


What to Look For

Lactic acid products vary widely in concentration, from 5% to more than 30%.  A higher percentage isn't always better, though. Jumping right in with a high percentage product is a good way to irritate your skin.

If you've never used over-the-counter lactic acid before, start off with a very low strength product of 5-10%. This will let you see how your skin reacts to lactic acid, and also allow your skin some time to get used to the acid.

You may find that after using up the product that you have, you're happy with the results you've gotten. In that case, you can stick with the strength you've been using.

If you'd like to go up in strength, do it slowly. Always monitor your skin for irritation, and if it seems like it's too much for you back it off or go back to a lower strength product.


The key is to remember, no matter which lactic acid (or AHA) product or treatment you're using, to protect your skin from the sun. So slather on the sunscreen daily (yes, even during the winter when it's freezing and cloudy). This is one of the best ways to protect your skin from premature aging, sun spots, and skin cancer anyway, and one of the best ways to keep your skin healthy any age.

Our SKIN SCIENCE 'PROTECT' SPF 50 is not only a high quality broad spectrum SPF, but also contains both lactic and citric acid. So whilst your skin is being protected, it is also benefiting from the hydrating, smoothing and skin renewal properties of the acids included.


If you have any further questions about lactic acid or skincare, please get in touch!