Lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and humectant that is widely used in skincare products to deal with issues like anti-aging, hyperpigmentation, dryness, acne, and other factors that contribute to a dull and uneven complexion.
It is naturally occurring in the human body, in the muscle tissue, skin, and blood, as well as in foods like milk, yogurt, cheese, beer, and kombucha. You will not achieve its skincare benefits just because you have consumed, milk, or cheese, or because you have it in your body. The only way to achieve its skincare benefits is by applying topically lactic acid skin care products.
Lactic acid is mostly suitable for people with sensitive and dry skin because it’s a humectant that chemically attracts water molecules to itself by drawing moisture from the environment to your newly exfoliated skin, leaving it hydrated and preventing new fine lines and wrinkles from forming. Products with lactic acid should be used at night only because they make the skin more sensitive to UV rays and it’s always advisable to wear sunscreen the following day.
Benefits of Lactic acid;
1. Fight acne: Lactic acid is a keratolytic meaning it exfoliates dead skin cells by breaking them apart on the skin surface hence opening clogged pores. These dead skin cells often clog pores and lead to breakouts like acne. It also has anti-bacterial properties that help to fight acne-causing germs and infections.
2. Reduces fine lines and wrinkles: when one exfoliates with lactic acid, it brings about many benefits that help to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. These benefits include exfoliating the deeper layers of the skin leading to new skin cell renewal that speeds up collagen and ceramide production that help the skin to become firm, tighter, and plumper.
3. The best hydrating AHA: This exfoliant is able to hydrate and nourish the skin hence making the skin look supple. Research has shown that lactic acid hydrates more than glycerin. Glycerin is one of the most popular humectants in many skin care products. Lactic acid also increases the skin’s ability to retain moisture by promoting healthy lipids, making it a great option for people with dry skin.
4. Fades hyperpigmentation: Lactic acid fades age spots, dark spots, acne scars, and freckles. Hyperpigmentation occurs on the skin surface making the skin dark and yet the skin underneath is less pigmented and has not been darkened by the UV sun rays. When you exfoliate with lactic acid, it removes the darker dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, revealing a more even tone fresh layer of skin. With continuous use, lactic acid effectively fades hyperpigmentation.
5. Gentle exfoliation: Lactic acid is a chemical exfoliant just like glycolic acid. It’s one of those AHAs that is mild on the skin, making it suitable for all skin types. This is because it has large molecules in size that don’t penetrate deeply into the skin’s surface. For glycolic acid, it has small molecules that penetrate deeply into the skin, that’s why it can be harsh and irritating on the skin. This makes lactic acid a great option for people with dry and sensitive skin.
6. Increase penetration of ingredients: Exfoliating with lactic acid removes dead skin cells which allows skincare ingredients to deeply penetrate into the skin and become more effective hence giving you better results much faster. Therefore, lactic acid improves the performance of other skin care products when applied.
Dos and don’ts of using lactic acid;
1. Use lactic acid products at night only. All AHAs including lactic acid makes the skin highly sensitive to UV rays. That is why it is always important to wear a copious amount of sunscreen in the morning to protect and prevent the skin from sun damage and irritation.
2. Always remember to apply a moisturizer after applying lactic acid products at night. You can still moisturize in the morning even if you haven’t applied lactic acid products. This is one way of protecting and hydrating your newly exfoliated skin.
3. Don’t over-exfoliate. Lactic acid should be used once or twice a week, not daily. This is because it can cause redness, severe irritation, and dryness which can speed up signs of aging. When using lactic acid, don’t exfoliate with other physical exfoliants like scrubs.
4. Lactic acid as an AHA can be combined with BHAs. You will find a lot of skin care products that have a blend of both AHAs and BHAs. However, avoid using lactic acid together with retinol because both are potent ingredients and can cause irritation.
Possible side effects of lactic acid skin care products;
Dryness, itching, peeling, redness, tingling (slight burning), irritation, flaking. Lactic acid is a mild exfoliator suitable for all skin types even for beginners who are just starting skin care. In case irritation goes beyond two weeks, it’s always advisable to discontinue use and consult a dermatologist to determine the right lactic acid concentration for you.