Alpha-hydroxy acids

Lactic acid in Skincare – Complete Guide

Lactic acid is a type of Alpha Hydroxy acid that helps to remove dead skin cells on top of the skin. It is derived from sugar cane or other plant sources. Lactic acid can be used as a cleanser, exfoliant, cream, mask, or serum.

  • Keeps the skin hydrated and moisturized: lactic acid can improve the skin’s natural barrier by increasing the number of ceramides in the skin and aids in H2O retention in the upper layer of the skin.
  • Helps with fine lines and wrinkles: Lactic acid can improve signs of aging by stimulating collagen production in the skin.
  • Brighten skin: lactic acid can brighten the skin and helps to remove that dull look.
  • A gentle AHA: lactic acid is a safe AHA and is a bit milder than glycolic acid. This makes lactic acid peels a great choice for sensitive skin.
  • It can help with acne: lactic acid can decrease sebum and bacteria in the skin in the oil glands
  • Other benefits: improves the penetration of topicals, reduces acne scars, and helps with sun damage, pigmentation, blackheads, acne-prone skin, oily skin, and congested skin.

Who can use it?

Lactic acid is suitable for all skin types however, it should be used with caution for sensitive skin and skin of colour. Mandelic acid seems to be a better choice for sensitive skin and skin of color because of its slow penetration into the skin.

How to add lactic acid to your skincare routine?

Things to consider before using lactic acid:

  1. Lactic acid should be used at night. Using it in the morning can cause sun sensitivity.
  2. It can be used 1-2 times a week depending on your skin type and irritation level.
  3. Always make sure to read the packaging to know at what time of the day you can use the product and how many times you can use it a week.
  4. Do not forget the concentrations.

Morning routine:

  • Use a gentle, non-foaming cleanser.
  • Toner (optional)
  • Use your skincare actives such as Niacinamide or Vitamin C
  • Moisturize and then apply your sunscreen.

Night routine:

  1. Use a cleanser.
  2. Toner is optional.
  3. Use your AHA.
  4. Wait for 30 mins till it gets fully absorbed into the skin and then apply your skincare actives such as Niacinamide, Vitamin C, or Retinol.
  5. Moisturize.

Note: Using lactic acid with other actives such as Vitamin C and Retinol at night can be very irritating to the skin, especially for sensitive skin and skin of color.

  • Tip 1: you can try to use derivatives of Vitamin C or Retinol together with an AHA at night but do be cautious. Or you can just use niacinamide with an AHA at night.
  • Tip 2: you can also buy a product containing niacinamide and retinol making it easy.
  • Tip 3: Since you’re using glycolic acid 1-2 times a week, you can modify your skincare actives such as Vitamin C or Retinol. For example:
    • Alternate nights: on 1st night you can use your AHA with retinol. On 2nd night you can use your AHA with Vitamin C.

Important note:

This skincare routine is mainly an example and how you can layer an AHA into your skincare routine. There are many other ways and methods to add these AHAs to the skin. My advice would be if you have sensitive skin, go simple and use niacinamide instead of complicating your skincare by bringing other actives into the mix.

Always consult a dermatologist when planning to use AHAs in your skincare actives.

What skincare ingredients can be combined with lactic acid?

  • Retinol and retinoids
  • Vitamin C
  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Peptides
  • Niacinamide
  • Azelaic acid
  • Ceramides
  • Vitamin E
  • Tranexamic acid
  • Arbutin

Frequently Asked Questions

Is lactic acid safe for pregnancy?

Lactic is said to be safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding, but still do make sure to consult a dermatologist about these AHAs

Can lactic acid cause purging?

Yes, lactic acid can sometimes cause purging (worsening of acne) in acne-prone skin. The reason is, for those who have acne-prone skin it is very likely that there are unseen microcomedones. As the AHA increases the cell turnover, it fastens the appearance of these microcomedones and shows them as sudden temporary breakouts.

A purge should last for a maximum of 4-6 weeks.

Can lactic acid be combined with retinol?

Yes, lactic acid can be combined with AHAs. Retinol increases the cell turnover rate so that new skin cells can come to the surface. AHAs exfoliate and shed old skin cells. Together they can help accelerate skin turnover. This is not safe for sensitive skin and skin of color.

Can lactic acid be combined with Vitamin C?

Yes, lactic acid can be combined with Vitamin C but this combination can be very irritating for the skin. You can apply your Vitamin C and apply the AHA at night, but make sure not to use these mix these ingredients together as they can make the combination ineffective.

Can lactic acid be combined with other AHA/BHAs?

You can use AHAs and BHAs, but make sure to not use them on the same day. You can use it on alternative nights depending on the skin type and irritation level. For example, you can use an AHA on one day and use a BHA on another day or after a few days.

Can I use lactic acid with epidou?

No, using lactic acid with epidou at the same time can cause excessive drying, redness, and irritation. You can use lactic acid once or twice a week and use epidou on the subsequent days.