Ingredient Spotlight: What Is Lactic Acid?

Julia Sachs

what is lactic acid

Between figuring out which skin care products are best for your skin type and what kind of skin care routine you should adopt (K-beauty routine? Japanese routine? Natural skin care only?), we understand that it may often feel as if there is just too much to learn and choose from when it comes to taking care of your skin.

One ingredient that we find in some of our most popular products is lactic acid, a skin care ingredient that can help increase cell turnover and help your skin maintain a youthful glow. We wanted to take some time to explain what this ingredient is and why it seems to be a holy grail ingredient for so many of our clients.

Lactic Acid Can Be Natural or Synthetic

A lot of people immediately turn their heads when they hear that a skin care product is synthetically produced, but the issue with that is that there is often no drawback to using skin care products with synthetically produced ingredients like many companies claim when marketing natural products. In fact, most natural products still have to go through some level of chemical processing before they can be used in skin care, and the chemical alternatives to many skin care ingredients are not found to be harmful on your skin.

SPF, for one, is a common skin care product that people often get confused about. The chemical versions of SPF are not toxic to your bloodstream, though the synthetic ingredients are harmful to coral reefs and should be avoided when swimming in the ocean (more on that here).

Lactic acid is an ingredient derived from milk products (hence the name). While it is a natural ingredient, most of the lactic acid you see in skin care products today is synthetically made. This allows companies to mass produce it, and make sure they can say the products that contain the ingredient are vegan. 

What Does It Do?

Lactic acid is often considered an Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) because it works to exfoliate the skin through a chemical reaction (again, don’t let that phrase scare you). The natural ingredients in lactic acid work to dissolve the molecular bond between skin cells on your skin to get rid of the dead skin cells and dirt that bind to the outer layer of the epidermis. If you use lactic acid on a regular basis, you might notice that it works to smooth over your skin and get rid of the dirt and oil that gets clogged in your pores and creates blackheads.

Because your skin is constantly having to regenerate when you use lactic acid on a regular basis, the ingredient helps your skin maintain a youthful glow that decreases fine lines and wrinkles. As you age, your skin begins to slow down how often it regenerates which leaves you with fine lines, wrinkles, and layers of dead skin cells. But each time you exfoliate those skin cells away your skin has to work harder to replace what was lost, leaving you with radiant, youthful, healthy skin.

Because of this, lactic acid also works to remove skin imperfections like blemishes and sun spots caused over time. All of these great benefits make it one of the most popular AHA ingredients that you see in exfoliating serums and skin care products on shelves today. 

Our Favorite Lactic Acid Products

Sunday Riley - Good Genes: This is by far our most popular lactic acid serum and the only one advertised strictly for its concentration of lactic acid. Sunday Riley, being one of our best selling brands in the store, is popular for its botanical approach to skin care and use of high quality ingredients. Pick up a bottle of this favorite skin smoothing toner to see highly effective results almost immediately.

Eminence - Mangosteen Daily Resurfacing Complex & Cleanser: These popular products from Eminence work to gently smooth over skin while deeply cleaning and promoting cell regeneration. The result? Glowing, clean skin after just a couple of uses.

StriVectin - Double Fix Plumping & Vertical Line Treatment: This popular product was created for targeted skin care solutions and helps to increase the appearance of younger looking skin by attacking fine lines and wrinkles while simultaneously plumping your skin to help it appear more supple and hydrated. Lactic acid is used as a targeted solution, while natural oils and plumping ingredients help your lips look more supple and pouty.

Murad - AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser: While lactic acid may work as a powerful AHA, another exfoliating chemical ingredient does an even better job of targeting acne and blemishes: BHA. Salicylic acid is the most common type of BHA, and is used in this popular cleanser in combination with lactic acid to address fine lines and wrinkles while simultaneously cleansing from deep within to treat acne and prevent future blemishes from appearing.

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