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Lactic Acid 101: Everything You Should Know

If you’re big on skincare, chances are that you’ve dabbled with using acids like AHAs and BHAs (hello, glycolic and salicylic!). But you may not know the differences between these acids or which one is best for your particular skin concern.

If you’re looking for a gentle starting point that’s safe on sensitive skin, lactic acid is the way to go. Here’s why.

The Bigger Picture: AHAs

Lactic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA), a chemical, non-friction exfoliant known to gently exfoliate and clarify the skin. It’s in the same family as other AHAs like:

  • Malic acid
  • Glycolic acid
  • Tartaric acid
  • Citric acid
  • Lactic acid

In general, these molecules gently and evenly dissolve the bonds that hold dead skin cells to the surface of the skin. This encourages cell turnover, evenly exfoliates, allows the skin to regenerate, and allows other active ingredients to penetrate the skin. Over time, regular AHA application can lead to many visible benefits, including improved skin texture, more hydration, diminished lines and wrinkles, and reduced signs of aging.

The most well-researched among the group? Lactic acid and glycolic acid. Glycolic acid, in particular, is the most researched and the smallestmolecule on the list - and it’s generally considered to be the most effective AHA. That said, lactic acid comes with its own unique benefits.

Understanding Lactic Acid

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Usually derived from sour milk and bilberry, lactic acid is on the opposite end of the spectrum as glycolic acid and widely considered to be the most gentle AHA out there. That’s because lactic acid’s molecules are much larger than glycolic acid molecules, so they cannot penetrate too deeply into pores.

Instead, the acid effectively treats the surfaceof the skin, helping to polish, exfoliate, and firm the surface of the skin.

This makes lactic acid particularly appropriate for sensitive, mature, acneic or reactive skin since it’s very well-tolerated (although it’s appropriate for allskin types). Plus, it’s less likely than other AHAs to irritate the skin or compromise its natural barrier. Keep in mind, though, that it won’t be as deep cleaning as glycolic acid or salicylic acid, a powerful BHA that can penetrate very deeply into the pores (that’s what makes it a great acne spot treatment).

Lactic Acid Benefits

Along with general AHA benefits, lactic acid is known to:

Reduce Acne

Lactic acid has been shown to kill skin infections, including those that cause acne. What’s more, it’s also shown to reduce acne lesion and acne scars, meaning that it can help reduce existing and past signs of acne. 

Fight Lines and Wrinkles

In a 1996 study, researchers found that a high concentration of lactic acid (12%) could penetrate the dermis and the epidermis, thereby effectively diminishing fine lines and wrinkles.

Improve Cell Turnover

Lactic acid can actually increase the rate of skin turnover, which can improve skin texture, diminish fine lines, reduce hyperpigmentation, and overall lead to a smoother and more even complexion.

Increase Skin Moisture

New, healthier skin will have increased moisture-holding capabilities, which means that regular application of lactic acid can lead to increased hydration over time.

Improve Skin Texture

In studies, lactic acid is shown to smooth skin texture and increase skin firmness over time.

Ready to get started? Incorporate lactic acid into your everyday routine with Hometown Honey oatmeal honey soap.