|Best used :
|Caution: Sensitive skin. Mixing BHAs, retinol, vitamin C
|Best for: Exfoliation, dry skin, sun damage
Widely prescribed in dermatology
|Mode of action:
What is the science behind lactic acid?
Lactic acid is one of the most prescribed acids used by dermatologists worldwide. Lactic, glycolic, mandelic & citric acids are members of the Alpha Hydroxy Acid group. Lactic acid applied regularly improves the signs of aging. AHAs also stimulate collagen renewal and can firm your skin. The exfoliant properties of AHAs can also address hyperpigmentation (sunspots, melasma & age spots) in addition to improving fine lines & wrinkles.
How often should I use lactic acid on my face?
Low concentration- weaker strength lactic acids can be used daily, while higher strength lactic acids should be limited to one or three times per week as tolerated. If your skin is getting too irritated, red, scaly, angry or dry, it is important to take a break for a few days to allow your skin to recover.
What skin conditions can lactic acid treat?
- Pigmentation including melasma*
- Sunspots including age spots, solar or actinic keratosis
- Wrinkles & poor skin texture
- Dry skin including ichthyosis
- Acne & open-enlarged pores (salicylic acid is better)
*Melasma patients will benefit from other actives including HQ & pigment inhibitors, laser & t.acid po.
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Does lactic acid ‘purge’ skin or make you break out?
Actives such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, or salicylic acid, & retinoic acid speed up cell turnover & have the potential to ‘purge’. Side effects are temporary & ultimately worth the three to seven days of purging.
How does lactic acid exfoliate skin?
Lactic acid as well as other AHAs including glycolic, mandelic & citric acid work as chemical exfoliants, removing the upper layer of dead skin cells. This results in better skin texture, less wrinkles, as well as whiter-brighter skin.
Do I need to wash off lactic acid creams or lotions?
No, you apply to dry skin directly after cleansing. Please follow the product instructions.
Strong peels & tones will require washing off, this is different from home use creams.
How long do I leave lactic acid on my face for?
If the lactic acid concentration is low & buffered, you can leave it on your face overnight. It is important to note that concentrations & pH will markedly vary with different products, please follow the instructions carefully. As a guide a 10% low pH formulation can be left on your face for up to 10 minutes.
Will lactic acid lighten my skin & treat hyperpigmentation?
AHAs or Alpha Hydroxy Acids including, Lactic, Glycolic, Citric & Mandelic work well to fade excess pigment in skin, and will slowly fade dark spots and even out skin texture. Clinical applications include blotchy pigmented skin, surface scars, freckles, sunspots, or melasma.
*Melasma patients will also benefit from other acitves including licorice root extract, arbutin, bearberry, citric acids, flavonoids, soy, green tea, hydroquinone, azelaic, ascorbic & retinoic acids.
Is lactic the best acid for acne, breakouts & pimples?
No, dermatologists prefer salicylic acid for this job. This acid is lipophilic, meaning more gets into your oil glands. This acid works as a chemical exfoliant, removing the upper layers of skin as well as unclogging congested pores & blackheads. Salicylic acid is also anti-inflammatory. Other better acids for acne prone skin include azelaic acid, as well as retinoic acid.
Does lactic acid help with acne scarring?
Lactic acid can act as a chemical exfoliant, removing dead skin cells from the surface of skin. This improves light transmission & can help reduce the appearance of scars in addition it improves the overall texture of the skin. Lactic acid may also help lighten dark acne scar tissue by removing pigment from the upper layers of skin.
* Lactic acids, other AHAs, BHAs & retinoic acid-retinol are only effective in very mild & early acne scars. Deeper scars will benefit from light & laser-based treatment. Severe scars will benefit from surgical procedures.
What are the side effects of lactic acid?
Skin irritation can be seen if the concentration is too high, or if you have sensitive or compromised skin. Actual allergic reactions are extremely rare. If you experience any redness, prolonged stinging, burning, itch or excessive flaking, give your skin a break for two to five days. You can try reapplication with half the amount (dilute in moisturiser) and apply every second day. It is super important to listen to what your skin is trying to tell you!
Can lactic acid be used with ascorbic acid?
Vitamin C or ascorbic is an acid, so layering it with AHAs and BHAs like glycolic, salicylic, and lactic acids is skin suicide. Most people will have significant skin irritation if acids are mixed. A sensible routine that combines these ingredients is to split them into am & pm use instead.
Which is the best acid for my skin?
|lactic, citric, malic, and tartaric acids
|AHAs that act as exfoliants, they also work to lighten uneven pigmentation and smooth out skin texture. Lactic acid is the best researched AHA after glycolic acid, and is notable for being gentler, more hydrating, and more effective
at treating sun damaged skin.
|antioxidant ingredient that’s most commonly used in conjunction with vitamins C and E in serums. This powerful antioxidant trio is well known for its ability to protect the skin from the damaging free radicals generated by UV radiation.
|antioxidant ingredient with anti-aging benefits. Its effects are quite modest so its popularity is waning.
|trichloroacetic acid (TCA)
|used in peels, and is especially useful for flattening out scars in the TCA cross technique. It’s very potent and should be used by professionals only.
|byproduct of biodiesel production. It’s reported to have anti-aging effects, but these are yet to be supported by peer-reviewed research.
Can lactic acid be mixed with other ingredients?
Not a flash idea to mix lactic acids with other acids such as glycolic, salicylic, ascorbic or retinoic acid as this may cause skin irritation. If you would like to incorporate these skin care ingredients in your routine, I suggest separating them to an am then pm application. As always, start slow, do a test patch, then increase as tolerated.
A safe acid to mix is hyaluronic acid. Azelaic acid can also be mixed however this molecule is best in a gel formulation.
How long does it take for lactic acid to start working?
You should notice changes within 2 weeks. Lactic acid works as a chemical exfoliant, namely removing the compacted lifeless upper layer of your skin. Removal of dead skin cells will improve light transmission & reflectance. This in turn improves skin texture, fine lines, wrinkles, pigmentation & mild surface scars.
Can I dilute lactic acid if it is too strong?
Yes. Mixing this with a bland moisturiser or hyaluronic acid is sensible. This will decrease the concentration of your primary product, & possibly decrease skin irritation.
What is the best lactic acid on the market?
The best formulation will depend on your skin concerns, sensitivity, current routine, & aims. Washes can be great as a general exfoliant, whilst creams & lotions are preferred for specific conditions, for example pigmentation & fine lines. Dermatologists often compound a specific concentration depending on the patient’s skin. Formulations range from 5% to 12%, often combined with propylene glycol to aid penetration.
*Disclaimer: I am a procedural dermatologist; I do not routinely prescribe topicals. If you would like skin care advice, please book in with my clinical staff @clinic_dermatology. Additionally, you can see one of my medical colleagues.
How is a lactic acid peel different from lactic acid creams, gels, lotions & washes?
Lactic acid peels are low pH, high concentration clinical peels. This AHA will require neutralisation. I also combine lactic with salicylic & resorcinol to formulate Jessner peel, an invaluable agent used as a superficial peel, or combined with TCA to give a medium depth peel. Home use lotions & creams are formulated in lower concentrations & buffered pH for safety.
Is Lactic Acid a good exfoliator?
Lactic acid is part of the Alpha Hydroxy Acid family including glycolic, citric & mandelic acids. These acids are powerful chemical exfoliants that not only reduces acne breakouts & blackheads, but it also diminishes the appearance of wrinkles, pigment and other signs of skin aging.
How do I incorporate lactic acid in my daily skin care routine?
A sensible skin care routine that involves lactic acid goes something like this;
AM: Lactic acid wash, SPF, Make up, with the option of antioxidants (Ferulic acid, Tocopherol)
PM: Cleanser, actives such as Niacinamide, Hyaluronic Acid, Retinol
*There are many formulations of lactic acid with endless combinations. The use of other acids such as ascorbic, retinoic, azelaic etc… are not absolutely contraindicated. A sensible starting point is to use lactic acid every other day (or night) and gradually incorporate it into your routine. If in doubt, dilute the active with a moisturiser, & conduct a test patch.
Davin’s Skin Protip
Lactic acid is one of the most used acids in dermatology. Long before the skin care craze, we have been prescribing lactic acids in concentrations varying from 5 to 20%. A simple compounded formulation is 5% lactic with 10% propylene glycol in sorbelene cream- great as a general exfoliant.
@cutis_dermatology, lactic is one of our most popular acid peels. One of my favourite peeling agents combines AHAs & BHAs, namely lactic acid at 16% with salicylic acid 16% & resorcinol to form Jessner solution. In summary, lactic acid is an invaluable skin care acid with solid science behind it.
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