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A Quick Guide to Lactic Acid for Your Skin

Lactic acid is a hydrating alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) commonly derived from milk. However, there are alternative vegan sources, like fermented corn starch, beets, and other sugar-rich foods. Synthetic forms of this ingredient are often found in peels and serums. 

How Does Lactic Acid Work

Lactic acid brightens, smooths, and evens skin, while also making it look firmer. It helps reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots. 

It exfoliates by loosening the bonds between dead skin cells to reveal a more radiant complexion. 

How to Use Lactic Acid

It’s generally recommended for nighttime use and suggested frequency varies from product to product. Check the packaging for specific instructions. 

While it can be used with many other ingredients and products, sunscreen’s essential when lactic acid is a part of your routine. Another important step: cleansing the morning after you use lactic acid to sweep away dead skin cells. 

Don’t use it on days you use retinol since both are potent ingredients. Alternate between the two to avoid irritation. 

Benefits of Lactic Acid

  • Kills bacteria: Research around lactic acid’s efficacies as they relate to the skin are limited in the early to mid-1900s, but in 1985, a study found that lactic acid helped to kill skin infections in newborn infants. It tracks that it would do the same in adults, including the irritating, acne-causing kind.
  • Diminishes wrinkles: Later, in ’96, when different concentrations were tested (5% and 12%), researchers observed that a higher concentration actually penetrated both the dermis and epidermis (5% could only reach the epidermis) for firmer, thicker skin, resulting in fewer fine lines and wrinkles.
  • Reduces acne: It’s also been proven to reduce acne lesions.
  • Increases cell turnover: It works by increasing the rate of skin turnover, causing new and younger-looking skin to grow.
  • Helps skin hold moisture: With new skin cells on the surface, it can hold on to moisture better.

Tips for Using Lactic Acid

Start by following the instructions on the packaging—many advise using lactic acid every other night, or even once or twice a week. Slight tingling or redness is normal, but if you experience anything more intense, talk to your dermatologist. 

Don’t forget to layer on a moisturizer. This essential step nourishes and balances skin so it doesn’t overproduce oil. 

Say yes to SPF. Sun protection is a must when using lactic acid because sloughing off dead skin cells can make your skin more susceptible to sun damage.

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