All about: Lactic Acid, who it’s for and why you need it

A buzz in beauty for quite some time now, lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) - a category of acids named for its molecular structure. First and foremost, lactic falls under the exfoliation umbrella, but often takes third place in many beauty freak’s minds behind salicylic and glycolic acid. However, lactic is a glow-inducing superstar in its own right because it manages to both exfoliate AND hydrate the skin – doing rare double duty among the chemical exfoliant heavy hitters.
Acid exfoliants work by breaking the bonds that hold dead skin cells together, clearing the way for a fresh batch of cells to emerge. Among the family of AHAs most used in skincare (lactic, glycolic, malic, tartaric, and mandelic), lactic is one of the gentlest due to its larger molecular size—meaning it doesn't penetrate as quickly or deeply. Oh and although lactic is naturally derived from milk (hence the name), more often than not in skincare it’s synthetically and identically produced.
Most commonly, lactic shows up in exfoliants, but you’ll also spot it in serums or moisturisers. When it appears in a serum or moisturiser, it's largely there for its hydrating properties, with a little light exfoliating on the side. You'll often find lactic in super-charged body hydrators designed to help with conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and keratosis pilaris, thanks to its ability to help with hydration and exfoliation without using a heavy hand.
When incorporating lactic acid into your routine, it’s important to try and avoid other physical exfoliators or potentially irritating ingredients at the same time such as retinol, and if you’re on the sensitive side, start small and build up as you go.
With all of that in mind, here are some of my personal favourite lactic-centric lovelies …

Lovely by Skin Institute Everyday Cleanser
Available at Lovely by skin institute clinics, this gentle yet quite powerful formula is a mild lactic acid cleanser that increases your skin cell turnover with every wash. Great for anti-ageing and improving skin conditions, it is the perfect entry-level lactic if you’ve never used it before. I use it only at night as part of a double cleanse due to my sensitive skin, but oilier types could definitely go for twice daily use as long as it’s well massaged in and thoroughly rinsed off.

Sunday Riley Good Genes Lactic Acid Treatment
This daily vegan exfoliating treatment is a modern beauty icon, and available in New Zealand at MECCA. Working to clarify, brighten and re-texturise skin with the aim of leaving it radiant and smooth, it is formulated with gentle lactic acid and seriously transforms. A super lightweight serum, it helps plump fine lines and wrinkles, restore skin firmness, minimise the appearance of pores and exfoliate. Liquorice is also included to brighten uneven skin tone (including sun-related discolouration) and it is blissfully free from animal products, gluten, parabens, sulphates and phthalates.

Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment
Called a “two minute Hollywood facial in a tube” and available locally at MECCA, this beauty comes straight from Kate Somerville’s clinic and aims to clarify and polish skin and leave it smooth, clear and bright. Formulated with chemical exfoliants, fruit enzymes and physical granules, this intensive exfoliator removes dead skin build-up from the surface of the skin and debris and oil from within the pore. A vitamin cocktail of A, E and C also work to restore the skin’s natural barrier, making this a veritable game changer for skin that can take a solid exfoliation.

Main image by Andrey Zvyagintsev on Unsplash


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