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Glycolic Acid & Lactic Acid: Differences, Benefits & How To Layer Them Together

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Glycolic acid and lactic acid are two of the most common alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), each produced from a different source but serving the same purpose. Lactic acid comes from milk, whereas glycolic acid comes from sugar cane. Both glycolic acid and lactic acid have the same purpose: to exfoliate the skin and leave it with a radiant shine. They achieve this by forcing the particles that keep the outer skin cells together to lose their binding characteristics. This results in skin that is smoother, more even in texture and color and allows other products to penetrate deeper.

Lactic acid is one of the most commonly used alpha hydroxy acids. It’s a frequent element in over-the-counter skincare. It’s also utilized in more powerful peels and treatments for professionals. Lactic acid is a naturally occurring substance present in dairy products. It’s responsible for the tanginess of yogurt and soured milk. People all across the globe have utilized dairy products to soften and enhance their skin.

Glycolic acid is a sugar cane-derived water-soluble alpha hydroxy acid (AHA). It’s one of the most often prescribed AHAs in skincare. Natural acids derived from plants are known as AHAs. They are made up of extremely small molecules that are very simple to absorb by your skin. This makes them suitable for anti-aging applications such as smoothing fine wrinkles, enhancing skin texture, and so on.

  • Lactic acid dissolves the connections that hold old, dull cells together on the skin’s surface, allowing them to be removed. Exfoliation is the term for this procedure.
  • Lactic acid helps your skin shed old cells and replace them with new ones by speeding up cell turnover and stimulating cell renewal.
  • As a consequence of the two above-mentioned benefits of lactic acid, you’ll have a brighter complexion and skin that’s smoother and softer.
  • All alpha hydroxy acids exfoliate and enhance skin texture, but lactic acid provides a unique effect that other AHAs, such as glycolic and mandelic acid, do not- It aids in the improvement of the skin’s natural moisture factor, as well as how the skin maintains its hydration. Lactic acid, in general, helps to keep the skin hydrated and less dry.
  • Lactic acid, when used on a daily basis, can help to reduce the indications of aging. It accomplishes this by promoting the regeneration of collagen, a fiber that aids in the firmness of the skin.
  • Lactic acid helps smooth and soften fine lines and wrinkles, as well as erase sun spots and age spots.
  • Lactic acid is also a common component in over-the-counter (OTC) lotions and creams for keratosis pilaris, or “chicken skin” or “strawberry skin” bumps on the backs of the arms, since it helps dissolve the clog of skin cells that forms around the hair follicle, smoothing out the bumpiness.
  • Lactic acid is commonly found in topical therapies for eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea.
  • Glycolic acid has anti-aging properties. It reduces fine wrinkles and enhances the tone and texture of the skin.
  • It also hydrates the skin and keeps it from drying out.
  • Glycolic acid removes dark spots produced by sun damage while also protecting collagen from the sun.
  • When applied on a daily basis, Glycolic acid brightens the skin.
  • Glycolic acid is a wonderful exfoliator. Exfoliation helps the skin shed dead skin cells, which prevents ingrown hairs and makes pores look smaller.
  • Glycolic acid is effective at treating acne: It prevents comedones, blackheads, and inflammatory outbreaks by cleaning the pores.

Note: Despite the fact that many sites say glycolic acid can remove scars, it simply cannot. Acne or other wounds can leave dark areas that can be lightened using glycolic acid. It may also help raised scars and pitted scars appear less noticeable, but it will not make them disappear.

Even when both glycolic acid and lactic acids are primary exfoliants, they have some differences-

  • They are derived from different sources. Lactic acid is derived from milk while glycolic acid is derived from sugarcane.
  • They both also have different molecule sizes. Among the alpha-hydroxy acids, glycolic acid has the shortest molecular size. That means it may act faster and penetrate deeper into your skin. While lactic acid exfoliates similarly to glycolic acid, because the molecules in lactic acid are bigger and the pH is lower, the exfoliation is more surface level, often impacting the skin’s top-most artificial layer. As a result, when utilizing a lactic acid-based product, benefits may take a little longer to appear.
  • They can be most effective with different skin types and conditions. Therefore if you have different skincare goals, you might want to choose the one which will be best suited to that goal. Read the next section to decide which skincare acid you should choose for your skin type and condition. 
  • They both have different strengths. Lactic acid is milder than glycolic acid and hence more suitable for sensitive skin or for people who have just started with chemical exfoliation.

 

  • If your concern is fine lines and wrinkles— Glycolic acid has the capacity to stimulate and expand collagen-producing fibroblast cells. Collagen supplementation keeps your skin firmer for longer and reduces wrinkles and thickens the skin over time. Lactic acid might also assist you in accomplishing this aim.
  • If your concern is oily skin and acne— Because glycolic acid penetrates deeper into the skin, it is particularly good for oily or acne-prone skin. It unclogs pores and eliminates oil buildup and excess sebum production for a clearer complexion.
  • If your concern is dry skin— Lactic acid is gentler and more humectant than glycolic acid, making it perfect for moisturizing dry skin. It’s also beneficial for those who have bumpy skin, known as keratosis pilaris, which is commonly observed on the outer arms and legs as a result of excessively dry skin. Lactic acid is also beneficial for dry skin caused by the cold, wintery weather.
  • If your concern is sensitive skin— Lactic acid molecules do not penetrate the skin as deeply as glycolic acid molecules, therefore they are less irritating to the skin’s surface. As a result, the peel is a softer and milder solution that is ideal for all skin types, but especially sensitive skin.
  • If your concern is hyperpigmentation— Glycolic acid can also disrupt the synthesis of melanin in the skin’s basal layer, making it an effective treatment for hyperpigmentation. Because of the decrease in melanin formation and the progressive sloughing of dead skin cells, this interference speeds up cell turnover, resulting in healthier-looking skin. Lactic acid can also be used to produce the same results.

We do not recommend using two AHAs together or simultaneously in your skincare routine. The only time we recommend this is when you are using a product that has pre-combined both lactic acid and glycolic acid in suitable proportions and concentrations. Else, we’ll recommend you to choose the acid which best suits your skin goal and is most beneficial for your skin types and condition.

AHAs or BHAs might cause burning and irritation. Mild irritation is okay and tells that the product (glycolic acid and lactic acid) is working but too much irritation can be troublesome. If you get bumps, redness, itchiness, or rashes from using Glycolic acid or Lactic acid, stop using the product and see a doctor. 

  • Alpha hydroxy acid products are available over the counter range in concentration from 5% to more than 30%. However, a greater percentage isn’t necessarily better. Using a high-percentage product immediately away might irritate your skin. If you’ve never used an over-the-counter chemical exfoliating acid before, start with a low-concentration product that’s no more than 5% to 10%. This will allow you to see how your skin reacts while also giving it time to adjust to the acid.
  • Also, never use Glycolic acid or Lactic acid or any other chemical exfoliants more than twice or thrice a week. 
  • After exfoliating your skin, always wear high-quality sunscreen as exfoliation makes your skin more sensitive to UV rays! 
  • In case you notice any side effects like excessive burning (mild irritation is normal) or the formation of bumps or rashes, stop using the product and contact a dermatologist.

When it comes to over-the-counter chemical exfoliants, AHAs are very popular, especially because of their hydrating effect. Glycolic Acid and Lactic Acid are the most popularly used AHAs. Though, both the acids have similar effects, they can work best for different skin types and conditions. Choosing the right acid for your skin could take your skin’s health to new levels!

  • Which is better for sensitive skin? Lactic acid or Glycolic Acid?

Lactic acid is preferred for sensitive skin as it is milder.

  • Should I go for Lactic acid or Glycolic acid if I have dry skin?

Well, you can go with either of them but we recommend Lactic acid for dry skin as it is a better humectant than glycolic acid.

  • Can I use both Lactic acid and Glycolic acid?
    Using both Lactic acid and Glycolic acid at the same time can lead to over-exfoliation which can dry out the skin and therefore, damage it. We, therefore, do not recommend it unless there are pre-existing products that combine the two acids in appropriate concentrations.

 

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