Lactic Acid Skin Care

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Lactic acid products are known for being gentle on the skin. See more pictures of getting beautiful skin.
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For years, natural products found in the kitchen have been used to aid in skin care. The cabinets and refrigerator seem to be packed with healing agents, from cucumbers for your eyes to honey for your skin, and you probably know about most of them -- except, perhaps, the one that's lurking away in your milk jug: lactic acid. Part of the alpha hydroxy family, this key ingredient gives the term "milky complexion" a whole new meaning [source: Skincare News].

Derived from sour or fermented milk, lactic acid is a popular beauty aid for those seeking to improve their skin's texture and hydration level. If you need celebrity testimony on the matter, look no further than Cleopatra's beauty regimen. Even the former Egyptian queen, who was known for her beauty, was rumored to have bathed in sour milk to improve her skin [source: Bond].


At this point, you might be tempted to jump in the bath with a glass of milk as well, but you'll soon learn that lactic acid doesn't necessarily work that way (if only it were that easy). However, there are a number of useful treatments and products that contain lactic acid -- from peels to lotions to creams -- which this article will explore.

As with anything, there are a few drawbacks to lactic acid. Even though it is milder than some other compounds, it can still be irritating, particularly on damaged or allergy-prone skin. And no matter what lactic acid product you use, increased sun sensitivity is often an issue [source:]. It's important to limit your time in the sun and use sunscreen if you use a product that contains lactic acid. For the possibility of smoother skin, though, the extra precaution might be worth it.

Read on to find out why lactic acid is fit for a queen.


Lactic Acid and Skin Texture

Practically everyone would love to have perfect skin that's free of blotches and blemishes. Unfortunately, that ideal is not so easy to achieve. If you're looking to improve your skin's overall texture, though, you might have found a friend in lactic acid.

As an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), lactic acid is a member of a well-known family of exfoliants. As such, it improves skin's overall texture by moisturizing, sloughing off dead surface cells and promoting collagen growth. Consequently, lactic acid often works well as a wrinkle and line reducer and helps to even out skin tone and diminish acne scars [source: Skincare News].


Lactic acid is considered one of the best AHAs to use, because most AHAs can often be irritating to the skin. Lactic acid is uniquely gentle by comparison and typically doesn't irritate people who have skin conditions like acne or rosacea. However, if your skin is extremely sensitive, you should still be cautious when using these products, especially if the lactic acid content is particularly high [source: Skincare News].

To learn more about one of lactic acid's most popular treatments, read on.


Lactic Acid Peels

Chemical peels were once reserved exclusively for the doctor's office, a place that can sometimes be scary -- and expensive. Today, chemical peels have evolved to include take-home peels and kits, allowing you to reap their benefits in the privacy of your own home, while relaxing in your favorite bathrobe.

Lactic acid peels are just one type of chemical peel, but they are preferred by many -- again, because of lactic acid's reputation as a gentler alpha hydroxy acid. You can use peels to improve wrinkles, some types of acne and discolorations on your skin. Lactic acid isn't a cure-all -- it won't suddenly remove your deepest wrinkles, and it can't stop you from aging. But over time, it can smooth the tone and condition of your face and reduce or remove mild marks and scars [source: WebMD].


A professional peel at the doctor's office can cost around $100 or more [source: Board Certified Plastic Surgeon]. During the procedure, the physician will apply a lactic acid solution to your skin, which will "burn" the outer layer and cause it to peel off. While mild peels generally aren't very painful, it's important to remember that your face may appear reddish for weeks afterward. You should also note that lactic acid peels are generally part of a series, depending on your desired result. In addition, sun sensitivity is a common side effect of lactic acid peels, so limit your time in the sun and always wear sunscreen [source: WebMD].

If peels seem like a little too much, read on to learn how lactic acid creams and lotions can improve sensitive skin's texture.


Lactic Acid Creams and Lotions

Peels -- even lactic acid peels -- can sometimes be harsh on skin, particularly inflamed or acne-ridden skin. If you need something milder for your skin, lactic acid creams and lotions might be a good alternative for you, particularly if you are looking to moisturize and exfoliate rather than remove acne scars.

Lactic acid creams are generally thick and heavy -- and perfect for very dry skin. They are generally used on the face, working to hydrate the skin while removing the dead cells. Since lactic acid can also stimulate collagen production, these creams may also help reduce finer wrinkles, thus making your face look younger. There are a wide variety of creams containing lactic acid to choose from.


Lactic acid lotions, meanwhile, are thinner and lighter in consistency, and they're more likely than the creams to be used all over the body. Any skin that needs more moisture may benefit from lactic acid lotions, but people with rough, dry or scaly skin -- like eczema sufferers -- might find that a lactic acid lotion works especially well for them [source: Lactic Skin Care].

Again, be sure to protect yourself from the sun when using a lactic acid cream or lotion, as sun sensitivity is a common side effect of any lactic acid treatment.

To learn more about lactic acid, check out the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • A Board Certified Plastic Surgeon. "Cost of Chemical Peels." Aug. 4, 2009. (accessed 8/5/2009)
  • Annie B. "Cleopatra's Milk Bath Formula." Care 2. 5/21/99. (Accessed 7/22/09)
  • Cure Research. "Symptom: Skin texture changes." (Accessed 7/22/09)
  • "Lactic Acid." (Accessed 7/22/09)
  • Gisquet, Vanessa. "Most Expensive Cosmetics." Forbes. (Accessed 7/22/09)
  • Lactic Skin Care. "Lactic Acid Resource Center." (Accessed 7/22/09)
  • Skincare News. "Lactic Acid." 3/25/08. (Accessed 7/22/09)
  • WebMD. "Cosmetic Procedures: Chemical Peel Treatments." March 1, 2007. (accessed 8/5/09)
  • Lennon, Christine. "Do-It-Yourself Facial Peels." New York Times. Sept. 29, 2005. (accessed 8/5/2009)