Skin Care Research: Beneficial Ingredients

Lactic Acid for Natural Anti-Aging, Skin Lightening and Anti-Acne

Lactic acid is being discovered all over again, as new nformation emerges showing that it useful as a probiotic in anti-acne treatments. Lactic acid is the gentlest of the alpha hydroxy acids; it is also very versatile and has great utility in treating a number of different skin conditions. These three posts look at the benefits of LA from three different points of view: anti-aging, skin lightening and anti-acne.

Lactic Acid and Anti-Aging

Alpha hydroxy acids are exfoliants that have long been used to impede or delay skin aging. The methodology is quite simple: the exfoliant process reduces cohesion of cells in the lower layers of the stratum corneum, encouraging rapid shedding of dead skin cells on the surface, thus triggering an increase in cell turnover rate and cell renewal.

Because lactic acid and glycolic acid are commonly used AHA exfoliants they are often lumped together in terms of the benefits they deliver, however, there are clear distinctions to be made. Because lactic acid, derived from sour dairy products and fermented fruits and vegetables, is a larger molecule than sugar cane-derived glycolic acid, it does not penetrate as deeply and is hence much less likely to cause irritation than glycolic acid. For this reason alone LA is the AHA of choice for sensitive and rosacea prone skin. However, the benefits of LA are manifold, and its other rejuvenating properties also make it the clear choice for mature or prematurely aged (damaged) skin.

Humectant properties—increases water content of the epidermis Increases natural ceramides (barrier lipids) in the skin Skin whitening. At concentrations over 5% LA inhibits tyrosinase, the enzyme that initiates the melanin production process Stimulate biosynthesis of glycosamineglycans (GAGs), thus plumping skin via hydration

Lactic Acid for Anti-aging Use

In Cleansers—Lactic acid vs glycolic acid

The exfoliating action of LA in a cleanser will be very gentle, while the humectant properties will keep skin soft and moist. You will not get the drying effect of the stronger AHAs like glycolic acid.

In Serums—Hyaluronic vs Lactic acid serums

Hyaluronic acid is the most important glycosamineglycans (or GAG for short) in the dermal matrix. This long chain sugar molecule, which keeps skin plump and pliable, unfortunately diminishes as we age. Because lactic acid stimulates biosynthesis of glycosamineglycans it is much more effective at plumping skin than topical applications of hyaluronic acid. Unlike LA molecules, heavy-weight long chained HA molecules do not penetrate, but remain on the skin surface. On the surface HA can act as an emollient, reducing flaking and improving appearance, but this has nothing to do with increasing water content in the deeper layers. For the most part, the high prices charged for hyaluronic acid serums are unwarranted because they do not deliver on the claims that are made for them.


Most skin types, including but not limited to mature and sensitive skin, would be well-advised to choose lactic acid peels. Professional treatments use lactic acid peels at higher concentrations and lower pH values than you can obtain with a home treatment, and are very effective without being irritating. In between spa treatments you can use yoghurt or sour cream, both of which contain lactic acid, when your skin needs a pick-me-up.

AHAs Increase UV Sensitivity

The FDA ruling is that AHAs do increase sun sensitivity, so care should be taken when they are being used. These simple rules will keep you safe. 1) Studies show an increase in sun sensitivity with AHA use, but even an SPF 2 eliminates the sensitivity. Wear sunscreen SPF 20 to 30 every day. 2) Use AHA treatments at night. Some sunscreens and day lotions actually contain glycolic acid in them. Never use a day lotion or a sunscreen that contains an AHA.

Lactic Acid and Skin Lightening

There are many ingredients used in skin lightening products; some are safe, while others like hydroquinone, a known carcinogen, should be avoided. A skin lightening active agent is defined by the US FDA as : “an agent designed to bleach or otherwise lighten limited areas of hyperpigmented skin through suppression of melanin formation within human cells.” There are many ingredients that fill the bill in terms of being natural and safe to use: bearberry extract, rice extract, paper mulberry, ascorbic acid, lactic acid and licorice root, among many others. They work by inhibiting tyrosinase, which catalyzes a key step in pigment synthesis.

The goal is of course to use safe ingredients that deliver the same lightening results people see when they use a product containing hydroquinone. The study below indicates how combinations of ingredients can deliver similar levels of efficacy, but without the risks.

Using Lactic Acid as a Skin Lightener

In Serums

A serum containing a combination of tyrosinase inhibitors like licorice root, paper mulberry and lactic acid can lighten skin safely, over time. Adding ascorbic acid will certainly speed up the lightening process, but it very important to be aware of Vitamin C’s special limitations. Because ascorbic acid is so unstable it must be used fresh each time in order to be effective. You can ensure freshness by combining a small amount of Vitamin C powder to the serum each time you use it. In this way Vitamin C will act as an anti-oxidant and as a tyrosinase inhibitor, just as you want it to. The MVO skin lightening topical supplement also contains kojic acid, another powerful tyrosinase inhibitor. We combine it with the Vitamin C powder in the topical supplement because kojic acid is, like so many really active ingredients, unstable. The good news is that its instability is the key to its effectiveness--as long as it is used correctly.

AHAs Increase UVA Susceptibility

It is very important to remember that any course of skin lightening treatment is going to make your skin more vulnerable to UV rays. You particularly want to avoid the longer wave length UVA rays, as they are the rays responsible for hyperpigmentation. Follow these rules so that you do not undo all your efforts to improve your skin’s appearance.

1) Wear sunscreen SPF 20 to 30 every day, rain or shine, indoors or out. Make sure it is broad spectrum. Zinc oxide protects across the broadest UVA range (up to 400 nm) and is your best choice. 2) Use skin lightening treatments at night. Be patient. Natural treatments are slow, but they have the added benefit of being good for your skin. You will see anti-aging effects along with your skin lightening improvements. Avoid serums that already contain Vitamin C, as it is only fresh, non-oxidized Vitamin C in sufficient concentration (10% or higher) that is effective.

Fighting Acne and Aging--Lactic Acid Delivers the One-Two Punch

Acne is a complicated condition, but in general the root causes of acne are related to hormone levels. It is interesting to note that the incidence of adult acne, especially with respect to women, is on the rise. While the causes are multiplex and difficult to trace out, the outcome is easy to see. I am sad to say that I hear over and over from many of our customers the same cry of distress: “I have pimples for the first time in my life and now I am getting wrinkles too—what’s wrong?”

Fortunately, there are now treatments that benefit both teenage and adults. And it looks like one of the answers to acne problems resides in our old friend, the ever-versatile lactic acid. Let’s take a look at common treatments and how a few modifications changes the picture for adult acne sufferers.

Common Acne Treatments


Adult acne certainly responds to the treatments given to teenagers, but the problem is that many of the treatments revolve around the use of harsh exfoliants that leave the skin taut and very dry. Teenage skin can tolerate a lot of over treatment, even abuse, as it quite resilient. As soon as an exfoliant touches their skin processes go to work to step up sebum and new cell production. Too much of this is certainly not good for teenage skin as it can set up a vicious cycle, but for adults it may result in an entirely new set of problems. Overdrying adult skin on a consistent basis may not produce the fresh crop of pimples the teenager gets, but it might cause something even harder to deal with—wrinkles.


Nearly all of us are familiar with comedos, commonly known as whiteheads and blackheads. Excess sebum and skin cells get trapped in follicles and form comedones, which when infected become pustules. Since comedones are the first step on the way to acne many treatments involve breaking up the congested matter in the pore before it becomes a full-blown pimple. This is where comedolytics come in.

Some of the most common comedolytics include salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. BP also has anti-microbial properties (it targets P. acnes) which make it the ideal choice for teenagers. The downside to BP is that causes excessive skin driness and is a photosensitizer.

AHAs and BHAs

Some combination of alpha –hydroxy and beta-hydroxy acids are often used to exfoliate. The combination is quite effective, as they work in different ways. AHAs soften the stratum corneum and remove dead skin cells. BHAs like salicylic acid exfoliate retained cells and loosen dead skin cell impactions. The difference between an alpha and a beta hydroxy acid is that the alpha HA seeps in from the stratum corneum, while the beta HA peels away layers of the skin, actually dissolving skin protein from the outside in.

Anti-aging and Acne—Two-in-One Treatments with Lactic Acid

All skin types can benefit from regular use of treatment products containing BHAs (salicylic acid) and AHAs. The trick with adult acne is to use products which dissolve skin impactions without excessively drying or irritating the skin.


Cleansers containing lactic acid and salicylic acid will remove dead skin cell build up on the skin’s surface without causing irritation. Lactic acid is the AHA of choice in a cleanser, as it is less irritating than glycolic acid, and in addition has outstanding anti-aging and skin lightening benefits.

In the daytime, follow with a sunscreen containing the anti-inflammatory zinc oxide.


Lactic acid used in a nighttime serum acts as a gentle exfoliant, increasing shedding of dead skin cells. At the same time it delivers anti-aging benefits by triggering increases in cell renewal and cell turnover. Serums are an excellent addition to a wash, as the lactic acid has time to penetrate to deeper layers of the skin.

Facial Masks

Facial masks containing salicylic and lactic acid are an excellent way to decrease comedones. The salicylic acid is the comedolytic agent, while the lactic acid’s humectant properties keep the skin from drying out too much. LA also increases natural ceramides, the barrier lipids that help the skin retain moisture and keep bacterial growth in check. Lactic acid in high concentrations (>10%) helps to improve scarring and discoloration associated with old acne. If scarring or discoloration is a problem, we also recommend topical applications of Vitamin C.

DIY Facial Masks

A simple way to get benefits of lactic acid at home is to use yoghurt. It contains lactic acid to exfoliate, AND it contains probiotics to help balance bacterial growth on the skin’s surface. It is so gentle it can be used daily as a face wash. Just take about ½ teaspoon fresh, whole fat organic yoghurt and spread it on the face like a creamy cleanser, then wash it off. To use as a facial mask, simply leave it on for 10- 15 minutes before washing it off. It’s that easy!

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