I think we’re all in agreement now that acid = good for the face. I mean, within reason. Sulphuric is still probably a no. But the natural pH of skin is on the lower end of the spectrum, and using products to keep it there maintains a healthy “acid mantle.” Plus, acids are a great way to exfoliate dead skin without actually going in with an oft-irritating scrub, which maintains smoothness, softness and glowiness, AKA the trifecta of compliment-worthy skin.
Yet acids can still be that terrible combination of scary and confusing. Knowing which ones are for which purpose, and how often you can use them, and which ones go well with each other ones is a whole nightmare of issues. But one acid I’d be hard pressed to imagine someone not getting along with is lactic. And here’s why.
It’s an AHA (alpha hydroxy acid), which in skincare terms means it is exfoliating of the upper most layer of the epidermis. It’s derived from milk going off, which is gross but also cool. And lactic acid is gentler on skin in terms of irritation, yet can be as effective as glycolic acid in terms of effect. It’s also more humectant, meaning it pulls moisture out of the air and onto the face, making it ideal for those of a drier complexion.
Ok, so now I’ve talked you round, let’s get to the juicy stuff: products.
Firstly, I point you in the direction of The Ordinary lactic acid offerings. They do both a 5% and a 10%, which is handy, although my hardy skin barely notices a difference between the two. They are both in serum form, coming in dropper bottles as gloopy, slightly orangey liquids. Also, they both smell exactly like celery, which is weird but also basically fine. I apply at night on clean skin, leave for a few minutes, then follow with moisturiser. By morning, skin will be brighter and smoother, and all for the cost of about five dollars.
A cult classic are the First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads. These are so popular, I’m sure, in no small part because they are just so easy. They can slot into the most minimal or complicated of regimens without disturbing anything else. And they’re pre-soaked pads! Basically the socially acceptable form of face wipes! (Don’t try to use these to remove your makeup though. They won’t work and might hurt.) Use on clean skin and follow with spritzes, serums, moisturisers, whatever.
If you’re really talking exfoliation, though, I’ve spoken before of my true and intensive love for Kate Somerville’s ExfoliKate. This is the ultimate in sloughing off dead skin and revealing your hidden baby-face, using both physical exfoliation (scientifically known as “scrubbies”) and chemical exfoliation – the acid part. It’s green and smells like mince pies, which I believe are only a British thing and for that I am very sorry, USA. Scrub on, rub around, leave for a few minutes and rinse to truly visible results.
If scrubbing isn’t your game, though, I point you in the direction of either the Ren GlycoLactic Radiance Renewal Mask, or the Dermalogica Gentle Cream Exfoliant. Both are a smooth, pastey substance that exfoliates the skin only through acid chomping away. But, like, gently. The Ren is like orange jelly – slightly sticky but delightful smelling, while the Dermalogica is more of an opaque, white cream. Both are left on for a few minutes, then removed (preferably with a washcloth), leaving you with – you guessed it – bright, smooth skin.
Whether it’s by serum, by toner, by scrub or by mask, lactic acid is one of those ingredients that walks a clever line between gentle and effective. It’s one of the things that you’ll notice you look better after doing. In times of skin need, there are worse things you could do than take some acid.
SHOP THE STORY
Images: New Beauty
PS: If you buy something through our links, TWC may earn an affiliate commission.