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Lactic Acid vs Hyaluronic Acid

Lactic Acid vs Hyaluronic Acid

By Calum Torrington

26 September 2022

For most, keeping up to date with all the skincare trends can be tricky- particularly with the number of ingredients that fall under the ‘acid’ category!

Many people may want to combine actives to maximize their benefits, but it can be a difficult process to get right and not cause undue damage to their skin.

Most acids have the same chemical peel-like properties, which can lead to over-exfoliation if carried out incorrectly.

With that in mind, let’s look at two ‘acids’- Lactic and Hyaluronic- which help your skin in different ways and actually are the perfect pair!

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What is Lactic Acid?

Most acid products on the market fall into two main categories: Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs).

These acids work as chemical exfoliants, dissolving dead skin cells and clearing pores which helps to smooth, brighten, and tighten skin.

The main difference between the two is that AHAs are water-soluble, while BHAs are oil-soluble.

Lactic acid falls under the category of an AHA.

In its natural form, it is a type of sugar found in milk. Some of the most common uses for lactic acid for skin care include treating fine lines and wrinkles, acne, and hyperpigmentation.

Due to the exfoliating processes, AHAs and BHAs can be harsh on the skin.

Among these acids, lactic acid is one of the more gentle varieties. Even still, application should be limited to no more than three times per week, as overuse can irritate the skin.

What is Hyaluronic Acid?

Most would assume that hyaluronic acid, or hyaluronan, would fall into the category of either AHA or BHA- since it is an acid as well, and used for many of the same skin benefits.

However, the term “acid” here may be a bit misleading!

Unlike the other ‘acids’, it does not act like a chemical exfoliant; it will not dissolve dead skin cells by lowering the pH of your skin, and is actually very hydrating and nourishing.

So, if it’s not an AHA or BHA, what is it?

Well, it’s called an anionic, non sulfated glycosaminoglycan.

There are sugars, or long unbranched carbohydrates, found throughout the body in connective, skin, and nerve tissue. They act as a cushion to lubricate the eyes and joints.

The hyaluronic acid that occurs naturally in the layers of our skin is what gives it that plump, hydrated look.

As we get older, we produce less of the substance naturally- one of the main reasons our skin will start to sag and wrinkle.

Adding hyaluronic acid to the skin improves its elasticity, helping with dryness, aging, redness, acne scars, and even wound healing.

Side effects are quite uncommon when compared to AHAs and BHAs, and it’s safe for most people to use. It’s mild enough that it can be used up to twice daily, unlike other acids.

Lactic Acid vs Hyaluronic Acid: What's the difference between the two?

These two acids are very different, and do not even fall under the same category!

While lactic acid is going to remove those dead skin cells, hyaluronic acid nourishes the skin.

There are many overlaps in the uses of these two ‘acids’, but the two key differences are:

  1. Lactic acid can be used to treat acne, whereas hyaluronic acid can not; and
  2. Hyaluronic acid is moisturizing and can be used in wound healing, which is very different from how lactic acid is used.

Hyaluronic acid is less harsh, and safer to use. It’s perfectly fine to use during breastfeeding and nursing, for instance.

It’s great to use especially for oily skin types, as it hydrates the skin without making it feel oily. However, it also works well for dry skin as it’s so hydrating.

Combining the Two

As these two acids do quite different things, they actually work super well together.

Lactic acid exfoliates the skin, getting rid of those dead skin cells and promoting cell turnover. Then, the hyaluronic acid hydrates the skin underneath and nourishes it thoroughly.

The actives work well together in firming, plumping, and smoothing the skin. You’ll be able to reap the benefits of treating aging, acne, dry skin, and/or dark spots through application of both ingredients.

Additionally, both are gentle on the skin. Layering other types of acids can be tricky due to their harsh nature, and while care should still be used, it’s one of the better options.

It truly is a winning duo!

How to use both together

The best way to combine the two would be to start with your lactic acid product. This will exfoliate the skin first, so that the hyaluronic acid can do its best work.

A great way to do this is to use a cleanser or a toner that contains lactic acid, and then follow that with a hyaluronic acid serum.

There are a myriad of cleansers and toners with lactic acid out there that can be used twice daily.

As hyaluronic acid is safe to use twice daily in most forms, this would be a good method for your daily skin care regimen and doesn’t involve needing to remember which days to do what!

If you are going to use two serums, you need to keep in mind the consistency.

With layering acids, you always want to start with the one with a thinner consistency. Therefore, it’s best to make sure the lactic acid product has the lighter consistency.

Another option would be to use the lactic acid as a serum, and the hyaluronic acid in a cream or gel form to ensure the most effective combination.

When layering, it’s important to give the first product a chance to absorb into the skin before applying the second. This will take around ten minutes, typically!

Our Product Recommendations

The Ordinary has a high-strength lactic acid serum that balances its active ingredient with Tasmannia Lanceolata Fruit/Leaf Extract.

It uses a synthetic form of lactic active, making it suitable for vegans.

If you’d like your lactic acid in a toner form- a great choice if you plan to use hyaluronic acid as well- Kiehl's Daily Refining Milk-peel toner is an awesome choice. It’s definitely gentle enough for daily use.

For a hyaluronic acid serum, Indeed Laboratories offer a product called Hydraluron Moisture Boosting Facial Serum that is presented in a lightweight, fast-absorbing formula.

Finally, for a cream-based hyaluronic acid product, ideal if you are using a lactic acid serum, try Advanced Clinicals Hyaluronic Acid Cream.

They balance the active ingredient with Borage Oil, Squalene, and Vitamin E for their restorative properties.

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