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Lactic acid made a name for itself for being one of the gentlest exfoliants out there. So it’s no surprise that lactic acid cleansers are taking over the world of exfoliating cleansers.
Since exfoliation became practically essential in any skincare, we’ve been looking for alternative ways to incorporate it into our routines. And the cleansing step is one of the most convenient ways to do that.
While glycolic acid cleansers are dominating the realm of exfoliating face washes, most of us have soon realized that being potentially irritating and all, they’re not for everyone. That’s the reason behind the interest in lactic acid cleansers.
In case you’ve missed our lactic acid 101, here’s the gist. Coming from the royal family of alpha-hydroxy acids, lactic acid is derived from milk and bears the same benefits other alpha-hydroxy acids do and then some.
As a gentle exfoliant, lactic acid increases cell turnover and removes dead skin cells from the top layer of the skin. As a result, it makes the skin smoother, softer, and brighter, which is majorly anti-aging. But its additional and unique benefits are what make it so appealing.
It works as a humectant, meaning that it attracts and binds water to the skin. That way, it increases hydration in the skin, making it look plumper and healthier.
Additionally, it’s not as penetrating and therefore potentially irritating as glycolic acid. That way, lactic acid makes exfoliation possible for skin that can’t tolerate other chemical exfoliants.
Well, all this sounds pretty generic, right? I mean at this point, we already have somewhat of an idea about lactic acid. What does all this information mean from a facial cleansing perspective? Here’s what a lactic acid cleanser does for your skin.
Lactic Acid Cleanser Benefits
A lactic acid cleanser works as a mild, daily exfoliant to stimulate skin turnover while cleansing. Because it’s significantly gentler on the skin, a lactic acid cleanser is ideal for people with dry, reactive, sensitive, redness-prone skin.
Most of us rely on exfoliation to get rid of dead skin cells and flaky skin. But aggressively exfoliating with harsh exfoliants can make things worse. Lactic acid cleansers make it possible to benefit from exfoliation without the likelihood of over-exfoliation.
As separate skincare steps, both cleansing and exfoliation always have the potential to dehydrate already dry skin. Cleansers with lactic acid don’t strip your skin or damage your skin barrier. That’s why lactic acid cleansers are ideal for dry skin.
People with aging skin tend to have sensitive skin, which is a pickle because we really need that exfoliation to boost skin turnover. And lactic acid washes help soften fine lines but don’t aggregate sensitivity.
In sum, lactic acid cleansers are ideal for anyone looking to get rid of flaky skin, dead skin cells, congestion, hyperpigmentation, and acne in the gentlest, lightest possible way.
The Best Lactic Acid Cleansers
1. Dermalogica Skin Resurfacing Lactic Acid Cleanser
We’ve established that lactic acid is ideal for mature, sensitive skin. And this lactic acid cleanser is formulated with that in mind. The creamy cleanser foams up very lightly and doesn’t strip fragile skin of necessary oils. It’s also enriched with the antioxidant vitamin E. Though you can use this just a couple of times a week as a treatment if you have very sensitive skin, it’s actually pretty gentle and suitable to use twice daily.
Key Ingredients: Lactic acid, vitamin E
Benefits: Gently exfoliates, anti-aging, brightening
Skin Type: Normal, dry, combination, oily Size: 5.1 oz
2. Hydropeptide Cleansing Gel
And speaking of aging skin, this is such an advanced, rich formula that it’s worth every penny. It’s going to help your overall anti-aging routine in so many ways. It gently exfoliates with lactic acid without irritation whatsoever. And trust me when I say that you want to take your time with the cleanser and massage it in for 60 seconds. Because it infuses the skin with soothing antioxidants like green tea, allantoin, and chamomile. And if you have dry skin, the amino acids in the cleanser will also keep it hydrated and happy. It’ll remove your makeup, cleanse, and exfoliate without leaving your skin tight.
Key Ingredients: Lactic acid, allantoin, green tea, amino acids
Benefits: Exfoliates, hydrates, calms, smooths skin texture
Skin Type: All skin types Size: 6.76 oz
3. PCA Skin Facial Wash
This one is more of a foaming cleanser. So it provides a bit deeper cleansing action, which is great for getting rid of the day’s dirt on oily, combination skin. Besides lactic acid to help with dullness and congestion, it has anti-inflammatory allantoin and aloe to keep redness at bay too. It leaves a super refreshing feel on the skin and gives a thorough cleansing action. Plus, it has willow bark extract, a natural source of salicylic acid, which is majorly soothing and calming for the skin.
Key Ingredients: Lactic acid, allantoin, aloe, willow bark
Benefits: Deeply cleans, exfoliates without irritation, soothes
Skin Type: All skin types Size: 7 oz
4. Glamglow Supercleanse Clearing Cream-to-Foam Cleanser
This is a pretty unique lactic acid cleanser and I think this is perfect for oily and acne-prone skin. Here’s why. This is actually a charcoal cleanser formulated with clay. So it has a visibly mattifying effect on the skin to help balance excess oil without dehydrating the skin. Not to mention, both charcoal and clay are super helpful for enlarged pores and acne. The creamy, runny formula foams up and lifts up dirt and makeup residue from the skin. Also, besides lactic acid, it’s got glycolic acid to give your skin the daily exfoliation it needs.
Key Ingredients: Lactic acid, glycolic acid, charcoal, clay
Benefits: Cleans and exfoliates, mattifies, reduces oil and acne
Skin Type: Normal, combination, oily Size: 5 oz
5. Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser
And speaking of oily skin, this is another multi-acid cleanser that comes at dead skin cells from all angles. But this is a treatment that’s to be used 2-3 times a week and not daily. So keep that in mind. It’s made with glycolic acid, lactic acid, as well as salicylic acid. The latter is exceptional for unclogging pores and getting rid of blemishes and blackheads. Plus, the creamy formula has jojoba beads for superficial physical exfoliation. But they don’t feel harsh or scratchy on the skin. Use this when your daily cleanser isn’t enough to purify your complexion.
Key Ingredients: Lactic acid, glycolic acid, salicylic acid
Benefits: Deeply cleans, decongests, chemical and physical exfoliation
Skin Type: Normal, dry, combination, oily Size: 6.75 oz
6. Cosmedix Purity Clean Exfoliating Cleanser
This is a treat for your senses! The SLS-free lactic acid cleanser is green-tinted, smells fresh and minty, and feels super gentle on the skin. They took the guesswork out of this and clearly labeled the concentration of lactic acid, which is 5%. And I always love when they do that in a cleanser. The jelly-like cleanser lathers up, cleans up any dirt and grime, and exfoliates for a smoother, brighter complexion. The unique formula also has tea tree oil for its anti-bacterial and anti-acne benefits. And it’s brimming with antioxidant-rich botanicals for anti-aging benefits.
Key Ingredients: 5% lactic acid, tea tree oil, aloe
Benefits: Exfoliates, decongests, anti-aging, helps with excess oil and acne
Skin Type: Normal, combination, oily, acne-prone Size: 5 oz
7. Urban Skin Rx ProStrength LacticGlow Micropolish Resurface & Brighten Cleanser
This is a relatively more affordable lactic acid cleanser that’s equally exfoliating. Besides lactic acid, it’s got malic acid and citric acid from the AHAs family. And also, the gel cleanser provides light physical exfoliation with jojoba beads. Its non-stripping formulation includes hydrating hyaluronic acid and soothing green tea. So no matter your skin type, you can comfortably exfoliate and cleanse at the same time without irritating your skin.
Key Ingredients: Lactic acid, malic acid, citric acid, green tea, hyaluronic acid
Benefits: Provides chemical and physical exfoliation, improves skin texture and tone
Skin Type: Normal, combination, oily Size: 6 oz
So these are some of the best lactic acid cleansers out there that you can use comfortably if you have dry skin, sensitive skin, or if you’re new to exfoliators. Because of lactic acid’s gentle nature and because of the fact that the concentration is pretty low in cleansers and the contact time is really short, you can use a lactic acid cleanser every day and even twice a day. However, if you notice any irritation, try using your cleanser a few times a week. And as always, remember to wear sunscreen to keep your skin protected.