Meet Lactobionic Acid: AHA's Gentler Sister Exfoliator

Dermatologists love it for its versatility

young black women wearing a scarf and drop earrings

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) are key ingredients in our never-ending search for healthy-looking skin. But sometimes, they can be a little too harsh to use, especially if you're prone to irritation. If you're looking to get the same benefits but wanting something a whole lot gentler on your skin, we think we've found the answer. Say hello to Lactobionic Acid. We consulted plastic surgeon Melissa Doft, MD; Dr. Dhaval Bhanusali from Hudson Laser & Dermatology clinic; and Dr. Michelle Wong, Science Educator and Content Creator behind LabMuffin to get the lowdown on the gentle acid.

  • Type of ingredient: Acid
  • Main benefits: Exfoliates, is gentler than regular acids,
  • Who should use it: In general, people with sensitive skin.
  • How often can you use it? Once a day.
  • Works well with: Other acids.
  • Don’t use with: Retinols.

What is Lactobionic Acid?

"Lactobionic acid is the oxidized form of lactose, which is derived from milk," says Doft. "As Lactobionic is a larger molecule than glycolic acid, it will not penetrate the skin as well and thus is considered less strong and less irritating." Or as Bhanusali puts it, "A polyhydroxy acid that tends not to be irritating and works as a great humectant that helps hydrate the skin and keep it plump."

According to the Omorovicza team, because Lactobionic Acid doesn't penetrate the skin as well, it only provides exfoliation on the surface. "This makes them perfect for those with sensitive skin who are prone to irritation sometimes caused by AHAs," they say. We asked both Doft and the Omorovicza team to break down the acid down for us, from the exact benefits we'd be getting to how to incorporate it into our skincare routine.

Lactobionic Acid vs. Other Acids

"Lactobionic acid is a polyhydroxy acid that has similar effects to alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic acid, but with less irritation," says Wong. In case you only know them by their acronyms though, it's a PHA, which is similar to an AHA. But there are some added benefits that come with using lactobionic acid over other acids. "It also acts as an antioxidant, soaking up skin-damaging free radicals. It also works as a humectant moisturizer to attract water to the skin. It doesn't need to be used at a low pH, which reduces irritation."

The Benefits of Lactobionic Acid

According to both Doft and the Omorovizca team, the skin benefits of Lactobionic Acid are numerous.

  • Brighter Skin: Because of the increased cellular turnover rate to prevent buildup, they result in a brighter skin tone for all skin types.
  • Reduce Lines: They also even out skin tone, including the reduced appearance of fine lines.
  • Make Marks Disappear: Lactobionic acid also aids in the lessening of scars and hyperpigmentation.
  • Help Hydrate: Increased elastin and collagen lead to better hydration.
  • Protects Skin: Oddly, lactobionic acid can even protect against further sun damage.

Side Effects Of Lactobionic Acid

"Like all acids, Lactobionic can be irritating to the skin. If you have dry or sensitive skin, some formulations may be too strong," says Doft. She suggests using it three times a week at the minimum as a test to see how well (or poorly) your skin can tolerate it.

How To Use It

According to the Omorovizca team, you can find Lactobionic Acids in treatment products such as scrubs, serums, peels, and masks. The only precaution you should take is if you have sensitive skin. Regarding when you should use it, Wong says "It should be used on bare skin after cleansing, before moisturiser."

As for mixing exfoliators, Doft advises against it. "I would be careful using too many exfoliates at once," she says. "For example, I would not use a glycolic acid wash and a Lactobionic wash during the same day. Also, you may want to be careful using a mechanical exfoliator like a Clarisonic brush in conjunction with a Lactobionic Acid polish."

The Best Products With Lactobionic Acid

Refining Facial Polisher
Omorovicza Refining Facial Polisher $95

Made with lava stone extract, this polisher cleanses, purifies, and refines dull skin to give you smoothness and brightness.

Exuviance Vespera Bionic Serum $75

This serum combines Mandelic and Lactobionic Acids to speed up cellular turnover rates and reduce the appearance of fine lines and hyperpigmentation. It also contains marine botanicals that calm and soothe any irritation, which is ideal for sensitive skin.

'Blue Diamond' Resurfacing Peel
Omorovicza Blue Diamond Resurfacing Peel $195

It gives you a brighter complexion and firms up your skin while also exfoliating away dead particles without irritating it.

dermaclear micro milk peel
Dr. Jart Dermaclear™ Micro Milk Peel $42

Something described as "part peel, part moisturizer" might sound too good to be true, but it's very real. Dr. Jart uses a combination of seemingly every acid in the book for this peel, but don't worry—it's nourishing too.

bionic face cream
NeoStrata Bionic Face Cream $60

You might not look for acids in your moisturizers, but they're absolutely a beneficial ingredient. Case in point, this anti-aging face cream from NeoStrata.

Buchu Botanical Enzyme Polish
African Botanics Buchu Botanical Enzyme Polish $75

Lactobionic acid is only one of the many ingredients in this enzyme polish that are used to slough off dead skin gently and without irritation. It also contains nourishing micro-algae to cleanse and revitalize the skin.

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