Want to Know Why Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate Is in Your Skincare? We Investigate

sodium lauroyl lactylate

Liz DeSousa for Byrdie

Unless you're a cosmetic chemist who formulates skincare for a living, you probably don't know the role or purpose of every single ingredient included in your products. Of course, the standout ingredients are easier to recognize and analyze. But then you come across ones like sodium lauroyl lactylate and have no idea what to make of them (let alone how to pronounce them). While sodium lauroyl lactylate might not be the hero ingredient that would lead you to buy a product, it does serve an important purpose in helping product formulation. Hey, they can't all be the star of the show, right? To help us dive deep into this relatively unknown ingredient and give us the answers we've been looking for, we turned to Kaveri Karhade, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in the San Francisco Bay Area, and cosmetic chemist Ginger King of Grace Kingdom Beauty. Keep reading to find out everything worth knowing about the natural ingredient, so that you'll know exactly what it is when you come across it in your products.

Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate

Type of ingredient: Emulsifier and surfactant

Main benefits: Washes away oil, helps other ingredients absorb into the skin, improves the texture and feel of formulas, and helps to moisturize the skin.

Who should use it: Sodium lauroyl lactylate is generally safe to use unless you are allergic or you know you are sensitive to lactic acid, according to King. That said, King adds that the amount of lactic acid in lactylate should not be a concern. 

How often can you use it: Karhade says sodium lauroyl lactylate is a very low-risk ingredient that is safe to use on a daily basis if you do not have a specific allergy to it.

Works well with: Sodium lauroyl lactylate works well with most ingredients, but according to King, there isn't any ingredient, in particular, that will boost its effectiveness or otherwise.

Don't use with: King says there isn't any specific ingredient that you should avoid using in conjunction with sodium lauroyl lactylate. Even though sodium lauroyl lactylate easily penetrates the skin and helps other ingredients absorb, King says this is generally not a concern unless someone has super-sensitive skin.

What Is Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate?

Sodium lauroyl lactylate is a natural ingredient commonly used in skincare to enhance product formulation in a few different ways. Karhade breaks it down: First off, sodium lauroyl lactylate can act as a surfactant, which helps wash away dirt and oil from the skin. Secondly, as an ingredient that easily penetrates the skin, sodium lauroyl lactylate can help other ingredients be absorbed. Thirdly, as an emulsifier (which means it helps water-based and oil-based ingredients stay mixed), sodium lauroyl lactylate can improve the texture and feel of products. For all these reasons, you'll find the multitasking ingredient in everything from shampoos and facial cleansers to moisturizers and serums.

Benefits of Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate for Skin

Sodium lauroyl lactylate is one of those behind-the-scenes ingredients that helps with overall product formulation, but it isn't one you would necessarily seek out in your products. That said, both Karhade and King point out that the ingredient does have two potential skin benefits:

  • Moisturizes: In addition to all that the ingredient does for enhancing the product, Karhade and King highlight sodium lauroyl lactylate's moisturizing properties that could benefit the skin.
  • Is antimicrobial: Because lauric acid is said to have antimicrobial activity, King points out that sodium lauroyl lactylate provides some antimicrobial effects on the skin.

Side Effects of Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate

Unlike other surfactants known for irritating or stripping the skin (ahem, sodium lauryl sulfate) sodium lauroyl lactylate is known to be much gentler. "The EWG, or the Environmental Working Group, rates this ingredient as a very low-risk ingredient," Karhade explains. "It’s unlikely to cause any significant skin or other issues except in those with a specific allergy to it. In fact, it’s even in a product that I use daily on my 4-month-old baby’s skin." King adds that unless you have a known sensitivity to lactic acid, sodium lauroyl lactylate is generally safe, but even still, the amount of lactic acid in lactylate shouldn't be a concern. 

How to Use It

Because sodium lauroyl lactylate is used more for enhancing a product's formula than it is used to benefit the skin, the use of the ingredient is highly dependent on the product at hand. Follow the manufacturer's instructions and always test a new product on a small area of skin first to see how your skin reacts before applying it more broadly.

The Best Products With Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate

Rosen Skincare Earth Cleanser
Rosen Skincare Earth Cleanser $18
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Got breakouts? This face wash for oily complexions is a Byrdie favorite not only for its cooling, refreshing feel on the skin but also for its ability to wash away oil, dirt, grime—you name it—without stripping away all the moisture. Grab a bottle of this creamy-slash-foamy cleanser with ingredients like Fuller Earth's clay, niacinamide, and zinc oxide to regulate oil production and calm inflammation.

SheaMoisture African Black Soap Body Wash
SheaMoisture African Black Soap Body Wash $11
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African black soap is used for its exfoliating, moisturizing, and antibacterial benefits, and one of the best African black soaps out there (if you ask us) is this liquid formula by SheaMoisture. Thanks to additional ingredients like oats, vitamin E, aloe vera, and shea butter, this body wash helps to calm the skin as it cleanses and balances oil.

Acure Brightening Facial Scrub
Acure Brightening Facial Scrub $10
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If you're someone who likes a facial scrub, try this gentle formula for exfoliating, softening, and brightening your complexion. Unlike other harsh, chunky formulas, this one is very gentle and relies on ingredients like aloe, French green clay, and sea kelp, to soothe as it removes dead skin. We think this drugstore product is totally underrated, but don't just take our word for it. This vegan face scrub has more than 15,000 positive reviews on Amazon from other people who love it, too.

CeraVe healing ointment
CeraVe Healing Ointment $20
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We're not the only ones who love CeraVe's Healing Ointment. Dermatologists (such as Karhade) and skincare Redditors alike look to this jar of thick, fragrance-free ointment whenever their dry, cracked skin needs a serious boost of moisture. Packed with petrolatum, three essential ceramides, and hyaluronic acid, this formula replenishes the skin and restores cuts, heals, and burns.

Paula's Choice BOOST Hyaluronic Acid Booster
Paula's Choice BOOST Hyaluronic Acid Booster $36
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Whenever your skin looks a little dull and dehydrated, turn to this hydrating serum that helps your skin retain moisture. We think it's one of the best hyaluronic acid serums for plumping and smoothing the skin, thanks to ingredients like ceramides, pro-vitamin B5, and of course, the hero ingredient hyaluronic acid.

Curél hydratherapy wet skin moisturizer
Curél Hydra Therapy Wet Skin Moisturizer $11
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Made for dry skin but intended to be used on wet skin, this in-shower moisturizer comes highly recommended by Karhade. Apply the formula (which is activated by water) right out of the bath or shower while your skin is still wet, so the product can penetrate deeply into the skin and help it to retain moisture.

Tatcha Luminous Dewy Skin Mist
Tatcha Luminous Dewy Skin Mist $48
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One of the top facial mists on anyone's list, this spray (which is certified Clean at Sephora) leaves the skin hydrated, dewy, and glowing, thanks to ingredients like squalane, algae, and silk extract. Pro tip: Spray it before and after applying your makeup to hydrate and prep your skin for a dewier finish and smoother product application.

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