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Lactobionic Acid for Skin: Where Exfoliation and Hydration Meet

Lactobionic acid in skincare explained!

It seems like every day, there’s a new acid derived from a surprisingly simple source, whether it’s vinegar or lemons; the list goes on. Today’s powerful acid shares a common humble origin, aka milk. 

While royalty and pharaohs alike have been using milk as their beauty secret for years, this new acid might have even Cleopatra jealous. You’ve probably never heard of lactobionic acid, but you may know it’s a relative of lactic acid. Despite their shared dairy base, lactobionic acid outshines other acids in several ways. So let’s demystify the unique benefits of lactobionic acid in skincare so you can pamper your skin like a princess.

What is lactobionic acid?

Lactobionic acid is a sugar acid that comes from lactose and belongs to a little-known class of acids, polyhydroxy acid (PHA). PHA is related to other hydroxy acids like AHA (alpha-hydroxy acid) and BHA (beta-hydroxy acid) but has fallen a little behind the pack in notoriety. The slightly bigger molecule size of PHAs creates a special niche in the beauty world as they can’t penetrate the skin as deeply, making them perfect for a lighter peel. Don’t let its sweet taste fool you. Lactobionic acid, while a weaker acid, beats out its stronger AHA cousins in effectiveness.[1]

So how is it different? Let’s go over the specific lactobionic acid skin benefits that give it the competitive edge over other products.

The skin benefits of lactobionic acid

Due to its exfoliating power and gentle nature, lactobionic acid has been studied to improve multiple skin conditions such as photoaging, discolorations, dullness, and lack of firmness, emerging as an alternative to AHAs. Below are the skin benefits of lactobionic acid and the main ways in which it can improve the skin’s appearance.

Antioxidant that reduces sun damage

Chocked full of antioxidants, lactobionic acid fights sun damage and free radicals without the typical sun sensitivity you get from other acids. Reversing sun damage is great but preventing it afterward matters too.[2]

Gently exfoliates the skin

Lactobionic acid works more on a topical level, reliably exfoliating the skin surface without messing up your skin’s barrier function. Actually, this is an acid you can combine with other treatments and use more often in your routine for daily brightening. 

Moisturizes and softens fine lines

Lactobionic acid is also a humectant drawing in water to plump skin and soften fine lines for that oh-so-desirable youthful glow. In turn, this helps with skin sensitivities as well — moisturized skin is happier. Unlike other acids, lactobionic acid has been shown to reduce skin sensitivity.[1][2][3]

Enhances skin thickness

We’ve had a smoother complexion and better texture from many skincare treatments, but how many thicken and firm skin? Lactobionic acid has been shown to increase skin thickness, which is a fantastic anti-aging benefit, helping to fill in lost volume and improve skin laxity.[1] If you’ve recently used topical steroids, you might consider using lactobionic acid to help repair any skin thinness. Because lactobionic acid works hard to repair skin’s structure, not just thickness.[1]

Has anti-aging benefits

The benefits of lactobionic acid for the skin don’t stop here. Lactobionic acid increases the level of GAGs (glycosaminoglycans) in the skin over a 12-week study.[1] Responsible for producing collagen and elastin in the skin, these GAG’s can also retain 1,000 times their weight in water. Let’s just say more is definitely better.

Keeps side effects at bay

But don’t other acids boast all these perks? Why is lactobionic acid better? Well, because lactobionic acid sits on the skin, it stays more concentrated and more effectively exfoliates the skin’s surface. Products like AHA go deeper but don’t slough off outer skin cells as evenly. By not messing up the skin’s barrier, lactobionic acid keeps skin healthier, reducing redness and other unwanted side effects.[3] That’s not to say that stronger acids like AHA and BHA won’t hold a place in your routine, but lactobionic acid can reproduce many of their results more gently.

Who can use lactobionic acid?

In the world of AHA’s, those of us with sensitive skin can be at a disadvantage. We’ve all had red stinging skin post-peel, and while the downtime can be worth it, the result it’s less than ideal. Luckily lactobionic acid not only shows greater effectiveness than other AHAs like glycolic acid; it’s less irritating and gentler on the skin.[3]

This is a good product for most skin types, especially if you have skin sensitivities like acne or redness. Not only will it not irritate you further, but it can help heal existing irritation. This acid penetrates less deeply into the skin, so even dry skin types can use it.[1][2]

The lighter level of exfoliation makes it a good option for brightening skin of all skin types. For darker skin types more at risk of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, this could be your golden ticket when your skin gets irritated and creates dark spots. By not inflaming the skin, you aren’t going in circles to fight discoloration and create more.[3]

How to use lactobionic acid?

If you’re new to using acids, don’t overdo it! Start off only 2-3 times a week and see how your skin is reacting. It’s important to patch-test new products; using too much or applying too often can create irritation. With all the lactobionic acid skin benefits, you’ll want to use this right away but take it easy at first. For those of you who already have acids in your routine, this is a super product for winter when skin is more reactive. Gentler and with humectant properties, lactobionic acid keeps your skin glowing and hydrated during those more difficult months.[2]

Lactobionic acid in skincare comes in many different forms from toners, lotions, gels, and emulsions. Depending on the formula, you may use lactobionic acid at different steps of your routine. Generally speaking, though, acids are most effective after a cleansing step. That way, other products don’t interact or mess up the pH. It’s also best not to mix lactobionic acid with other actives like retinol and acids. Remember to keep acid use in the same family: AHA, BHA, and PHA don’t typically mix unless specifically formulated together.

Equally important, do use sunscreen! We know, it’s been said by dermatologists a thousand times over. But it really does help with any post-acid light sensitivity. Lactobionic acid creates less sensitivity than other acids, but it’s always better to be safe.

The takeaway

So did any of lactobionic acid’s skin benefits surprise you? Lactobionic may just be your next daily driver for gentle skin exfoliation! 

  1. Green, B.A. & Edison, Brenda & Sigler, M.L.. (2008). Antiaging effects of topical lactobionic acid: Results of a controlled usage study. Cosmetic Dermatology. 21. 76-82. 
  2. Algiert-Zielińska, B., Mucha, P., & Rotsztejn, H. (2019). Lactic and lactobionic acids as typically moisturizing compounds. International journal of dermatology58(3), 374–379. https://doi.org/10.1111/ijd.14202
  3. Bird, Katie. “Lactobionic Acid Preferable To Glycolic In Skin Care Formulations: Study”. Cosmeticsdesign-Europe.Com, 2022.
Who wrote this?
Picture of Jordan Baker
Jordan Baker
Jordan Baker is a nationally certified pharmacy technician who has worked in retail pharmacy for the past two years. Throughout her past, while studying microcopy and even field research in the Amazon, her passion for beauty has only grown. She may have been the only person wearing makeup in the rainforest, but it cemented her commitment to the beauty community. Her own troubled teenage years with cystic acne have put her on a mission to educate others towards a more holistic skincare journey. She now enjoys writing content with a scientific eye.
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