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When it comes to skincare, there are a lot of different ingredients out there that all claim to be the best. So, how do you know which one is actually right for your skin? In this post, we’re pitting two of the most popular acids against each other: lactic acid vs salicylic acid. Keep reading to find out the benefits of each ingredient, the differences between them, and which one is best for certain skin types and conditions.
What Is Salicylic Acid
Salicylic acid is one of the most popular skincare ingredients , and for good reason. It’s the gold standard for treating acne, and can also help to improve the appearance of large pores, blackheads, and oily skin.
Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA), that comes from willow bark. It’s a natural exfoliant, so it helps to slough away dead skin cells and unclog pores. It’s considered a chemical exfoliant, which means it’s similar to lactic acid and glycolic acid. However, salicylic acid is special because it’s oil soluble which means that it can penetrate deep into the pores to help unclog them. And this is part of the reason why it’s such a great ingredient for acne and oily skin.
Salicylic helps to dissolve the “glue” that keep dead skin cells together, making it an effective method for exfoliation. When dead skin cells accumulate on the surface of the skin, they can clog pores and lead to breakouts. By dissolving the glue that holds these cells together, salicylic acid helps to prevent them from clogging pores in the first place.
Salicylic acid can help to dissolve dead skin cells and unclog pores, decrease blackheads, regulate oil production, and shrink pores. BHA’s are capable of going deep into the pore and cleaning it out, making them superior for treating acne than glycolic or other AHA’s.
It also has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, making it ideal for acne-prone skin. Salicylic acid is available in a variety of forms, including gels, creams, serums, toners, and spot treatments.
Related post: Can Salicylic Acid Cause Skin Purging
Benefits Of Salicylic Acid
- Treats active acne – salicylic acid has anti-inflammatory properties which helps to decrease inflammation associated with pimples and can help to heal them quicker
- Prevents acne – BHA can treat active acne, but it also prevents new acne from forming by killing acne causing bacteria, balancing oil production and unclogging pores. It’s a comedolytic agent which means it prevents comedolytic acne like blackheads or closed comedones
- Smooths skin – salicylic acid is a keratolytic agent which means it can break down the outer layer of dead skin. This can help with stubborn closed comedones and smooth out rough skin texture
- Decreases oil production – salicylic acid is known for its ability to help balance and regulate oil production. It does so by regulating sebocytes, which are the cells that produce the sebum on your skin
- Minimizes pores – salicylic acid helps to keep pores clear and when pores are clear, they appear smaller
What Is Lactic Acid
Lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that’s usually derived from milk. AHA’s are a type of chemical exfoliant, and they work by dissolving the bonds that hold dead skin cells together. This allows for the dead skin cells to be sloughed away, revealing brighter, smoother skin.
Lactic acid is one of the more gentle AHA’s, which makes it a great choice for those with sensitive, dry or dehydrated skin types. It has a larger molecule size than other acids, which means it cannot penetrate as deeply into the skin, which is why it’s more gentle. That said, lactic acid works more on the surface level, rather than deep down into the skin.
Although lactic acid is a little less popular than it’s sister, glycolic acid, it’s a really great choice for all skin types. It’s considered more of a “beginner acid” because it’s more gentle and mild on the skin, so it’s great for those just starting out using chemical exfoliants.
It can help to exfoliate the skin, improve skin texture, decrease the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and brighten the skin. Lactic acid is available in a variety of forms, including gels, creams, serums, peels, and masks.
Benefits Of Lactic Acid
- Smooths texture – lactic acid can help to improve the appearance of rough, dry skin by dissolving the bonds that hold dead skin cells together. This allows for the dead skin cells to be sloughed away, revealing brighter, smoother skin
- Fades hyperpigmentation – lactic acid can help to lighten dark spots and hyperpigmentation by exfoliating the top layer of skin which will gradually fade any hyperpigmentation or sun spots
- Moisturizes – lactic acid is a humectant, meaning it helps the skin to retain moisture. This makes it a great choice for those with dry or dehydrated skin types
- Reduces signs of aging – lactic acid can help to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by stimulating collagen production and increasing cell turnover
Lactic Acid Vs Salicylic Acid
So if you’re wondering what is the difference between lactic acid and salicylic acid, keep on reading for an in-depth breakdown of these two ingredients
Lactic Acid Vs Salicylic Acid Similarities
-Both are exfoliating acids that can improve skin texture
Although they have some key differences, there are also a few similarities between these two ingredients. For starters, they’re both excellent exfoliators that can help improve the overall appearance of your skin. They’re also both relatively gentle acids, so they’re a good choice if you’re new to using acids in your skincare routine
Lactic Acid Vs Salicylic Acid Differences
-Lactic acid is an AHA while salicylic acid is a BHA
-Lactic acid works on the surface level of the skin while salicylic acid penetrates deeper into the skin
-Lactic acid is more gentle and suitable for all skin types while salicylic acid is better for those with oily or acne-prone skin
-Lactic acid can help to fade hyperpigmentation while salicylic acid is better for treating active acne
-Lactic acid helps the skin to retain moisture while salicylic acid decreases oil production
Now that we know a little bit about the benefits of each ingredient, let’s take a closer look at some of the key differences between them.
The main difference between salicylic acid and lactic acid is their molecule size; salicylic acid molecules are smaller, meaning they’re able to penetrate deeper into the skin. Because of this, salicylic acid is often used to treat acne while lactic acid is more commonly used as an anti-aging ingredient. That said, both ingredients can be used on all skin types—it just depends on what you’re looking to treat.
Another key difference between these two ingredients is their pH level; salicylic acid has a lower pH level (between 3 and 4), while lactic acid has a higher pH level (between 4 and 5). This means that salicylic acid can be more irritating to the skin than lactic acid—something to keep in mind if you have sensitive skin or if you’re new to using acids in your skincare routine.
Lactic Acid Vs Salicylic Acid Pros & Cons
Lactic Acid Pros
Lactic Acid Cons
Salicylic Acid Pros
Salicylic Acid Cons
Lactic Acid Vs Salicylic Acid For Blackheads
If you’re looking for an acid to help with blackheads, salicylic acid is the better choice. This is because salicylic acid is a BHA, which means it’s oil-soluble and can penetrate deep down into the pores to unclog and dissolve blackheads.
Lactic Acid Vs Salicylic Acid For Acne
If you’re looking for an acid to help with active acne, salicylic acid is again the better choice. This is because salicylic acid unclogs pores, kills acne causing bacteria, reduces inflammation and redness and balances oil production which are all things that can help to clear up active acne.
Lactic Acid Vs Salicylic Acid For Wrinkles
If you’re looking for something to help with wrinkles or signs of aging, lactic acid is the way to go. Lactic acid stimulates collagen production and cell turnover, which helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Lactic Acid Vs Salicylic Acid For Keratosis Pilaris
Keratosis pilaris, or KP, is probably one of the most stubborn skin conditions to treat. For KP, you really need both salicylic acid and lactic acne. Salicylic acid has the keratolytic properties needed to remove the keratin buildup to smooth skin and get rid of any bumps. Lactic acid, on the other hand, improves skin texture and tone. So the combination of these two ingredients can help to tackle KP.
Lactic Acid Vs Salicylic Acid For Hyperpigmentation
For hyperpigmentation, like acne scars or sunspots, lactic acid is the better choice. Lactic acid exfoliates the top layer of skin which will gradually fade any hyperpigmentation or sun spots.
Can You Use Lactic Acid And Salicylic Acid Together?
Yes, you can use lactic acid and salicylic acid together. In fact, combining these two acids can be a great way to treat multiple skin concerns at once. However, you should always introduce the acids slowly to prevent irritation and over-exfoliation.
If you want to use both acids at the same time, you can easily do so. For example, you can use a salicylic acid toner followed by a lactic acid serum without any issues. Or you can opt to separate them in your routine and use one in the morning and one at night. Keep in mind that lactic acid should only be used at night because it can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun.
Do keep in mind that when using two exfoliating acids together, you’ll need to be extra careful about your sunscreen usage. Be sure to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 every morning to protect your skin from any potential damage.
Do I Use Lactic Acid or Salicylic Acid First?
It all depends on what products you are using. As always, follow the thinnest to thickest rule. This means that you should start with the thinnest product and move on to the thicker products. For example, it would be toner > serum > moisturizer.
So if you’re using a toner with salicylic acid, follow it up with a lactic acid serum and then finish off with your moisturizer.
Related post: Can You Mix Lactic Acid With Niacinamide?
Which Is Better Lactic Acid or Salicylic Acid?
The answer to this question really depends on your skin concerns. If you’re looking for something to help with blackheads or active acne, salicylic acid is the better choice. If you’re looking for something to help with wrinkles or hyperpigmentation, lactic acid is the better choice.
That being said, combining these two acids can be a great way to tackle multiple skin concerns at once. So if you’re not sure which one to choose, you can always opt to use both or go for a product that contains both lactic acid and salicylic acid.
Should You Use Lactic Acid Or Salicylic Acid?
Now that we know a little bit more about each ingredient, let’s take a look at some scenarios in which one would be better than the other:
-If you’re struggling with oily and/or acne-prone skin, salicylic acid is your best bet since it can penetrate deep into pores to dissolve sebum and gunk.
-If you’re concerned with dullness and uneven texture, lactic acid will help to brighten and smooth out your complexion.
-If you have sun damage or wrinkles, again lactic acid is a good choice since it can stimulate collagen production.
-If you have sensitive skin lactic acid will be the best option for you
Is Lactic Acid Milder Than Salicylic Acid?
Lactic acid is considered to be a milder exfoliating acid when compared to other acids like glycolic acid and salicylic acid. Lactic acid is more gentle than salicylic acid and glycolic acid.
Lactic Acid Vs Salicylic Acid Wrap Up
So overall, lactic acid and salicylic acid are both great acids for treating different skin concerns. Salicylic acid is better for active acne, blackheads and oily skin while lactic acid is better for wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and rough texture. You can use them together to treat multiple skin concerns at once or separately depending on what products you’re using. Just be sure to follow the thinnest to thickest rule and always apply sunscreen when using these acids together.