Recently I’ve been asked quite frequently whether to use salicylic acid or lactic acid on spots/blemish prone skin. I’m by no means an expert however I have been using The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution and Lactic Acid 10% + HA 2% for the past 11 months and have looked into the pros and cons which might be helpful to you.
What are they?
Lactic acid is a gentle alpha-hydroxy acid derived from fermented milk, fruit, veggies, and other plants, that can improve your skin’s texture and boost its hydration without irritating it. It’s perfect for those who have sensitive skin. The biggest selling point is that it’s much more gentler than glycolic acid. It still exfoliates your skin, but also moisturizes, softens, smoothes wrinkles and can even help stimulate collagen production. It dissolves the upper layer of cells to kickstart the skin’s process of renewal – the production of fresh new cells that make skin look clearer and brighter.
Salicylic Acid often called beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) is more commonly found in blemish and spot treatments. It’s derived from the bark of a willow tree and as an overview it helps improve skin texture and tone leaving your complexion even, smooth, and spot-free. Salicylic acid exfoliates, removing dead, dull cells from the surface of your skin, and can clear up mild to moderate acne. It’s also great at fighting spots because it’s antimicrobial and antibacterial – meaning it combats acne-causing bacteria as well as breaking down excess oil and pore-clogging dead skin cells.
Let’s get technical:
Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid, which means the hydroxy part of the molecule is separated from the acid part by two carbon atoms, as opposed to an alpha hydroxy acid where they’re separated by one carbon atom. Why do you need to know that? Well, the structure is important because it makes salicylic acid more oil soluble so it can penetrate into the pores of the skin and tackle the actual makeup of your skin. In contrast, alpha hydroxy acids end up just exfoliating your skin and promoting skin regeneration when they touch the surface.
So which is better?
Well, both! They’re both very different products that do two entirely different things.
Salicylic acid has the ability to absorb deep into pores where it dissolves the ‘glue’ that binds blackheads to the skin whereas lactic acid would help regenerate your skin and help the appearance of marks left behind.
What are the side effects and cons?
Salicylic acid is very drying and you can definitely use too much. Some people experience dryness, peeling, redness, and some skin irritation so it’s important to start off with a low concentrate and use it only in small amounts in the areas needed.
Lactic Acid peels are a wonderful choice for those undergoing a peel for the first time and they are a good option for those who have dry, oily, mature and sensitive skin. Using too much can result in salicylic poisoning or reversing the all the good stuff and irritating your skin.
Did it work for me?
I wasn’t able to do a first impressions style post because honestly, there were no real results for about 3-4 weeks. The product takes minimal effort so I persevered and then all of a sudden my skin texture improved dramatically, particularly on my cheeks and around my nose. I played around with how often I used the products and now I only use salicyclic acid when I have a breakout or feel on coming on whereas lactic acid is used once a week.
Although these products have been my skin saviours, now that I have sorted my skin out I will be moving on from The Ordinary to NIOD (Non Invasive Options in Dermal Science) because I’m not sure how I feel about prolonged use of acids.
Will it work for you?
Using acids can be extremely beneficial for your skin’s appearance, however if at all possible, the best thing you can do is talk to a doctor or a cosmetologist who specialises in the procedure, allow them to assess your skin and have them tell you what would work best for your skin. Weigh up the risks before you go ahead, and remember that it may not result in the quick fix you were hoping for.
If you are considering trying out acids yourself, The Ordinary is a great place to start. The acids that are available to buy are relatively low concentrates so it won’t cause too much damage. This does also mean that it takes a good few weeks before you see any results, but you know what they say – slow and steady wins the race! Shop for your The Ordinary products here.