Lactic acid is an AHA that is especially good for people with sensitive skin. “Lactic acid is the most hydrating of all the acids, so oftentimes it's used for sensitive skin that has kind of a more delicate skin barrier and therefore needs more hydration in the skin,” Rouleau said.
If you have sensitive or dry skin, you should proceed with caution to avoid the three most common side effects associated with salicylic acid: dryness, irritation and sun sensitivity, noted board-certified dermatologist Blair Murphy-Rose, MD, of Laser Skin & Surgery Center of NY.
Lactic acid is the best researched AHA after glycolic acid, and is notable for being gentler, more hydrating, and more effective at treating sun damaged skin. antioxidant ingredient that's most commonly used in conjunction with vitamins C and E in serums.
How should I use it? As with any exfoliant, it's safest to start small if you have sensitive skin or are prone to irritation. A glycolic cleanser can get your skin used to it and allow you to see how well your skin tolerates glycolic acid without risking a severe reaction.
Because glycolic acid can work deeper into the skin layer, it's generally recommended for uneven skin texture. In which case, if you have acne scars and wrinkles, glycolic acid is for you. On the other hand, lactic acid is a gentler exfoliant that's suitable for dry to sensitive skin types.
Due to its larger molecular structure, mandelic acid doesn't penetrate the skin as deeply as glycolic acid, so it's gentler on the skin. Mandelic acid has been found to be effective for inflammatory acne and some forms of hyperpigmentation, as well as treating sun damage and evening out pigmentation.
Lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid , or AHA, used in over-the-counter (OTC) skin care products and professional treatments. Lactic acid is used to remove dead skin cells, lighten dark spots, and improve the look of fine lines and wrinkles.
Alpha Hydroxy Acids
Why you should swap it out: AHAs such as glycolic, lactic, and malic acids are staples when it comes to toning, brightening, and reducing the appearance of pores. But Palm warns that these acids can cause irritation in more reactive skin and increase sun sensitivity in all skin types.
“When used topically, niacinamide can improve skin hydration by preventing evaporation of moisture from the skin into the environment. It's also a natural anti-inflammatory ingredient, so it's great for calming irritated skin but also good for people with sensitive skin,” says Nazarian.
Is there anyone who shouldn't use it? Hyaluronic acid can work for people with any skin type — even those who have sensitive skin or are prone to breakouts. It's also safe to apply the acid to your skin if you're pregnant or nursing.
The main difference between azelaic acid vs salicylic acid is that azelaic acid is gentle and suitable for sensitive skin while salicylic acid is a much stronger exfoliant that can often irritate skin.
The medical experts we spoke with say azelaic acid is generally well-tolerated and those with sensitive skin may experience mild irritation and redness.
“Glycolic acid is highly effective for rejuvenating the skin,” says Dr Goldman, cosmetic surgeon in Perth, Australia. “While hyaluronic acid helps in hydrating your skin, glycolic acid exfoliates dead skin cells,” he explains.
Vitamin C is generally pretty safe and well tolerated, but if you have sensitive skin, it might sting a little bit—especially if you use it in the same part of your routine as exfoliating scrubs or acids.
Choose fragrance-free products
The CeraVe range of skincare for sensitive skin is formulated without fragrance to avoid skin irritation. The CeraVe Foaming Cleanser makes an ideal cleanser for sensitive skin as not only is it fragrance-free, but it is also allergy-tested and therefore free from irritants.
Retinol has similar benefits, but it's stronger than niacinamide. It's also known to cause irritation, redness, and dry skin. Pairing the two ingredients is safe and can make retinol easier to use. Niacinamide helps hydrate the skin, which reduces the risk of irritation caused by retinol.
Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring acid found in grains such as barley, wheat, and rye. It has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, which make it effective in the treatment of skin conditions like acne and rosacea. The acid can prevent future outbreaks and clean bacteria from your pores that causes acne.
When selecting niacinamide products, Dr Ho advises that “a concentration of 4-5% niacinamide is ideal—enough to improve acne and fine wrinkles”. Higher concentrations, like The Ordinary 10% Niacinamide + 1% Zinc, have not yet been proven to exhibit a higher rate of efficacy.
If you have sensitive skin, don't worry about using retinol. In fact, it might be one of the best anti-aging ingredients out there for your type of skin! It can stimulate cell turnover and collagen production to reduce fine lines and wrinkles as well as help with hyperpigmentation.
“Those with sensitive or easily irritated skin should approach retinol use with caution,” Panzica says. First-time retinol users have reported irritation, including redness, dryness, and peeling.
Expert opinion on which one to choose between Glycolic Acid and Lactic Acid? The main difference is that lactic is gentler, making it ideal for those with sensitive skin. However, if you want to see more dramatic results, glycolic acid is the way to go.
For sensitive skin types, lactic acid can be a great chemical exfoliant because it's gentler than other AHA and BHA acid. "Lactic acid is best used on sensitive skin because it is a mild exfoliant which will not disrupt the pH of the skin or cause redness and irritation," Dr. Green says.
Lactic acid offers the same benefits as the stronger glycolic acid, but because it has a larger molecule size, it does not penetrate as deeply. People with sensitive skin will find lactic acid to be the gentler acid between two.