lactic acid vs glycolic acid - which one is right for you?

Are you Team Glycolic or Team Lactic?

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this is the ultimate battle for exfoliation. Both glycolic and lactic acids want to be the one to get those dead cells off your face and make your complexion glow.

But only one can get the gig (ok, some products have both but there are some skin types – yes sensitive skin, I’m looking at you – that are better off with just the one).

So, which one should you choose? I’m Team Glyolic all the way but just so to prove I’m not biased, I’ll tell you all about both and which one is best for YOUR skin type and needs.

Ready? Let’s get started:

What Do Glycolic Acid And Lactic Acid Have In Common?

Glycolic acid and lactic acid are both members of the Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) family. Glycolic is derived from sugar cane while lactic acid from milk but they both work the same way: they dissolve the “glue” that holds skin cells together.

With nothing forcing these cells to hang out together, they’re free to finally slough off your skin. As superficial, damaged layer of skin gives way to the newer layer underneath, your skin gets smoother and brighter. Wrinkles look smaller. Dark spots slowly fade away. Your whole complexion subtly glows.

Like this weren’t enough, AHAs hydrate skin too. They’re humectants, i.e. moisture magnets that attract water from the environment into your skin. For dry skin, they’re both godsends.

Related: AHAs VS BHA: Which One Should You Use?

Struggling to put together a skincare routine that banishes dryness and makes your skin supple and dewy? Download your FREE “Best Skincare Routine For Dry Skin” to get started (it features product recommendations + right application order):

the ordinary glycolic acid toning solution

Glycolic Acid Is Best For Sun Damaged Skin

Ok, so both glycolic and lactic acids are good for dry skin. But if your skin is sundamaged too (and whose skin isn’t sundamaged?), glycolic acid goes the extra mile.

And not just because it’s the smallest member of the AHAs family so it can penetrate your skin more deeply and work faster.

Nope, what makes glycolic acid so awesome is its collagen boosting super power: glycolic acid pumps up its production, keeping your skin firm for longer. This is why it’s so good at fighting the signs of aging.

Plus, in the long run, it increases thickness of the skin, too. I say “in the long run” because that takes time. When you first start using it, glycolic acid temporarily thins skin, making it more prone to sun damage. Ironic, isn’t it? Use it at night, slather sunscreen on in the morning and you’ll be fine.

Best Picks:

Related: The Complete Guide To Glycolic Acid

the ordinary lactic acid 10 + ha 2 02

Lactic Acid Is Best For Sensitive Skin

Lactic acid doesn’t seem that attractive anymore now, does it? But it has its perks. Especially if you have sensitive skin.

Lactic acid is the gentlest member of the AHAs family. While sensitive skin often throws a tantrum and gets irritated the second it comes in contact with glycolic acid, it’s totally fine with lactic acid.

Plus, it’s more hydrating (that’s why it’s in LacHydrin, the only FDA prescription approved drug to treat dry skin), so if your skin is seriously dry, you may want to give this one a go instead.

One more thing: unlike glycolic, lactic acid adoesn’t thin skin (but that’s not a good reason to skip your sunscreen!)

Best picks:

The Bottom Line

Glycolic is for sun-damaged, dry skin. Lactic is for sensitive and super dry skin. Happy exfoliation!