Lactic Acid Vs Glycolic Acid: What’s the Difference?

Lactic Acid Vs Glycolic Acid What’s the Difference

Lactic acid and glycolic acid are AHAs used in multiple skincare products such as serums, creams, chemical peels, etc. They are known to offer anti-aging effects to the skin. At the same time, they hydrate the skin, exfoliate it, and make it look healthier and plump.

While both these ingredients work amazingly, people often get confused about what to use- products with lactic acid or glycolic acid.

In this article, we will compare lactic acid vs. glycolic acid to help you understand the differences between them. It will give you an idea about these ingredients and help to make informed choice while using your skincare products.

Difference Between Lactic Acid and Glycolic Acid

Lactic Acid

Lactic Acid

Derived from sour milk, lactic acid is one of the most extensively used ingredient in skincare products. It works on different skin conditions and make it smooth and flawless. Additionally, it works on the fine lines and wrinkles, reducing them and making them less noticeable.

The composition of lactic acid (1) is mild; therefore, it is suitable for sensitive skin.


  • Improves the tone and texture of skin
  • Promotes smooth and even complexion
  • Improves skin firmness
  • Reduces dark spots and pigmentation
  • Soothes fine lines and wrinkles
  • Brightens and lightens the skin
  • Makes pores less noticeable

Glycolic Acid

Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid (2) is derived from sugarcane. Its composition makes it stronger than lactic acid; thus, suitable for acne-prone skin (3). Being stronger, it penetrates deeper and resolve more common issues such as acne and breakouts.

Therefore, glycolic acid is more effective for normal and oily skin.


  • Sheds the dead cells on the outermost layer of the skin
  • Enhance hyaluronic acid levels in the skin
  • Promotes collagen production
  • Stimulates elastic fibers
  • Even tones the skin

Below is the table differentiating lactic acid and glycolic acid based on different factors-

CharacteristicLactic AcidGlycolic Acid
Chemical Structureα-hydroxy acidα-hydroxy acid
Molecular FormulaC₃H₆O₃C₂H₄O₃
SourceFound naturally in milk and certain fruitsFound in sugar cane, sugar beets, and pineapple
Molecule SizeLarger molecule compared to glycolic acidSmaller molecule compared to lactic acid
PenetrationPenetrates the skin slowly due to larger molecule sizePenetrates the skin easily due to smaller molecule size
Skin BenefitsMild exfoliation, hydration, and improvement in skin textureEffective exfoliation, improvement in skin texture, and reduction in fine lines and wrinkles
Skin SensitivityGenerally well-tolerated, suitable for sensitive skin typesMay cause more irritation, especially at higher concentrations
StrengthGenerally less potent compared to glycolic acidGenerally more potent compared to lactic acid
pH LevelsTypically has a higher pH compared to glycolic acidTypically has a lower pH compared to lactic acid
ApplicationsCommonly used in skincare products targeting sensitive skin or beginners to chemical exfoliationCommonly used in chemical peels and skincare products targeting more experienced users or those seeking stronger exfoliation

Lactic Acid Vs. Glycolic Acid- Which Is More Hydrating?

Weighing the properties of these two AHAs, lactic acid comes to be more effective for hydrating the skin. Therefore, it is recommended for people with dry and sensitive skin. As lactic acid exfoliates, it slugs off the dead skin cells from the skin without making it dehydrated and brightens the complexion.

Lactic Acid Vs. Glycolic Acid- Which Is Good for Acne?

Since the property of lactic acid and glycolic acid makes them suitable for exfoliating the skin, they both work effectively in treating acne. However, people with acne prone skin should go for skincare products that contain glycolic acid. It penetrates deeper and give better results.

Precautions to Use Lactic Acid and Glycolic Acid

Even though both these AHAs are safe for the skin and offer many benefits, it is advised to follow these precautions while using them-

  • Do not use multiple skincare products that contain glycolic or lactic acid, as their high concentration can cause skin irritation.
  • If you have undergone cosmetic procedures like microdermabrasion, do not use these ingredients. Since this procedure removes the top layer of the skin, the application of AHAs may cause skin irritation.
  • Do not use glycolic acid before coming into direct contact with the sun.
  • Make sure you apply sunscreen after using products with AHAs to protect it from UV rays.

Besides these, if you are planning to combine any other skincare ingredient with glycolic acid or lactic acid, consult a dermatologist. Certain combinations of skincare ingredients can do more harm than help due to which a prior consultation with a dermatologist is a must.

At the same time, if you are pregnant or lactating, be extra cautious of using any skincare ingredient. Moreover, perform a patch test and ensure there are no harmful effects before including these products in your daily skincare regimen.


Comparing lactic acid vs glycolic acid provides enough information on their effects and side effects on different skin types.

While lactic acid is good for sensitive and dry skin, glycolic acid should be used by people who have oily and acne-prone skin. At the same time, consulting a doctor before combining them with any other skincare ingredient or using them in high concentration is recommended.

Remember, when these acids are used in high concentration, they can cause extreme skin sensitivity and irritation. So, always start with low concentration and increase it gradually to allow skin to adjust and adapt. It will ensure fruitful results in the long-term.

Image Source : canva

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