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Over the Counter Cleansers & Moisturizers With Glycolic or Lactic Acid

author image Angela Melero
Based in Los Angeles, Angela Melero has been a writer since 2008, contributing to various publications. She serves as an assistant editor for a beauty publication and enjoys writing about health, fitness and beauty trends. Melero received her bachelor's degree in journalism from California State University, Northridge.
Over the Counter Cleansers & Moisturizers With Glycolic or Lactic Acid
Glycolic and lactic acids are known to slough dead skin cells, revealing more supple, refined skin. Photo Credit: Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images

Glycolic and lactic acid have long been used in professional facial peels and treatments, thanks to their potent skin-refining properties. In recent years, these two alpha hydroxy acids have also made their way into over-the-counter skin care products. Because of their exfoliating benefits, they have become a regular component in skin care regimens via products including cleansers and moisturizers.

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Glycolic and lactic acid are used in products that target issues such as acne and aging. The naturally derived ingredients help combat fine lines, wrinkles, pigmentation, age spots and enlarged pores. Although both serve similar purposes as effective exfoliating properties, glycolic and lactic acid each bring something different to the skin care table.

Glycolic acid

Glycolic acid, derived from sugar-containing fruits, rejuvenates and brightens the skin by helping shed dead, sun-damaged and trapped skin cells. Its small molecular structure makes for speedy and deep penetration into the skin. Because of this, it can sometimes irritate the skin, if not used carefully.

Lactic Acid

Lactic acid, which is derived from sour milk, hydrates and softens the skin and stimulates collagen production. It stimulates cell renewal and turnover, but with less irritation than glycolic acid and increased hydration benefits. It is ideal for cleansers and creams that combat discoloration, pigmentation and aging.


According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, over-the-counter products containing glycolic and lactic acids are considered safe if the concentration levels are less than 10 percent. Because of the acids’ potency refining the skin and cleansing the dermis, the FDA also advises that the product be formulated so that it protects the skin from increased sun sensitivity or that the package clearly instructs consumers to use daily sun protection.

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