14 lactobionic products that gently exfoliate sensitive winter skin without irritating it

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Does the idea of exfoliating make you slightly fearful? Lactobionic acid, a gentle exfoliant, could be the ingredient your skincare routine is missing.

Exfoliating is a step that is often overlooked in skincare routines. Maybe it’s because we focus more on skincare ingredients that penetrate deeply into our skin. Or perhaps the idea of exfoliating conjures up thoughts of red, burnt skin and harsh formulas. Either way: it’s actually an important step to any skincare routine.

As well as buffing away dead skin cells on the surface to make your complexion appear brighter, exfoliation also allows your other skincare products to penetrate into your skin deeper, making the formulas more effective.

If the thought of exfoliating scares you, then up-and-coming ingredient lactobionic acid may be just the ticket. Cropping up in more and more skincare products, this skincare ingredient is a gentler alternative to glycolic and salicylic acid.

Here, two skincare experts explain everything you need to know about the new ingredient in the spotlight.

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What is lactobionic acid and how does it work in skincare?

“Lactobionic acid is a polyhydoxy acid (also known as a PHA) and essentially a sugar molecule,” explains Dr Sana Sadiq, practitioner at Glowday. “It’s the little sister to other acids like glycolic and lactic acid and is fantastic for treating dullness, hyperpigmentation and acne.”

Dr Emmaline Ashley, founder of Ashley Aesthetics and Glowday practitioner adds: “It is much beloved amongst skincare enthusiasts for this exfoliating power. Lactobionic acidis derived from lactose (the same that you find in milk – which is why Cleopatra famously loved bathing in it) and works by increasing cell turnover.

What are its benefits in skincare?

“Lactobionic acid is a larger molecule and as a result, doesn’t penetrate as deeply as these other ingredients,” says Dr Sadiq. “This allows it to focus its exfoliating properties at the surface of the skin, rather than soaking deeper into the skin layers and causing irritation.”

Dr Ashley expands: “As well as a gentle exfoliant, it also works as a humectant to help lock in moisture from the environment or moisture that is already in your skin. It also has antioxidant effects, meaning it neutralises free radicals and protects our skin from the environmental pollutants we are all exposed to living in the modern world.”

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Which skin type is best suited to lactobionic acid?

“It can be ideal for those with more sensitive skin types who are prone to irritation with other exfoliants like glycolic acid,” says Dr Ashley. “There is always the potential for an exfoliant to cause slight irritation to the skin as it does its job, but lactobionic acid is the least like to do this. It may be helpful to slowly introduce it into your routine two to three times a week so you have a chance to get used to it.”

Can lactobionic acid irritate the skin?

“Where AHAs and BHAs can cause significant irritation, PHAs like lactobionic acid ofter a gentle alternative and should be well tolerated by sensitive skin types,” says Dr Sadiq.

Is lactobionic acid the same as lactic acid?

While they share similar names, lactobionic acid is not to be confused with lactic acid. While both are derived from lactose, lactic acid is a stronger alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA), while lactobionic acid a poly-hydroxy acids (PHAs) – a larger, more gentle molecule.

Where does lactobionic acid fit in your skincare routine?

“This is a perfect follow up to cleansing, ideally applied once a day,” explains Dr Sadiq. “If you have particularly sensitive skin you can gradually introduce this to your routine, starting with three times a week, with the aim to use it daily.”

But Dr Ashley warns: “However, it is not usually recommended to be used with retinol and be cautious using it in conjunction with other exfoliants.”

  • Neostrata Restore Bionic Face Cream for Dry, Sensitive Skin

    Formulated for dry, sensitive skin types, this nourishing balm helps to hydrate the skin with bionic acid and improves texture with a blend of lactobionic acid. 

    Shop Neostrata Restore Bionic Face Cream for Dry, Sensitive Skin at Lookfantastic, £57

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  • QMS Medicosmetics Epigen Pollution Detox Cleansing Gel

    This mild cleansing gel is formulated with mandelic acid and lactobionic acid to help remove pollution and excess traces of make-up.

    Shop QMS Medicosmetics Epigen Pollution Detox Cleansing Gel at Lookfantastic, £45

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  • Skincity Skincare Luminous Licorice Toner

    A toner, essence and facial water in one, this clever formula also contains probiotics to promote healthy bacteria and support the skin’s protective barrier.

    Shop Skincity Skincare Luminous Licorice Toner at Skincity, £8

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  • Zelens PHA+ Resurfacing Facial Pads

    These gently exfoliating pads help to reduce the appearance of enlarged pores and blemishes, revealing a healthy, radiant complexion.

    Shop Zelens PHA+ Resurfacing Facial Pads at John Lewis, £56

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  • The Organic Pharmacy Enzyme Peel Mask with Vitamin C and Papaya

    A combination of lactobionic acid, vitamin C and papaya will leave skin brighter, smoother and glowing.

    Shop The Organic Pharmacy Enzyme Peel Mask with Vitamin C and Papaya, £45

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  • Neostrata Foaming Glycolic Wash

    Combining the benefits of two skincare acids, this soap-free cleanser contains 18% glycolic acid and 2% lactobionic acid to deliver clear skin and mild exfoliation.

    Shop Neostrata Foaming Glycolic Wash at Lookfantastic, £22.99

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  • Foreo Espada BHA+PHA Blemish Solution

    This on-spot gel features salicylic acid and niacinamide to clean deep into the pore while soothing and hydrating panthenol and lactobionic acid to prevent over-drying and peeling. Use alone or pair with with Foreo’s Espada blue LED device that helps nix deep down blemishes.

    Shop Foreo Espada BHA+PHA Blemish Solution at Sephora, £25.90

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  • Dr.Jart+ Dermaclear Micro Milk Peel

    Inspired by professional dermatological peels, this milk formula gentle exfoliates skin, while coconut milk leaves skin feeling calmer and hydrated.

    Shop Dr.Jart+ Dermaclear Micro Milk Peel at Cult Beauty, £28

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  • Exuviance Radiance Serum

    Another formula that infuses the benefits of lactobionic acid with an additional skincare acid, this bottle also contains mandelic acid to help speed up cell turnover.

    Shop Exuviance Radiance Serum at Skin City, £55.50

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  • SVR Sebiaclear Micro-Peel Water

    This active water not only unclogs pores and reduces blemishes, it also leaves skin feeling smoother without drying or stripping it.

    Shop SVR Sebiaclear Micro-Peel Water at Sephora UK, £15

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  • Elemis Pro-Collagen Tri-Acid Peel

    This peel sloughs away dead skin cells to help brighten dull complexions. It also reduces water loss, helping skin to appear glowy and feel plumper.

    Shop Elemis Pro-Collagen Tri-Acid Peel at Boots, £73

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  • Clinique Clarifying Do-Over Peel

    Designed for normal to oily skin types, this pack-a-punch formula contains lactobionic acid, together with glycolic, lactic and salicylic acid to remove dead skin cells, oil and impurities.

    Shop Clinique Clarifying Do-Over Peel at Lookfantastic, £23

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  • Omorovicza Blue Diamond Peel

    Pricey, yes, but this Omorovicza peel contains a long list of impressive ingredients, including lactobionic acid, diamond peptides, essential amino acid and copper compound, tropical fruit enzymes and keratolytic enzymes. Use it twice a week and you’ll nice a brighter, even and healthier-looking complexion.

    Shop Omorovicza Blue Diamond Peel at Cult Beauty, £170

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  • Skin Regimen Glyco Lacto Peel

    Bringing the benefits of a salon peel to your home, this formula contains 10% glycolic acid and 6% vegetal lactobionic acid to deliver antioxidant properties to skin. It also helps to reduce signs of hyperpigmentation.

    Shop Skin Regimen Glyco Lacto Peel at Lookfantastic, £67

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Main image: brands/designed by Matt Phare

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