Hyaluronic Acid vs Retinol vs Lactic Acid: Benefits, Side Effects

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When it comes to facial skincare ingredients, there are literally hundreds of them available today, so how do you choose which one is right for you? A comparison of some of the most popular ingredients is a good way to start, and when it comes to high-quality facial ingredients, few are better than hyaluronic acid (HA), retinol, and lactic acid. Here, we’re going to compare hyaluronic acid vs retinol vs lactic acid so you can feel more confident in finding the right one to meet your needs

Hyaluronic Acid - Hyaluronic Acid vs Retinol vs Lactic Acid

What Is Hyaluronic Acid and Why is it Important?

Hyaluronic acid, or HA, is a sugar molecule found in the skin, and as we get older, we lose both hyaluronic acid and collagen, which is one of the reasons why people get wrinkles.
Facial products that contain hyaluronic acid work because HA is what helps water bind with collagen, and once you receive the hyaluronic acid from the serum or cream, your skin plumps up and looks like it has fewer wrinkles and lines.

What Are the Benefits of Hyaluronic Acid?

Hyaluronic acid draws and locks moisture in the skin, holding nearly a thousand times its weight in water.
Some of the benefits of hyaluronic acid include:
  • Provides incredible moisture to the skin
  • Gives your skin a dewy look
  • Gives your skin some softness
  • Plumps up the skin so that fewer wrinkles are observed
  • Strengthens the skin’s natural barrier

Best of all, HA is good for all skin types, and there is even an HA product in injectable form. Once you start using HA products, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without them.

What Are the Side Effects of Hyaluronic Acid?

The good news about hyaluronic acid is that when applied as a serum or cream, there are no known side effects; unless, of course, you are allergic to it.

Most of the side effects documented are caused by the injectable type of hyaluronic acid, and those usually include redness, itchiness, swelling, pain, and even bruising.
Nevertheless, it is good to note that these side effects are usually caused by the injection itself and not the hyaluronic acid.


Retinol - Hyaluronic Acid vs Retinol vs Lactic Acid

What Is Retinol?

Retinol, according to experts, is a fancy name for vitamin A, and it is found in various foods, including eggs and some fruits and vegetables.
Facial products have included retinol since the early 1970s, and because it can unclog pores, it was first used in acne medicines. Today, retinol is used for much more than that and is one of the most popular skincare ingredients in the world.

What Are the Benefits of Retinol?

Some of the things retinol can do include:
  • Gets rid of acne by buffing away dead skin cells and unclogging pores
  • Smooths out lines and wrinkles, including marionette lines, and prevents them from forming in the future
  • Evens out the texture and the tone of the skin
  • Fades away hyperpigmentation, sun spots, and age spots
  • Minimizes the appearance of large pores and regulates oily skin
  • Helps brighten and illuminate dull skin

From unclogging pores to giving you a more youthful appearance, retinol can truly be considered a miracle skincare ingredient.

What Are the Side Effects of Retinol?

Even though retinol is found in creams and lotions and usually not injectable, it may cause some side effects. These include redness, flaky or dry skin, itching, breakouts, and even tightness in the skin. This being said, these side effects are usually temporary and therefore no need for concern.
It’s also good to keep in mind that the side effects do not affect everyone using a retinol product.
Note that retinol increases the skin’s sensitivity to UV lights, which is why it is advised to use it as a part of your night skincare routine and to always apply high SPF sunscreen during daytime while using it.

Lactic Acid

Lactic Acid

What Is Lactic Acid and How Does it Work?

Lactic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid found in dairy products such as milk and which is a part of many top-notch skincare products today.
One of its main advantages is its ability to exfoliate the skin, which removes dead skin cells and gives your skin a much lighter and smoother look. It can even stimulate cell renewal and speed up cell turnover, giving you “new” skin at the same time.
Lactic acid is suitable for all skin types, and because its molecule is larger than other AHAs, it’s a great chemical exfoliant for people with sensitive skin.

What Are the Benefits of Lactic Acid?

The many benefits of lactic acid include:
  • Exfoliates the skin
  • Lightens up dark spots, skin discoloration, and post-breakout marks
  • Improves the look of wrinkles and lines
  • Softens and beautifies your skin
  • Improves skin’s tone and texture
  • Strengthens the skin’s barrier by encouraging ceramides production
  • Hydrates the skin

What Are the Side Effects of Lactic Acid?

Like many facial products, lactic acid can have side effects for some people. These include skin that is sensitive to light and irritations that can include redness, itching, peeling, and burning.
Of course, lactic acid is the gentlest of all the alpha-hydroxy acids, so most people have nothing to worry about.
Note that you shouldn’t use lactic acid on irritated or inflamed skin, or if you have rosacea or eczema.

Which Ingredient Should You Use?

By now, you’re likely wondering which of these three ingredients is best for you, and that depends mostly on your skin concerns and the type of your skin.
People with dry skin will likely do best using hyaluronic acid, which works mostly on the upper layers of the skin, it can also be used by all skin types for its super hydrating effects.
Retinol works on multiple layers in the skin, including the deepest layers. Interestingly, retinol can actually boost the production of HA in your skin, and if you deal with acne, wrinkles, sun damage, or pigmentation, this is the ingredient you should go with.
Lactic acid, on the other hand, is a great chemical exfoliator, so if your skin is prone to getting acne or it is looking a little dull, this is the perfect ingredient to use.

FAQ - Hyaluronic Acid vs Retinol vs Lactic Acid

Can You Use Retinol and Hyaluronic Acid Together?

Not only can you use retinol and hyaluronic acid together, it is actually a great idea to do so. You should apply the hyaluronic acid first and the retinol second.
This is especially important for people with dry skin because it helps reduce or eliminate the side effects sometimes associated with retinol.

Can You Use Lactic Acid and Hyaluronic Acid Together?

Lactic acid and hyaluronic acid work very well together because they do two different things – two things your skin needs to look its best.
Lactic acid exfoliates your skin, and hyaluronic acid hydrates it and keeps it soft. Because of this, the two ingredients are the perfect complement to one another.

How Often Should You Use Retinol on Your Face?

With all three of these ingredients, people wonder how often they can use them.
If you are using retinol for the first time, then it is recommended to start slow and at low concentrations to give your skin time to adjust.
The frequency of use also depends on why you’re using it, your skin type, and your skin’s reaction to it.

Can You Use Hyaluronic Acid on Sensitive Skin?

Yes. In fact, hyaluronic acid is made to be used on all skin types, even sensitive skin.

Is There Anyone Who Should Avoid Retinol Products?

Most people can tolerate retinol products well, but they are generally not recommended for people with sensitive skin conditions such as rosacea and redness.

What If Lactic Acid Irritates My Skin?

If lactic acid irritates your skin but you’d still like to use it, try switching to one that has a lower percentage of lactic acid in it. These percentages range from 5% to 30% or more, so you’ll have a lot of products to choose from.

Conclusion: Hyaluronic Acid vs Retinol vs Lactic Acid

Regardless of your skincare concerns, it’s good to know there is a skincare ingredient that can help your skin look and feel much better.
You certainly don’t have to use all three of these products to get good results, but using two of them together may give you added skincare benefits. All you have to do is decide which of these ingredients it will be.
Judy Rose

Hi, it’s Judy!

I’m a passionate skincare specialist and writer. I have more than 7 years of experience as a beauty, fashion, and lifestyle writer and editor, and I’m extremely passionate about what I do.