Polylactic Acid: What Is It, Cosmetic Uses, Benefits & Side Effects

Priya Singh
Fact-Checker: Priya Singh
This article was last updated on: March 12, 2024
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Understanding the world of cosmetics can often feel like trying to decipher a foreign language, especially when you’re faced with a long list of scientific names on the back of your favorite products.

One such ingredient that you may have come across is Polylactic Acid, a component that’s sometimes found within cosmetic products.

In this article, we’re going to dive deep into the world of Polylactic Acid, exploring what it is, why it’s used in cosmetics, and the potential benefits and side effects it may have.

What is Polylactic Acid?

Polylactic Acid, also known as PLA, is a polymer of lactic acid. It’s a common ingredient in the cosmetic world, but you might also hear it referred to as Polylactide or Poly-L-lactic acid.

Polylactic Acid is made from renewable resources like corn starch or sugar cane, through a process of fermentation and polymerization. Its main purpose in cosmetic products is to act as an abrasive. This means it helps in exfoliating the skin, removing dead skin cells and leaving your skin feeling smooth and refreshed.

While Polylactic Acid can be sold as a stand-alone product, it’s more commonly found as part of a wider formulation of ingredients within a product’s formulation. It’s often used in facial scrubs, body scrubs, and other exfoliating products.

Who Can Use Polylactic Acid?

Polylactic Acid is suitable for all skin types. Whether you have dry, oily, combination, or sensitive skin, you can benefit from the exfoliating properties of this ingredient.

Good news for vegans and vegetarians – Polylactic Acid is completely plant-based, made from renewable resources like corn starch or sugar cane. So, it’s definitely suitable for those following a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle.

As for pregnant or breastfeeding women, there’s no specific contraindication against using Polylactic Acid. However, as with any new skincare product, it’s always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional before use.

Polylactic Acid’s Cosmetic Benefits/Uses

The benefits and uses listed in this section are strictly the cosmetic benefits and uses of Polylactic Acid. While this ingredient may have applications in multiple different industries, those are beyond the scope of this article. The focus here is solely on its function as an abrasive in cosmetic products.

  • Exfoliation: Polylactic Acid acts as a physical exfoliant in cosmetic products. It helps in the removal of dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. This is due to its abrasive nature which, when rubbed against the skin, dislodges and removes the dead skin cells. This process of exfoliation leaves the skin looking fresh and rejuvenated.
  • Improved Skin Texture: By removing the layer of dead skin cells, Polylactic Acid helps to improve the overall texture of the skin. The abrasive action of this ingredient smoothens out rough patches and uneven skin, resulting in a smoother and softer skin surface.
  • Enhanced Skin Radiance: The exfoliating action of Polylactic Acid not only removes dead skin cells but also promotes the growth of new ones. This process of cell turnover can enhance the skin’s radiance and give it a healthy, glowing appearance.
  • Prevention of Acne: Polylactic Acid can help prevent acne by keeping the pores clean. Its abrasive nature helps to unclog pores by removing dirt, oil, and dead skin cells that can lead to acne. This makes it a beneficial ingredient in acne-fighting skincare products.
  • Improved Product Efficacy: By removing the barrier of dead skin cells, Polylactic Acid can improve the efficacy of other skincare products. Once the dead skin cells are removed, other skincare products can penetrate deeper into the skin, allowing for better absorption and more effective results.

Potential Side Effects/Adverse Reactions

The side effects and reactions to the topical application of Polylactic Acid can vary significantly from person to person. It’s important to understand that while some people may not experience any side effects, others may have a different experience.

Some potential side effects related to the topical application of Polylactic Acid include:

  • Redness or irritation at the application site
  • Dryness or flaking of the skin
  • Sensitivity or allergic reaction
  • Swelling or inflammation

If you experience any of these side effects while using Polylactic Acid or a product containing it, it’s recommended to discontinue use immediately and consult a healthcare professional or dermatologist. They can provide guidance on how to manage these side effects and whether it’s safe for you to continue using the product.

Adverse reactions to Polylactic Acid are not common, but they can occur. It’s important to remember that everyone’s skin is different, and what works well for one person may not work as well for another.

One of the best ways to prevent adverse reactions is to perform a patch test before using a new product. This can help you identify any potential reactions before applying the product to a larger area of your skin. Patch testing is a crucial step in ensuring the safety and effectiveness of your skincare products.

Comedogenic Rating

Comedogenicity refers to the potential of a substance to cause comedones, which are skin blemishes often associated with acne. This is a crucial factor to consider when evaluating cosmetic ingredients, as those with high comedogenic ratings can clog pores and exacerbate skin issues.

Polylactic Acid has a comedogenic rating of 0. This means it is non-comedogenic and does not clog pores or contribute to the formation of acne. The rating is based on the molecular structure and properties of Polylactic Acid, which is a biodegradable, thermoplastic polyester derived from renewable resources.

Given its non-comedogenic nature, Polylactic Acid is suitable for individuals prone to acne or breakouts. It does not contribute to pore-clogging, which is a primary cause of acne.

Conclusion

Polylactic Acid serves primarily as an abrasive in cosmetic formulations. It helps in exfoliating the skin, removing dead skin cells, and promoting a smoother and more radiant complexion.

Despite its benefits, Polylactic Acid is not as popular as some other cosmetic ingredients. It shares similarities with ingredients like Polyethylene and Nylon-12, which are also used as abrasives. However, its eco-friendly and non-comedogenic properties give it a unique edge.

In terms of safety, Polylactic Acid is generally safe to use. It is non-irritating and non-sensitizing, making it suitable for most skin types. However, as with any ingredient, it’s always best to conduct a patch test before incorporating it into your skincare routine.

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