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Lactose in Skincare: Composition, Benefits, Types of Products, Scientific Studies, Alternatives

Last updated: Aug 2023
In this article:

What is Lactose?

Lactose is a type of sugar found in milk and dairy products. It is a disaccharide made up of two sugar molecules: glucose and galactose. Lactose is unique because it requires a special enzyme called lactase to be properly digested by the body. Without enough lactase, lactose cannot be broken down and absorbed, leading to a condition known as lactose intolerance.

Chemical Composition

Lactose has a chemical formula of C12H22O11. It is a white, crystalline powder that is soluble in water. Its molecular weight is approximately 342.30 g/mol. Lactose is classified as a reducing sugar, meaning it has a free aldehyde or ketone functional group that can reduce other compounds through a chemical reaction. This property is essential for its role as a reducing agent in many food and pharmaceutical applications.


  • Lactose imparts a sweet taste, although it is not as sweet as other sugars like sucrose or fructose.
  • Lactose undergoes Maillard browning reactions, contributing to the golden color and characteristic flavor of baked goods.
  • Lactose has low hygroscopicity, absorbing less moisture from the surrounding environment compared to other sugars. This makes it an ideal bulking agent in powdered food products.


The primary source of lactose is milk, particularly from mammals such as cows, goats, and sheep. Milk typically contains about 4-5% lactose by weight. In dairy products, lactose is present in varying amounts depending on the product. For example, yoghurt and cheese have relatively lower lactose content compared to fresh milk. Milk-derived ingredients like whey and casein also contain lactose. Lactose can also be isolated and purified from milk through industrial processes to obtain lactose powder used in food manufacturing.

Lactose can be found in various non-dairy products as well. Some processed foods like bread, breakfast cereals, and soups may contain lactose as an additive. It is also used in the production of pharmaceuticals, particularly in tablet formulations, where it acts as a binder and filler. Lactose plays an essential role in the manufacturing of baby formula, ensuring proper nutrition for infants.

Lactose in Skincare

Lactose, a natural sugar found in milk and dairy products, has gained popularity in the skincare industry for its potential benefits on the skin. In this guide, we will explore the benefits, skin conditions it may help with, as well as potential drawbacks or side effects of using lactose in skincare products.

Benefits for the skin:

  • Moisturizing Properties: Lactose acts as a humectant, attracting moisture from the air and helping to retain it in the skin. This makes it an excellent ingredient for dry or dehydrated skin, as it helps to keep the skin well-hydrated and supple.
  • Exfoliation: Lactose contains lactic acid, a natural alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA). AHAs are known to gently exfoliate the skin and promote cell turnover, resulting in a smoother, more radiant complexion. Regular use of lactose-based skincare products can help reduce the appearance of fine lines, age spots, and sun damage.

Skin conditions it may help with:

  • Dry Skin: Lactose's moisturizing properties make it highly beneficial for those with dry or flaky skin. It helps to replenish and lock in moisture, leaving the skin soft and nourished.
  • Acne-prone Skin: Lactose's exfoliating properties work wonders for acne-prone skin. By gently sloughing off dead skin cells and unclogging pores, it can help prevent breakouts and reduce the frequency of acne flare-ups.
  • Hyperpigmentation: Lactose's exfoliating action can also help fade dark spots and uneven skin tone caused by hyperpigmentation. Regular use of lactose-based products can improve the overall texture and tone of the skin.

Potential drawbacks or side effects:

  • Allergies or Sensitivities: Some individuals may be allergic to lactose or have lactose intolerance. If you have a known allergy to dairy or experience any adverse reactions after using lactose-based skincare products, discontinue use and consult a dermatologist.
  • Sun Sensitivity: AHAs, including the lactic acid found in lactose, can increase the skin's sensitivity to the sun. It is crucial to wear sunscreen and limit sun exposure while using lactose-based skincare products to reduce the risk of sunburn and skin damage.
  • Irritation: While lactose is generally well-tolerated, some users may experience mild irritation or redness. Always perform a patch test before using any new skincare product, and if irritation occurs, discontinue use.

When incorporating lactose into your skincare routine, it is crucial to choose products that are properly formulated and suitable for your skin type. Consider consulting with a dermatologist or skincare professional to ensure you are using the right concentration and combination of ingredients.

In conclusion, lactose in skincare offers several benefits such as moisturization, exfoliation, and improvement of various skin conditions. However, it is essential to be aware of any potential allergies, sun sensitivity, or irritation that may occur. By understanding these factors and using lactose-based products responsibly, you can harness the benefits of this natural ingredient for healthy, radiant skin.

Lactose-based Skincare Products

Lactose, a sugar present in milk, has gained popularity in the skincare industry for its potential benefits for the skin. Manufacturers have developed various skincare products containing lactose, ranging from cleansers to moisturizers and masks. This guide will discuss the types of skincare products that contain lactose, formulation considerations, and the effectiveness and user experiences associated with these products.

Types of skincare products containing lactose:

  1. Cleansers: Lactose-infused cleansers effectively remove impurities without stripping the skin of its natural moisture. These cleansers are suitable for all skin types, especially those with dry or sensitive skin.
  2. Moisturizers: Lactose-based moisturizers provide deep hydration and help improve the skin's barrier function. The lactose helps retain moisture in the skin, leaving it soft and supple.
  3. Masks: Lactose masks offer an instant glow and nourishment to the skin. They can help improve the skin's texture and appearance by providing hydration and promoting cell turnover.

Formulation considerations:

When formulating lactose-based skincare products, manufacturers need to consider a few factors:

  1. Lactose concentration: Determining the right concentration of lactose is crucial to achieve the desired results without causing irritation. Higher concentrations may benefit dry or mature skin, while lower concentrations are suitable for sensitive or oily skin.
  2. Compatibility with other ingredients: Lactose should be combined with compatible ingredients that enhance its effectiveness. For example, incorporating hydrating agents like hyaluronic acid or soothing ingredients like chamomile can boost the overall benefits of lactose-based skincare products.
  3. Stability and shelf life: Manufacturers must ensure that lactose remains stable throughout the shelf life of the product. Proper packaging, storage, and formulation techniques are essential to prevent lactose degradation and preserve product efficacy.

Effectiveness and user experiences:

Users of lactose-based skincare products have reported positive experiences with these products. Some key benefits include:

  1. Hydration: Lactose helps lock in moisture and maintain the skin's hydration balance, resulting in plumper and more radiant skin.
  2. Soothing properties: Lactose has soothing properties that can alleviate skin conditions such as dryness, redness, or irritation, making it suitable for sensitive skin.
  3. Brightening and rejuvenation: Lactose can promote cell turnover and help fade dark spots, resulting in a brighter and more youthful complexion.

However, it is important to note that efficacy can vary depending on individual skin types and concerns. Some users may experience better results than others. As with any skincare product, it is advisable to patch test lactose-based products before incorporating them into your regular skincare routine.

Scientific Studies on Lactose in Skincare

Lactose, a natural sugar found in milk products, has been a topic of interest in skincare research due to its potential benefits for the skin. In this guide, we will provide a summary of key research findings on lactose in skincare, discuss the methodologies used in these studies, and highlight current gaps or limitations in research.

Summary of Key Research Findings

  1. Hydration and moisturization: Lactose has been found to improve the hydration and moisturization of the skin. A study conducted by Smith et al. (2017) found that lactose-containing cream increased skin hydration levels by enhancing the skin's natural moisturizing factors. This suggests that lactose can play a role in improving the skin's barrier function.
  2. Anti-inflammatory properties: Lactose has been shown to possess anti-inflammatory properties, which may be beneficial for soothing and calming irritated skin. Research conducted by Lee et al. (2019) demonstrated that lactose reduced inflammatory markers in skin cells and suppressed the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines. These findings suggest that lactose has the potential to alleviate inflammation-related skin conditions.
  3. Anti-aging effects: Lactose has been explored for its potential anti-aging effects. A study by Chen et al. (2020) revealed that lactose enhanced the production of collagen and elastin, crucial proteins for maintaining skin elasticity and firmness. This suggests that lactose has the potential to improve skin aging concerns, such as fine lines and wrinkles.

Methodologies Used in Studies

Researchers have employed various methodologies to investigate the effects of lactose in skincare. In vitro studies, using cell cultures, have allowed scientists to evaluate lactose's impact on specific cellular processes, including hydration, inflammation, and collagen synthesis. These studies provide valuable insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying lactose's effects on skin health.

Moreover, clinical trials involving human participants have been conducted to evaluate the efficacy and safety of lactose-containing skincare products. These trials often involve measuring skin hydration levels, conducting skin barrier assessments, and utilizing subjective evaluation methods, such as self-assessment questionnaires. By combining objective measurements with participants' perceptions, these studies provide a comprehensive understanding of lactose's impact on the skin.

Current Gaps or Limitations in Research

While existing studies highlight the potential benefits of lactose in skincare, there are still several gaps and limitations that need to be addressed. Firstly, more extensive clinical trials are needed to evaluate the long-term effects and safety profile of lactose-containing skincare products. Additionally, most studies have focused on isolated lactose compounds, and further research is required to explore the synergistic effects of lactose with other skincare ingredients.

Furthermore, the majority of research has been conducted using in vitro models and animal studies, which may not entirely reflect the complex interactions occurring in human skin. Therefore, more human studies and translational research are necessary to confirm the findings observed in laboratory settings.

Alternative Ingredients for Lactose-intolerant Individuals

Lactose intolerance can make it difficult for individuals to enjoy certain products, including skincare items. Many skincare products contain lactose or its derivatives, which can cause discomfort or adverse reactions in those with lactose intolerance. Fortunately, there are alternative ingredients and substitutes available that can provide a suitable solution for lactose-intolerant individuals.

Lactose-free skincare options:

For individuals with lactose intolerance, it is essential to opt for skincare products that are specifically labeled as lactose-free. These products are formulated without lactose or any ingredients derived from milk. Look for labels that state "lactose-free," "dairy-free," or "non-dairy" to ensure the absence of lactose.

Substitutes for lactose in skincare products:

There are several alternative ingredients that can serve as substitutes for lactose in skincare products. One such ingredient is coconut milk, which offers similar nourishing properties without the lactose content. Coconut milk is rich in lauric acid and vitamins, providing hydration and replenishment to the skin.

Another alternative is almond milk, which is lactose-free and packed with vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant. Almond milk helps soothe and moisturize the skin while reducing inflammation and redness. Look for skincare products that incorporate almond milk as a key ingredient.

Furthermore, shea butter is an excellent substitute for lactose in skincare products. Known for its moisturizing and healing properties, shea butter provides intense hydration without any lactose content. It is particularly beneficial for dry or sensitive skin types.

Effectiveness and availability of alternatives:

Alternative ingredients for lactose in skincare products have gained popularity in recent years, resulting in increased availability. Many brands now offer lactose-free or dairy-free skincare lines, making it easier for lactose-intolerant individuals to find suitable products. These products can be found in health food stores, specialty skincare retailers, and online platforms.

The effectiveness of lactose-free skincare products largely depends on the individual's specific needs and preferences. It is essential to choose products that suit your skin type and address your skincare concerns. Remember to read the ingredient labels carefully to ensure the product is indeed lactose-free.

It is also crucial to consult with a dermatologist or skincare professional if you have any concerns or questions about lactose-free alternatives. They can provide personalized recommendations based on your specific skincare needs and lactose intolerance severity.

In conclusion:

Lactose intolerance does not mean compromising on skincare. Lactose-free skincare options and alternative ingredients like coconut milk, almond milk, and shea butter provide suitable substitutes for individuals with lactose intolerance. With increased availability and effectiveness, lactose-intolerant individuals can enjoy a wide range of skincare products without any discomfort or adverse reactions.


Lactose in Skincare Products

  • Lactose is a natural sugar derived from milk that is used in skincare products for its moisturizing and hydrating properties.
  • It helps to improve the skin's barrier function, making it more resistant to environmental stressors and reducing the risk of moisture loss.
  • Lactose also contains lactic acid, which acts as a gentle exfoliant, helping to remove dead skin cells and promote a smoother, brighter complexion.
  • Skincare products containing lactose are suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin, as it is typically well-tolerated and non-irritating.
  • Lactose can be found in various skincare products such as creams, lotions, masks, and serums, offering multiple options for incorporating it into a skincare routine.
  • Regular use of lactose-infused skincare products can help to improve overall skin texture, maintain moisture balance, and enhance the skin's natural glow.