Alternative milks have seemingly taken over the supermarket, with a new plant-based version popping up every season (walnut milk, banana milk; you name it). But plant-based milk’s reign over the grocery aisle is also starting to conquer skin care—and for good reason.
Just as how you might look to vegan milk alternatives to fight allergies or shift toward a more sustainable lifestyle, beauty manufacturers are ditching the dairy in favor of these plant-based formulations. The main reason? In addition to providing a more sustainable formula, these nut milks also offer lactic acid bacteria (similar to their dairy counterparts).
In case you need a mini refresher on lactic acid, this type of alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) is typically found in milk products and provides a super-gentle exfoliation for the skin. It exfoliates by breaking down the bonds that hold skin cells together and increasing cell turnover, but it also has the ability to improve your skin’s moisture barrier—that’s what makes it so special for sensitive skin. It’s perfect if you want to rid your pores of dead skin cells and debris while locking in moisture at the same time.
And although you might think that nondairy alternatives couldn’t contain lactic acid, the fermentation of plant-based milk actually uses some lactic acid bacteria in the process.
“Naturally fermented plant-based milk alternatives use lactic acid bacteria and other bacterial cultures to improve the texture and taste of these products,” board-certified dermatologist Ellen Marmur, M.D., reveals. So, depending on the fermentation process, you can still have a vegan-approved product that also boasts those lactic acid benefits.
In addition to their lactic acid content, these plant-based milks also have incredible hydrating properties. Just as vegan milks can make creamy clouds in your coffee, these formulas have a similarly calming effect on the skin.
“These milks help moisturize, hydrate, soothe, and condition the skin,” adds cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson, founder and CEO of BeautyStat Cosmetics.
Plant-based milks versus oils and extracts.
You might remember a favorite cleanser or moisturizer that incorporates sesame oil or soybeans versus a newer product that includes sesame or soy milk. While formulated from the same plant source, there may be benefits to using the fermented milk as opposed to the oil.
“Milks may be easier to incorporate into some formulations compared to oils, and they might provide a nicer texture in some cases,” Robinson says. It seems those water-based nut milks are easier to absorb (especially in the case of gentle cleansers), adding a creamy texture at the same time.
Marmur also feels that the exfoliating yet hydrating benefits of vegan milks are superior to oils. She notes, “The fermentation process of the milks offers benefits that are absent in the oils or extracts,” which is why you might start to see almond milk pop up in a formula where an almond extract used to reign.
The bottom line, is that plant-based milks can offer exfoliating, moisturizing benefits for our skin, and the texture is relatively easy to incorporate into formulas. As if we needed another reason to love our oat milk.
Here are our favorite launches at the moment, from hydrating cleansers to exfoliating masks.
Milk Vegan Milk Moisturizer
It’s no surprise this vegan moisturizer is already a bestseller from the cult-favorite minimalist brand. The moisturizer uses both fig milk and oat milk to soothe the skin and offer lightweight hydration. Oat milk contains rich antioxidant properties and can even help undo skin damage from pollution, UV rays, and chemicals, says Marmur. Other star ingredients include Kalahari melon, baobab, jojoba, and aloe vera to combat dryness.
Makeup Vegan Milk Moisturizer, Milk ($38)
Eminence Organic Rice Milk 3-In-1 Cleansing Water
This rice milk formula offers a 3-in-1 cleanser, toner, and makeup remover that’s acidic enough to cleanse the face and wash away dirt and oil, while gentle enough to offer moisture and brighten up your skin tone. According to Marmur, rice milk has a natural enzymatic process that leaves a gentle glow on your face, helping lighten scars and dark spots.
Rice Milk 3-in-1 Cleansing Water, Eminence Organic ($44)
Erborian Milk & Peel Cleansing Balm
This K-beauty brand’s newest launch features sesame milk, known for its magnesium, vitamin E, and other nourishing fats for the skin. Like most cleansing balms, the formula works to remove dead skin cells as you cleanse without drying out the skin. What’s left is supple, hydrated skin with a little bit of slip (perfect conditions for jade rolling).
Milk & Peel Cleansing Balm, Erborian $28
The Body Shop Mediterranean Almond Milk With Oats Instant Soothing Mask
This mask (made from organic almond milk from Spain) is perfect for those of us with sensitive skin—gently exfoliating, without stripping the skin or leaving redness and tightness in its wake. According to Marmur, almond milk contains vitamins B6, C, and E; zinc; calcium; and magnesium—great for keeping your skin plump. Use this buttery mask two times a week to rid your pores of dead skin and dirt, without any qualms of irritation.
Mediterranean Almond Milk With Oat Instant Soothing Mask, The Body Shop ($28)
Klei Beauty Coconut Milk & Rice Bran Cleanse Foaming Face Wash
We, of course, couldn’t create a list of creamy plant-based formulas without mentioning coconut milk. This vegan ingredient adds calming, soothing properties to this French rose clay cleanser. Just add a tablespoon of water to form a paste, and you’ve quite literally got a gentle, foamy lather on your hands.
Coconut Milk & Rice Bran Cleanse Foaming Face Wash, Klei Beauty ($34)
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