Lactic acid is definitely trending right now, but its use as a skin care ingredient is far from new. Historians have said that ancient Egyptian ruler (and reported beauty obsessive) Cleopatra incorporated lactic acid into her pampering rituals.
Not only does lactic acid provide numerous benefits for the skin, but it also works well for all skin types. That’s why it’s no surprise lactic acid has become such a popular ingredient in all kinds of skin care products, from cleansers to toners to serums. That said, it’s always good to know what an ingredient is before you incorporate it into your regimen.
What is lactic acid?
Lactic acid is a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA). It’s produced naturally in the body when you break down carbs for energy as oxygen levels get lower, causing the sore, burning feeling in your muscles after a hard workout.
Where does lactic acid come from?
The lactic acid used in skin care products can be made synthetically or derived naturally from milk and plant-based sources such as beets, corn or sugar cane.
What are the benefits of lactic acid in skin care products?
Lactic acid acts as a chemical exfoliator by dissolving dead skin cells and increasing cell turnover. At a certain concentration, lactic acid can also improve signs of aging, stimulate collagen production and help lessen discoloration. It also has moisturizing properties and proves to be an effective treatment for keratosis pilaris.
Who can use lactic acid?
Because lactic acid is suitable for all skin types, most people can use it. If you have sensitive skin and have found other alpha hydroxy acids, such as glycolic acid, are too irritating, you might give lactic acid a try. “Because lactic acid is made of bigger molecules than glycolic acid, it doesn’t penetrate the skin as deeply,” says board-certified dermatologist and LovelySkin CEO Dr. Joel Schlessinger. “That makes it less likely to irritate sensitive skin.”
How can I use lactic acid?
Lactic acid is often used in tandem with other alpha hydroxy acids in professional peels found at a spa or dermatologist’s office. For use at home, find lactic acid in moisturizers, cleansers, toners, serums and more. If you also use retinol-based products, alternate them with lactic acid to avoid irritation. Like other AHAs, lactic acid makes your skin more sun-sensitive, so remember to wear sunscreen daily.
Are you ready to give lactic acid a try? Here are 7 of our favorite lactic acid-powered skin care products.
Made from only lactic acid and purified water, this treatment is a simple, easy way to add lactic acid to your skin care routine. After cleansing and before moisturizing, you can apply it nightly or every other night with a cotton ball or pad, like you would a toner. At 10% strength, the lactic acid is potent enough to effectively exfoliate your skin while still remaining gentle, even for those with conditions such as rosacea.
When combined with a few drops of water or your favorite cleanser, this powder-based formula gently exfoliates in two ways: lactic acid works as a chemical exfoliant while rice powder acts as a physical exfoliant to buff away dead skin cells from your skin’s surface. Though this product’s fruity moniker may remind you of the popular springtime pie, those two namesake ingredients provide serious benefits. Strawberry is a natural astringent while ascorbic acid-rich rhubarb helps smooth wrinkles.
If you’re looking to simplify your skin care routine and consolidate the products you’re using, this treatment does the job of both a vitamin C serum and lactic acid exfoliator, all in one. Along with fatty acids and peptides, these active ingredients work in concert to boost cell turnover and protect against free radicals. That translates to fewer fine lines, less wrinkles and diminished hyperpigmentation.
Pumpkin spice devotees, this one’s for you! This toner has a refreshing feel and an intoxicating scent thanks to the addition of pumpkin wine. The enzymes from the pumpkin combine with lactic acid to make a potent, non-irritating formula that helps reduce the appearance of large pores and leave skin looking brighter and feeling hydrated.
This citrus-scented lactic acid treatment has achieved cult status for its multi-benefit formula. Lactic acid teams up with lemongrass (hence the scent) and licorice to moisturize and exfoliate dull skin leaving it looking brighter and plumper. It has the texture of a thin lotion, and you can apply it as you would a serum, after cleansing and before moisturizing, up to five days a week. Oilier skin types may find this treatment can even replace your moisturizer. If your skin is especially sensitive, use Good Genes as a mask by rinsing it off fifteen minutes after applying.
This warming mask makes the perfect pampering addition to your next at-home spa night. After cleansing and drying your face, apply it and massage gently for up to twenty seconds and then leave it on for up to two minutes. As you massage, super-fine sugar crystals serve as a physical exfoliant while lactic acid acts as a chemical exfoliant. When it’s time to rinse with warm water, the sugar crystals will dissolve, leaving your skin looking brighter and more youthful. Note: This mask is recommended for all skin types except those with rosacea, acne or extremely sensitive skin.
For more polished, radiant skin in one swift step, look no further than these presoaked resurfacing pads. After cleansing, just sweep one all over your face for a one-two punch of exfoliation, thanks to both lactic acid and the buffing power of the textured pad itself. In an independent trial, 85% of users reported that this product effectively resurfaced their skin.
Now that you know all about the benefits of lactic acid in skin care, take a moment to learn about other popular AHAs such as malic acid, mandelic acid and more in our recent blog post.