Lactic Acid is a water-soluble, Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) that serves as a pH regulator, exfoliant, preservative or flavoring agent for pharmacology, cosmetics, skincare, and food. Applied topically in both professional treatments and over-the-counter (OTC) skincare, it helps to uncover smoother and more radiant skin, by gently loosening and lifting dead cells. Unlike scrubs and masks, lactic acid acts as a chemical exfoliant in leave-on and rinse off skin treatments.
Lactic acid is extremely gentle due to it’s larger molecular size and hydration capabilities, making an excellent prospect for sensitive, acne-prone and reactive skin types. At concentrations of 10% or greater used for six weeks or more, it can help to improve skin firmness, thickness and fine lines.
- Brightens: Speeds cellular turnover, fading post-inflammatory pigmentation and discoloration.
- Firms: Increases dermal and epidermal firmness and thickness at concentrations of 10% or greater.
- Smooths: Normalizes skin keratinization and reduces pore size
- Hydrates: Natural Moisturizing Factor (NMF) replenishes moisture and protects skin elastin.
- Anti-Acne: Reduces sebum (oil) production and breakouts.
- Effective in OTC topical applications ranging between 5-10% concentrations with a pH range of 3.5 – 4.5.
- Whether new to lactic acid or avid fan, it’s best to look for skincare that indicates the strength of the lactic acid provided to avoid underwhelming or undesired results.
- Use can make skin more vulnerable to sun damage, so daily sunscreen is more important than ever.
- You may experience occasional tingling, but burning and stinging never leads to better skin. If sensitivity occurs, rinse immediately with cool water.
- Formulations containing the amino acid Arginine minimize the risk of irritation by producing a time-release effect.
- Don't mix Lactic Acid with:
- Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid). May be mixed with other Vitamin C derivatives, like Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate or Ascorbyl Palmiatate. Ironically, Ascorbic Acid skincare used alternately, can actually improve lactic acid performance for aging skin.
- Niacinamide, Retinol, other AHAs or Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs), but can be used separately within your skincare routine.
- Synthetic (Fermention of Carbohydrates)
- Kefir, Sour Cream, Yogurt,
- Akebia Fruit, Lambic Beer, Sauerkraut, Wine
International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 1996: 18-2, Comparative effectiveness of α‐hydroxy acids on skin properties.
Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 1996 Sep, 35;3;1;388–91, Epidermal and dermal effects of topical lactic acid.
Journal of the German Society of Dermatology, 2012 May, 10:7: 488-91, Cosmetic and dermatologic use of alpha hydroxy acids.
Dermatologic Surgery, 1998 Jun; 24 (6): 641-5, The roles of pH and concentration in lactic acid-induced stimulation of epidermal turnover.
International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 2015 Oct, 37 (5);519-25, The effect of physically applied alpha hydroxyl acids on the skin pore and comedone.
Archives of Dermatology, 1996 Jun, 132 (6): 631-6, Topical 8% glycolic acid and 8% L-lactic acid creams for the treatment of photodamaged skin. A double-blind vehicle-controlled clinical trial.
Journal of Dermatologic Surgery, 1993 Mar, 9 (3); 243-46, Glycolic Acid Peels for the Treatment of Wrinkles and Photoaging.