Ingredient Spotlight: Lactic Acid

exfoliant lactic acid radiance

Lactic Acid Skin Benefits


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.   


Skin Benefits:

  • 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


Lactic Acid Trivia


  • 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.

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    @abigayil: Thank you, Abi. I am considering the substitution for Hemp Seed Oil more permanent for no-scrubs.

  • abigayil cohen on

    love noscrubs, but love the compliments on my skin more. since swapping to hemp oil, my blackheads have disappeared.

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