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Dr. Alpana Mohta Ranka, MD, DNB, IFAAD, is a dual-board-certified dermatologist with over 90 research publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals.


Lactic Acid for Skin: The Ultimate Guide by Dr. Alpana, MD, DNB, IFAAD

Updated: Aug 25, 2023

Lactic acid is a naturally occurring ingredient in the skin. It can be found in many foods, including sour pickles and yogurt. Lactic acid, when applied topically on the skin, can also do wonders, but how do you know if it’s right for your skin? In this article, I will discuss all you need to know about lactic acid before using it topically as an exfoliator or mask.

A bottle of lactic acid serum

Table of Contents


What Does Lactic Acid Do for Skin?

Lactic acid is a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA). AHAs exfoliate skin and increase cell turnover, which can help improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. They can also boost collagen production, which helps firm up skin.

Lactic Acid Uses

Lactic acid serums and creams are most commonly used as gentle exfoliants. They help to improve skin texture and tone, making skin smoother and brighter. Additionally, lactic acid has moisturizing and collagen-boosting properties, which can help hydrate the skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It also lightens dark spots and hyperpigmentation.

Lactic Acid for Sensitive Skin

Lactic acid is a milder AHA, and it's a natural component of milk. This makes lactic acid well tolerated by all skin types—even sensitive ones!

Its mild exfoliating properties make it suitable for those with sensitive or easily irritated skin. Lactic acid gently dissolves the glue-like substance that holds dead skin cells together without causing excessive irritation or redness. This allows for a smoother complexion while minimizing the risk of triggering sensitivity.

Additionally, lactic acid soothes and calms the skin, reducing inflammation and redness. It can also improve the skin's texture and tone without compromising its delicate balance.

All these properties make it well-suited for those with acne-prone or rosacea-prone skin types. If you have sensitive skin, you should start with a lower lactic acid concentration, around 5%. You can also dilute lactic acid serum with hyaluronic acid or niacinamide.

Lactic Acid for Dry Skin

For dry skin, lactic acid can be a game-changer. Its exfoliating properties help slog off dead skin cells and promote hydration, leaving the skin feeling smoother and more supple. By removing the build-up of dry, flaky skin, lactic acid allows moisturizers to penetrate more effectively, locking in moisture and preventing further dryness. It also helps to strengthen the skin's natural barrier, reducing water loss. For dry skin, it's better to use a lactic acid cream like The Derma Co 10% Lactic Acid Cream.

Lactic Acid for Oily Skin

Lactic acid serum can be combined with Glycolic Acid cream or serum to get the maximum anti-aging benefit for oily skin. Both work synergistically to boost collagen. The combination of these two ingredients has been shown to increase the thickness of collagen fibers by up to 50%.

The Ordinary 10% Lactic Acid +2% hyaluronic acid serum is my favorite lactic acid product for oily skin.

How to Use Lactic Acid in the Skincare Routine

Lactic acid is best used in the evening as part of your nighttime skincare regimen. Since lactic acid can make the skin more sensitive to sunlight, using it at night minimizes the risk of sunburn or irritation.

Steps to use lactic acid on the face:

  • Apply it on a well-cleansed face.

  • Start by applying a small amount of lactic acid product to clean and dry skin, avoiding the eye area.

  • Allow it to sit on the skin for a few minutes, then rinse thoroughly with water.

  • It's essential to follow up with a moisturizer to maintain skin hydration.

For best results, use a lactic acid serum containing 5-10% lactic acid.

For pigmented skin on the rest of your body, use a lactic acid lotion like the Sugandha Skincare Unscented Lactic Body Lotion every night over limbs.

Initially, use lactic acid once or twice a week to assess tolerance, and gradually increase the frequency if your skin tolerates it well. Always remember to wear sunscreen during the day when using lactic acid, as it can increase sun sensitivity.

Before you go

Remember that lactic acid is one of the least irritating AHAs, suitable even for sensitive skin. Although, if you have very sensitive skin, use a gentler formulation of lactic acid and check with your doctor before using it.

However, if you don't have very sensitive skin and can handle something stronger (and therefore more effective), you can try out glycolic acid.

Always do a patch test by testing out the product on a small area of your body (like your hand) before making any significant changes in how often you use it or how much product you put on each area.


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