These Lactic Acid Serums Gently Exfoliate and Hydrate Your Skin

Best Lactic Acid Serums

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I remember the first time I used an exfoliator. It was a physical exfoliator, which my skin didn’t like. Then I found out about chemical exfoliants like glycolic acid and salicylic acid, which is how I finally found out about lactic acid. As it turns out, this exfoliant is one of the gentlest ones out there. And as unlikely as it sounds, it exfoliates while increasing moisture in the skin. So if you think chemical exfoliants don’t work for your skin, you obviously haven’t used a lactic acid serum yet. Well, I’m about to change that. Here you’ll learn how lactic acid works, the benefits of lactic acid for your skin, and the best lactic acid serums to get started.

What Is Lactic Acid?

Lactic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) used in skincare as a chemical exfoliant. Lactic acid works by breaking down the glue that holds the dead skin cells together. As a result, lactic acid helps slough off dead skin cells, revealing healthier, smoother skin. Compared to other alpha-hydroxy acids, lactic acid is known for being the gentler option.

Benefits of Lactic Acid for Skin

1. Exfoliates

As an exfoliant, lactic acid increases skin turnover and removes dead skin cells from the skin’s surface. It gives you a smoother skin texture, which is as anti-aging as it gets. Also, because it accelerates skin turnover, lactic acid helps reduce the visibility of fine lines and wrinkles on the skin.

2. Hydrates the Skin

Lactic acid has hydrating effects on the skin, which is not very common with other alpha-hydroxy acids. It increases ceramides in the skin, which play an important role in helping the skin retain water. That’s how lactic acid hydrates the skin.

3. Brightens the Skin

Exfoliants also help brighten the skin by removing surface dead skin cells. Likewise, lactic acid brightens the skin and fades surface skin discolorations to give you an even skin tone.

4. Works Gently

Lactic acid is bigger in molecular size. That’s why it doesn’t penetrate the skin as much. Because of this, lactic acid works gentler than other hydroxy acids, making it an amazing exfoliator for people with sensitive skin. Lactic acid stands on that sweet spot where it’s not as penetrating as glycolic acid but still more effective than mandelic or malic acid.

Best Lactic Acid Serums

1. Sunday Riley Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment

Sunday Riley Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment - Best Lactic Acid Serum

This is an amazingly gentle lactic acid serum that is equally hydrating! The serum exfoliates the skin with lactic acid while increasing the skin’s natural moisturizing factors. That way, it smooths out the complexion while still keeping it hydrated. Licorice extract helps to brighten up the complexion and fade away discolorations.

Plus, the prickly pear extract and soothing aloe keep redness and irritation at bay. The only annoying thing about this one is that it does not disclose the concentration of lactic acid. But other than that, you’re going to love the creamy, replenishing texture that leaves the skin glowing!

Key Ingredients: Lactic acid, licorice extract, aloe
Key Benefits: Gently exfoliates, minimizes hyperpigmentation
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free

2. Stacked Skincare Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Serum

Stacked Skincare Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Serum - Best Lactic Acid Serums

This one is formulated to enhance the effects of lactic acid. I’ve mentioned how lactic acid increases ceramides in the skin, supporting the skin barrier function. And this lactic acid serum boosts those effects by adding hyaluronic acid and niacinamide into the mix.

So if you have dry, dehydrated, flaky skin, you’re going to love the skin smoothing and hydration benefits of this serum. It also has licorice extract and allantoin for radiance-boosting and skin-soothing benefits. Also, if you’re using retinol, this serum will clean up after retinol and get rid of any flakiness.

Key Ingredients: Lactic acid, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, licorice extract
Key Benefits: Hydrates, plumps, smooths skin texture
Size: 1 oz/30 ml

Related: The Best Drugstore Hyaluronic Acid Serums

3. Biossance Squalane + 10% Lactic Acid Resurfacing Serum

Biossance Squalane + 10% Lactic Acid Resurfacing Serum - Best Lactic Acid Serum

When you have dry and flaky skin, exfoliation may seem too aggressive. However, that’s exactly what your skin needs the most, but in the least irritating way. This serum gives dry skin exactly what it needs. With lactic acid’s incredibly gentle exfoliation, you get rid of those dry patches sitting on your cheeks.

In the meantime, you don’t cause further dryness on the skin. Thanks to squalane, the serum moisturizes the skin. It leaves the skin feeling soft, plump, and smooth. The lactic acid serum works all night, so you can enjoy radiant and glowing skin in the morning.

Key Ingredients: 10% lactic acid, squalane, glycerin
Key Benefits: Resurfaces skin while increasing moisture
Size: 1.01 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free

4. The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA

As you’ve gathered by now, moisture and lactic acid go hand in hand. The Ordinary’s peeling serum combines lactic acid and hyaluronic acid to get rid of the dead skin cells on the skin while keeping it plump. With regular use, the serum speeds up cell turnover, revealing a smoother and more radiant complexion with reduced wrinkles and spots.

Plus, the antioxidant-rich Tasmanian pepperberry helps a lot with reducing inflammation and redness on the skin. Note that this is the most affordable lactic acid serum out there. You’ll love the skin smoothing benefits but if you have very sensitive skin, it comes in a 5% concentration too, which is more suitable for beginners or people with rosacea.

Key Ingredients: 10% lactic acid, hyaluronic acid
Key Benefits: Clears up skin, minimizes flakiness, and dark spots
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free, oil-free, fragrance-free

5. Dermalogica BioLumin-C Vitamin C Serum

Dermalogica BioLumin-C Vitamin C Serum

If your main concern is dark spots or uneven skin tone, consider a lactic acid serum that also contains ingredients for hyperpigmentation. This one combines lactic acid with a gentle form of vitamin C. It minimizes dark spots and increases radiance without irritating your skin.

If you’re dealing with discolorations, this lactic acid serum will give you the most bang for your buck all thanks to the glow-boosting effects of vitamin C. And the fact that it’s not pure vitamin C makes it all the more convenient for people who can’t tolerate ascorbic acid.

Key Ingredients: Lactic acid, vitamin C, peptides, hyaluronic acid
Key Benefits: Brightens skin, lifts discolorations, softens wrinkles
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free

6. Renee Rouleau Ultra Gentle Smoothing Serum

Renee Rouleau Ultra Gentle Smoothing Serum

This lactic acid serum contains 7% lactic acid paired with 3% glycolic acid. It addresses several skin concerns with minimal invasion. With lactic acid’s non-irritating working mechanism, you get rid of dullness, flakiness, and hyperpigmentation without hurting your skin barrier.

Glycolic acid polishes the skin and diminishes wrinkles as well as acne. The soothing blend of aloe and allantoin keeps the skin calm and redness-free. The formula is great when you need something a little stronger but not as harsh as a pure glycolic acid serum.

Key Ingredients: 7% lactic acid, 3% glycolic acid, aloe, glycerin
Key Benefits: Encourages skin turnover, brightens, smooths skin
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free

7. StriVectin Lactic Acid Nightly Retexturizing Serum

StriVectin Lactic Acid Nightly Retexturizing Serum

If you don’t prefer multi-acid formulations, this lactic acid night serum is the one to go for. It doesn’t come with additional AHAs or BHAs. It simply smooths out the skin texture with lactic acid and supports the skin barrier function.

And it contains niacinamide to increase moisture retention and blue cypress oil for its anti-inflammatory benefits. Plus, it has pigment-correcting peptides to boost radiance and supercharge your exfoliation.

Key Ingredients: Lactic acid, niacinamide, peptides
Key Benefits: Exfoliates without peeling, evens out skin tone
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Contains fragrance

8. Lixirskin Night Switch PHA/AHA 10%

Lixirskin Night Switch PHAAHA 10%

This is one of the best lactic acid serums for sensitive skin. The trick is the addition of polyhydroxy acids. Polyhydroxy acids (PHA) are another family of acids. They’re way gentler on the skin and only work on the surface level to smooth out the skin, iron out wrinkles, fade hyperpigmentation, and reduce acne.

They have the additional benefits of hydrating the skin and providing antioxidant benefits. That’s why this lactic acid serum comes with a PHA, lactobionic acid, to help your skin ease into exfoliation. The formula is incredibly minimal. All you get is gentle exfoliation with these acids and increased radiance with phytic acid.

Key Ingredients: Lactic acid, lactobionic acid, phytic acid
Key Benefits: Fades dark spots, repairs sun damage
Size: 15 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free

9. Peach & Lily Power Cocktail Lactic Acid Repair Serum

Peach Lily Power Cocktail Lactic Acid Repair Serum

This K-beauty lactic acid serum combines exfoliation with a rich blend of hydrators and antioxidants. So it multi-tasks big time! The skin plumping serum packs polyglutamic acid, hyaluronic acid, and ceramides to attract water, bind it to the skin, and retain that water!

More impressively, it contains a certain neuropeptide called Argireline to instantly soften the look of wrinkles. It nourishes the skin with ginseng and green tea extracts and helps reverse free radical damage. It’s practically an exfoliating antioxidant serum! It’s fast absorbing and super easy to layer!

Key Ingredients: 10% lactic acid, ceramides, peptides, polyglutamic acid
Key Benefits: Gently resurfaces, softens wrinkles
Size: 1.01 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Cruelty-free, vegan, clean

10. Drunk Elephant Protini Powerpeptide Resurfacing Serum with Lactic Acid

Drunk Elephant Protini Powerpeptide Resurfacing Serum with Lactic Acid

And speaking of peptides, this packs a combination of signal peptides. And in case you’re not familiar, signal peptides encourage the skin to produce collagen to help with signs of aging. So the lactic acid serum is more geared towards exfoliating aging skin while providing anti-aging benefits.

Plus, it contains a blend of amino acids, which are like the building blocks of proteins like collagen. Overall, you can gently retexturize your skin and help it out in the long wrong by training your skin to be healthier, firmer, and youthful.

Key Ingredients: 10% lactic acid, peptides, amino acids
Key Benefits: Exfoliates, boosts hydration, stimulates collagen
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Cruelty-free, vegan

So these are some of the best lactic acid serums for gentle exfoliation. Thanks to lactic acid’s unique benefits, you can exfoliate your skin without dealing with the potential side effects that come with mainstream exfoliants. Again, lactic acid is unique in that it doesn’t irritate or dry your skin. That’s why I’ve been using and loving it ever since I first tried it. If serums sound too much, you can always try lactic acid toners, which are even gentler and perfect for everyday use. Also, consider lactic acid cleansers to gently minimize fine lines and uneven skin tone. If haven’t found what you’re looking for here, here’s what to keep in mind when choosing a lactic acid serum.

How To Choose Lactic Acid Serum


Lactic acid is one of the best exfoliants for people with dry, sensitive skin. However, it can come in higher concentrations, which makes it a bit stronger for beginners. So even if the acid is gentle, it can still irritate. If you’re a beginner, go for lower-strength options. If the concentration is not disclosed, it’s probably in the low range, which can be an indication that it’s suitable for sensitive skin.

Your Skin Type

When choosing a lactic acid serum, keep your skin type in mind. If you’re prone to acne, go for non-comedogenic serums that don’t contain high amounts of oils and pore-clogging ingredients. If you have dry skin, go for serums with a creamier texture.

Other Ingredients

Most lactic acid serums contain supporting ingredients that make them more targeted toward addressing a specific skin issue. So look for these types of products. If you have hyperpigmentation issues, look for skin brighteners like vitamin C and kojic acid in your lactic acid serum. If you have dry, dehydrated, flaky skin, go for lactic acid serums that mostly help with hydration and pack a blend of hydrators like ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and squalane.


Read Next: The Best Skin Tightening Serums

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