At some point, we all wished we’d stayed in touch with that science geek from high school so he could tell us all about the different acids we can use for our skin. Well, the joke’s on him because we’ve got it covered! Lactic acid, in skincare, is where exfoliation meets moisture. No matter how unlikely it seems, the best lactic acid serums unveil smooth skin that’s equally hydrated.
To fill you in on this alpha-hydroxy acid and help you make the most of your lactic acid serum, behold the most FAQs about this magic ingredient. If you think you don’t need any schooling, feel free to scroll down.
What is Lactic Acid in Skincare?
Lactic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) and it’s usually derived from milk. In skincare, it’s used as a chemical exfoliant for anything skin-resurfacing-related (1).
It’s like a drain opener, but for the skin. It breaks down the glue that holds the dead skin cells together. This action cuts the dead skin cells loose so that they shed off easily, making room for a new and healthier skin layer.
What Does Lactic Acid Do For Your Skin?
Lactic acid gently exfoliates the skin and gives you a smoother and brighter complexion. It increases skin cell turnover and stimulates collagen formation.
These are some serious anti-aging benefits if you haven’t noticed. Lactic acid diminishes wrinkles and lines, improves skin texture, and evens out the skin tone.
Lactic Acid vs Other AHAs?
Lactic acid has two major properties that make it stand out from the AHAs crowd. First of all, it’s bigger in molecular size. This makes it less penetrating, but less irritating as well (2).
Secondly, it increases ceramides in the skin. This makes the skin retain water for longer, keeping it moisturized. These two make lactic acid a lifesaver for dry and 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.
Likewise, it’s not as irritating as glycolic acid. With its gentle form, it exfoliates the surface of the skin without irritating or drying out the skin.
How to Use a Lactic Acid Serum?
Lactic acid is suitable for all skin types. Because of its gentle form, it’s beginner-friendly. And it’s usually easily tolerated. However, it’s still an exfoliant and there’s still a possibility of overdoing it.
Like any other acid, try to start gently by using it a few days a week first. See how your skin reacts to it and adjust the frequency accordingly. And oh, remember to wear sunscreen!
The Best Lactic Acid Serums
There are some amazing lactic acid serums you can benefit from. Whether it’s for anti-aging purposes or regular maintenance purposes, below are the best lactic acid serums that’ll give you smooth skin.
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.
This one is formulated to enhance the effects of lactic acid. We mentioned how lactic acid increases ceramides in the skin, supporting the skin barrier function. This lactic acid serum boosts those effects by adding hyaluronic acid and niacinamide into the mix.
Niacinamide is an amazing multi-tasker that’s a must-have for anyone who has a compromised skin barrier. It strengthens the barrier and prevents dehydration. The whole serum is made to help dry and dehydrated skin get rid of dullness with exfoliation while moisturizing it.
This is absolutely the best lactic acid serum for anyone who wants the least irritating exfoliation with the most moisturizing effects possible. It 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.
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 night 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.
When your primary concern is hyperpigmentation, your exfoliating serum can afford to have some other skin-clearing benefits. This one is a super-targeted lactic acid serum that’s enhanced with several other brightening ingredients. As lactic acid exfoliates the skin, the skin-clearing vitamin C fades dark spots, evens out, and brightens up the complexion.
Additionally, kojic acid has some serious skin lightening effects to target dark spots, scarring, and uneven skin tone. Plus, the serum contains ferulic acid, which we all love because of its antioxidant-boosting effects. This multi-tasker is an exfoliating serum, an antioxidant serum, and an anti-aging serum. It’s perfect for any skin type who wants to get rid of dullness, pigmentation, and signs of aging.
As you’ve gathered by now, moisture and lactic acid go hand in hand. The Ordinary’s super effective 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.
This is another serum that combines vitamin C and lactic acid to exfoliate the skin while evening out the skin tone and treating free radical damage on the skin. The gentle exfoliant gets rid of the build-up of dead skin cells on the skin.
And it provides utmost antioxidant protection with vitamin C. It also nourishes the skin with botanical oils. This one is a good example of how you can exfoliate your skin without damaging your skin barrier.
Similarly, this is another lactic acid serum that provides exfoliation with some hydrating side action. The super-affordable exfoliating serum resurfaces the skin and retexturizes it with a concentration of 10%.
With that, it softens the look of lines and reduces the look of dark spots. Hyaluronic acid plumps up the skin and fills in wrinkles. The result is bouncy and soft skin with an even skin tone.
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 definitely not as harsh as a pure glycolic acid 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.
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.
Last but not least, this is one of the best lactic acid serums for sensitive skin. The trick is the addition of polyhydroxy acids. Polyhydroxy acids 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 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.
- Tang, S. C., & Yang, J. H. (2018). Dual Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids on the Skin. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 23(4), 863. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules23040863
- SMITH, W. (1996), Comparative effectiveness of α‐hydroxy acids on skin properties. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 18: 75-83. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-2494.1996.tb00137.x