Lactic Acid, Exfoliation Meets Hydration

The Best Lactic Acid Serums

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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.

Additionally, lactic acid is used in body skincare to smooth out keratosis pilaris. So besides face serums, there are also lactic acid toners, lotions, cleansers, and body products too.

What Does Lactic Acid Do For Your Skin?

Best Lactic Acid Serums - The Benefits of Lactic Acid

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 (3).

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.

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.

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

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

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. We mentioned how lactic acid increases ceramides in the skin, supporting the skin barrier function. So 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.

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 Night Serum

Biossance Squalane + 10% Lactic Acid Resurfacing Night 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 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.

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. Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Clinical Grade IPL Dark Spot Correcting Serum

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Clinical Grade IPL Dark Spot Correcting Serum

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.

Key Ingredients: Lactic acid, 10% vitamin C, kojic acid, arbutin, azelaic acid
Key Benefits: Treats and prevents dark spots, illuminates skin
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Cruelty-free, vegan

5. 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 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. 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

6. Dermalogica BioLumin-C Vitamin C Serum

Dermalogica BioLumin-C Vitamin C Serum

This is another serum that combines a gentle form of 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 the 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. If you’re dealing with hyperpigmentation, 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 up surface discolorations, softens wrinkles
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free

7. The Inkey List Lactic Acid Serum

The Inkey List Lactic Acid Serum

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. As a result, it gives bouncy and soft skin with an even skin tone.

Key Ingredients: 10% lactic acid, 1% hyaluronic acid
Key Benefits: Softens skin texture, evens skin tone, plumps fine lines
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free, fragrance-free

8. 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 definitely not as harsh as a pure glycolic acid serum.

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

9. 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

10. 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 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

RELATED: Lactobionic acid, the poly-hydroxy acid you might want to learn about.

11. 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. And 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, ginseng extract, polyglutamic acid
Key Benefits: Gently resurfaces, infuses skin with antioxidants, softens wrinkles
Size: 1.01 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Cruelty-free, vegan, clean

12. 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 actually 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, boost hydration, stimulates collagen production
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Cruelty-free, vegan

13. Dior Capture Youth Matte Maximizer Age-Delay Mattifying Serum

Dior Capture Youth Matte Maximizer Age Delay Mattifying Serum

And lastly, if you have mature, aging skin and you absolutely can’t be bothered with any potential irritation from exfoliation, or if you have oily, acne-prone skin, this is for you. This lactic acid serum aims to subtly refine skin texture, reduce the appearance of pores, and mattify your complexion.

It’s infused with skin-balancing clay and anti-bacterial zinc. That’s not all, the consistency of the serum is super lightweight and leaves your complexion matte but like a velvety matte as opposed to a drying matte. It’s so gentle that you can use it as often as daily contrary to most exfoliators.

Key Ingredients: Lactic acid, zinc, clay, vitamin E
Key Benefits: Mattifes skin, absorbs excess oil, blurs out pores
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Contains fragrance

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 potential side effects that come with mainstream exfoliants like glycolic acid. If you’re not sure how to choose one for your unique skin, here’s what to keep in mind when choosing a lactic acid serum.

How To Choose a 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 bunch of hydrators like ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and squalane.



  1. Tang, S. C., & Yang, J. H. (2018). Dual Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids on the Skin. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland)23(4), 863.
  2. SMITH, W. (1996), Comparative effectiveness of α‐hydroxy acids on skin properties. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 18: 75-83.
  3. Algiert-Zielińska, B., Mucha, P., & Rotsztejn, H. (2019). Lactic and lactobionic acids as typically moisturizing compounds. International journal of dermatology58(3), 374–379.

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