An Exfoliating Toner, But Make It Hydrating? Meet Lactic Acid Toners

Best Lactic Acid Toners

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Even though it’s usually overshadowed by its big sis, lactic acid has its own loyal following. Rightfully so! Not to start an alpha-hydroxy acids family feud, but lactic acid has a quirky touch to it that makes it unique. It’s an excellent exfoliant but also super hydrating for the skin. On top of everything, lactic acid is actually a part of your skin’s natural moisturizing factors. It’s already present in your skin as sodium lactate, which may be another reason why it’s less irritating than glycolic acid.

As a chemical exfoliant, lactic acid helps smooth out the skin texture, reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, brightens the skin, and hydrates it at the same time (1).

And because of its gentler ways, lactic acid is a lifesaver for people with dry, sensitive skin and people with aging skin, which tends to be sensitive too.

Among the numerous ways you can incorporate lactic acid into your daily routine, toners stand out. Because toners are made for daily use. So they are usually formulated with a less concentration of the active ingredient.

This makes it easy for you to go steady without hitting setbacks in the form of irritated, red skin. This type of setback is more common when you use exfoliants in serum form.

Because serums or liquid exfoliants tend to be more potent. They’re treatments that need caution, which isn’t something a person with sensitive skin would want to test out.

Lactic acid toners usually contain other acids like glycolic or salicylic. This makes them more targeted. For example, lactic acid with salicylic acid may work best for oily and acne-prone skin whereas lactic acid + glycolic acid may have more anti-aging benefits.

The Best Lactic Acid Toners

Find below the best lactic acid toners to exfoliate and hydrate at the same time.

1. Youth To The People Kombucha + 10% AHA Power Exfoliant

Youth To The People Kombucha + 10% AHA Power Exfoliant - Best Lactic Acid Toner

Easy on the glycolic and heavy on the lactic, this toner still reigns supreme. Honestly, I don’t understand how brands are still hesitant to disclose the percentage of the active ingredients in the products. It’s 2023 and I’d like to know! Like is it 1% or 10%? Do I have to test out and guess myself? But I digress! This toner takes the guesswork out of skincare. It utilizes 7% lactic acid to gently remove the dead skin cells from the surface of the skin and reveal a smoother, brighter layer. With the addition of 3% glycolic acid, the formula is a skin-brightening hero. Its blend of amino acids and humectants boosts hydration while exfoliants work to refine the skin texture.

Key Ingredients: Lactic acid, glycolic acid, fermented black tea, amino acids
Size: 4 oz/118 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free, fragrance-free

2. Pestle & Mortar NMF Lactic Acid Toner

Pestle & Mortar NMF Lactic Acid Toner

This is a super gentle lactic acid toner that’s formulated with impressive hydrators. In addition to increasing skin turnover rate with lactic acid and improving skin texture, it increases the water content in the skin with gluconolactone. Glucuonalctone, a member of the PHA family, is also a gentle exfoliant that has hydrating and antioxidant benefits. The lactic acid toner also contains anti-inflammatory burdock root extract and antioxidant-rich black tea extract to help with fine lines and sun damage as well. It’s clean, it’s vegan, and it’s free of alcohol or fragrance, making it one of the best lactic acid toners for sensitive skin.

Key Ingredients: Lactic acid, gluconolactone, niacinamide
Size: 6.7 oz/200 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free, alcohol-free

3. PCA Skin Smoothing Toner

PCA Skin Smoothing Toner

Even though lactic acid wouldn’t be your first choice when you have oily skin, it may very well be if you’re also dealing with sensitivity and dehydration. The toner exfoliates, unclogs pores, and reduces the appearance of blemishes. But it does that with a potent formula made with hydrating and anti-inflammatory goodies. Aloe and cucumber soothe while calendula and burdock root extracts calm inflammation, which might lead to breakouts. The addition of amino acids helps out lactic acid and works as humectants to prevent dehydration, which might aggravate oiliness.

Key Ingredients: Lactic acid, calendula extract, aloe
Size: 7 oz/206.5 ml
Good To Know: Alcohol-free

4. Ayele & Co. TLC Toning Solution

Ayele & Co TLC Toning Solution - Best Lactic Acid Toner

A plant-based (and affordable) solution to your dull skin problems. The toner combines 7% lactic acid with a lesser-known alpha-hydroxy acid; mandelic acid at 4% concentration. The toner gently resurfaces the skin and increases radiance. It contains an amazing humectant, panthenol, to hydrate and soothe the skin. And it contains soothing aloe, antioxidant-rich cranberry extract as well as anti-acne goodie tea tree leaf oil. You get to exfoliate without irritation.

Key Ingredients: Lactic acid, mandelic acid, panthenol, aloe
Size: 2 oz/120 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free

5. Ren Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Toner

Ren Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Toner

Pairing lactic acid with willow bark extract, a natural source of salicylic acid, this exfoliating toner refines the skin texture and also helps with breakouts. It contains azelaic acid, which is an amazing multi-tasker that addresses hyperpigmentation, redness, and acne as well. If you’re suffering from acne marks and dark spots, azelaic acid is something you definitely want in your products. The alcohol-free toner helps with congestion, discolorations, and dullness by retexturizing the skin. This is a tried and true option. But it comes in a mini size too. It’s 100ml and half the price. And that amount of product will last you a good few months! So if you’re on a budget, get the mini!

Key Ingredients: Lactic acid, salicylic acid, azelaic acid
Size: 8.5 oz/250 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free, contains fragrance

6. HydroPeptide Clarifying Toner Balance Control Pads

HydroPeptide Clarifying Toner Balance Control Pads

Similarly, these toner pads are also made with azelaic acid. Using exfoliants together with azelaic can help you better target uneven skin tone, acne, and stubborn acne scars. As these are peel pads pre-soaked in toner, you know exactly how long the product will last. The pads are made with 5% lactic and 1% azelaic acid. But they also contain witch hazel, niacinamide, and other anti-inflammatories like tea tree oil, which are all bathroom cabinet staples for people with oily skin.

Key Ingredients: Lactic acid, azelaic acid, niacinamide, aloe
Size: 60 pads
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free

7. Tarte Knockout Tingling Treatment

Tarte Knockout Tingling Treatment

This one pairs lactic acid with salicylic acid to reduce congestion, clear up clogged pores, and manage acne without causing sensitivity. But that’s not it. The lactic acid toner is alcohol-free to avoid dehydrating the skin. And it contains a lesser-known alpha hydroxy acid, namely malic acid as well as gluconolactone. So overall, if you have combination skin or oily skin that is prone to dehydration and sensitivity, this lactic acid toner will work just fine.

Key Ingredients: Lactic acid, salicylic acid, malic acid, niacinamide
Size: 5 oz/150 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free, alcohol-free

This concludes our round-up of lactic acid toners. Lactic acid is appealing for people with sensitive skin or people with rosacea. Even if it works way gentler than glycolic acid, which is more penetrative, it’s still best to start slow.

Use your lactic acid toner a few times a week at first to check out how your skin reacts to it. Even though concentrations on these toners are very unlikely to irritate, you can never know.

Instead of going fast and going harsh, go slow and steady. Because the results are best when you use them regularly and consistently.

Also, as exfoliants remove the top layer of your skin, they make the skin prone to sunburn. Always wear sunscreen during the day!

Read Next: How To Exfoliate Sensitive Skin


  1. Kornhauser, A., Coelho, S. G., & Hearing, V. J. (2010). Applications of hydroxy acids: classification, mechanisms, and photoactivity. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology3, 135–142.

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