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Lactic Acid for Skin: The Best Benefits, Products, and More

While lactic acid is one of the most beloved modern skin ingredients on the market, its origins as a skincare ingredient actually date back to Ancient Egypt, when Cleopatra would bathe in sour milk to improve her skin’s texture and appearance. While she might not have known why the milk had such an amazing effect, we now know it’s because of lactic acid, a naturally occurring alpha hydroxy acid.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about lactic acid for the skin, from benefits to products and more.

What is Lactic Acid?

Lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that lightly exfoliates and smooths the skin by speeding up skin cell turnover. It occurs naturally in dairy products (it’s what gives yogurt and kefir their characteristic tang) but can also be produced by fermentation.

What Are the Skincare Benefits of Lactic Acid?

Fades hyperpigmentation

As an exfoliator, lactic acid helps fade signs of hyperpigmentation, such as post-inflammatory acne spots. In those with darker skin tones – who often experience more noticeable hyperpigmentation – lactic acid can safely help fade those dark marks. 

Boosts hydration levels

Lactic acid is also a humectant, meaning it draws water into the skin to improve hydration levels and the skin’s natural moisturizing factors. This is one reason why lactic acid is gentler than other AHAs, as it supports a staple moisture barrier less prone to pH disruption.

Increases cell turnover

Lactic acid supports smooth, youthful, glowing skin by speeding up skin cell turnover and helping dissolve dead skin cells sitting on the skin’s surface.

Helps treat acne

For those with acne-prone skin, consider adding lactic acid to your routine. Research has found lactic acid to be helpful in preventing and reducing acne breakouts.

Fewer fine lines and wrinkles

A 1996 study found that a 12% lactic acid treatment twice daily for 3 months increased epidermal and dermal firmness and thickness. The result? Smoother skin and the appearance of fewer lines and wrinkles.

Treats Keratosis Pilaris

Lactic acid works brilliantly on the body too. Its exfoliating power has been shown to improve the appearance of keratosis pilaris by helping remove the dead skin cells and keratin plugs surrounding the hair follicle. 

Who Should Use Lactic Acid?

The beauty of lactic acid is that it works on all skin types. Because it has a bigger molecule size and is gentler than other AHAs, it’s even well tolerated by sensitive skin types. Dry and mature skin types can benefit from lactic acid’s humectant properties as well as its exfoliating and brightening capabilities. Lactic acid is also gentle and safe for darker skin tones.

Is Lactic Acid Safe Enough to Use Every Day?

Lactic acid is one of the gentlest and most hydrating AHAs compared to others, like glycolic acid. Because of this, many lactic acid products are designed to be used daily, but you should always read the specific usage ingredients on your product beforehand for more details. As is the case with other exfoliating ingredients, it’s best to use it just once a day to avoid sensitivity or skin barrier disruption. 

Because lactic acid exfoliates the skin and leaves you more sensitive to the sun, be sure to apply an SPF of 30 or higher on the days you use it (though you should always be wearing your sunscreen!) 

5 of the Best Lactic Acid Skincare Products

ClarityRx Brighten It 10% Lactic Acid Solution

At a potent concentration of 10% lactic acid, this exfoliating solution breaks up discolored skin cells and inhibits tyrosine production to improve uneven skin tone on all skin types and tones. With water and lactic acid as its only ingredients, the formulation is simple but effective.

Shop the ClarityRx Brighten It 10% Lactic Acid Solution, $60

StriVectin Lactic Acid Nightly Retexturizing Serum


This revitalizing nighttime serum gives your skin the best that lactic acid has to offer. It gently resurfaces to get rid of dry, dull skin while improving the skin’s natural moisture barrier and increasing hydration levels. The formula is boosted with a patented NIA-114™ complex, an advanced Nonapeptide, and blue cypress oil, so skin is visibly more luminous, smooth, and youthful upon waking.

Shop the StriVectin Lactic Acid Nightly Retexturizing Serum, $79

Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser

An exfoliating cocktail of salicylic, lactic, and glycolic acids, this face wash smooths rough texture, improves brightness, and cleanses away impurities. For an extra boost of exfoliation, there are jojoba beads to physically polish. Add this exfoliating cleanser to your skincare routine two to three times a week for a fresh, radiant complexion.

Shop the Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser, $42

PCA Skin Resurfacing Serum

This multi-tasking serum combines lactic acid and a slow-release glycolic acid alongside prickly pear flower and other calming ingredients to brighten and improve skin texture without irritation. It’s a great option for those looking for a gentle yet effective everyday serum. Bonus: It’s suitable for sensitive skin.

Shop the PCA Skin Resurfacing Serum, $99

CeraVe Psoriasis Skin Therapy Cleanser


Clinical studies have found lactic acid to be a potentially beneficial ingredient in treating psoriasis. In this dermatologist-developed body cleanser, lactic acid, essential ceramides, and salicylic acid help remove scales, relieve itching, restore moisture, and control the symptoms of psoriasis.

Shop the CeraVe Psoriasis Skin Therapy Cleanser, $19.95