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  5. Lactic Acid for Skin: Here's What You Need to Know

If you’ve been into the skincare game for a while now, the word lactic acid will certainly ring a bell. Even if you haven’t heard about it yet, we are here to tell you all about it.

Considered one of the mildest alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), lactic acid is used in chemical peels and other in-office treatments to reduce dark spots, scarring and the appearance of aging signs. Our chief dermatologist, Dr. Harish Kautam, explains how it works as gentle exfoliators for your skin and the right ways to use it.

Benefits Of Lactic Acid For Skin

1. Acts As An Exfoliant

Lactic acid works by penetrating through the skin’s surface. It breaks-down and absorbs dead skin cells to reveal newer, healthy-looking skin cells. This makes your skin appear brighter and younger.

It also accelerates cell turnover ratio, thus replacing dead skin cells with healthier cells.

2. Fades Appearance Of Fine Lines And Wrinkles

Lactic acid is a popular ingredient in anti-aging beauty products. This is because of its quality to reduce the appearance of premature signs of aging (1). Its hydrating properties can make your skin look plumper and wrinkle-free.

This AHA is also known for its collagen-stimulating properties. Collagen is a fibrous protein present in the epidermis and dermis. The protein is responsible for keeping your skin firm and prevents sagging. But with sun exposure and age, the production of collagen in your body deteriorates. This is why you need something in your skincare that can boost collagen.

3. Has Moisturizing Properties

As contradictory as it may sound, lactic acid aids in skin hydration. While most hydroxy acids tend to dry up your skin, lactic acid stands out among the lot. It has hydrating properties that can make your skin feel smoother and plumper. The quality can also help reduce the appearance of signs of aging and sagging skin.

4. Reduces Dark Spots And Patches

Woman applying cream for darkspots

Dark spots, sun spots and melasma can be reduced using lactic acid on the skin. A study tested lactic acid on 12 patients. All 12 patients saw a reduction in their melasma patches after using lactic acid peels for about 6 months (2).

The studies suggest that lactic acid inhibits tyrosinase activity (3). Tyrosinase is an enzyme present in your skin that is responsible for the production of melanin, which gives your skin its color. Direct sun exposure can result in increased melanin production, making your skin appear darker (tanned). It also contributes to the appearance of dark spots.

Who Can Use Lactic Acid?

Lactic acid is known to be the mildest of the hydroxy acids family. It is well-tolerated by all skin types, including sensitive skin (4). However, if you have sensitive skin, always consult your dermatologist and conduct a patch-test before applying anything to your face.

How To Incorporate Lactic Acid Into Your Daily Skincare Regimen?

Dr. Harish says, “Lactic acid is used in different concentrations to address different issues. In lesser concentrations, it works as a humectant to attract moisture onto the surface of your skin. Its exfoliating properties work in higher concentrations. Everyday usage of lactic acid highly depends on the concentrations you use it in.”

Lactic acid is sold in OTC products in concentrations ranging between 0.5-30%. Start with lower concentrations and then move to higher ones. Dr Harish recommends using it 2-3 times a week and gradually incorporating it into your daily skincare regimen.

However, it is always best to consult your dermatologist before you add any face acid to your skincare regimen.

Word Of Caution For Sensitive Skin Types:

If you have sensitive skin, try sticking to products with 5% lactic acid in them. Always remember to conduct a patch-test before use. If your skin doesn’t react to the product you’re using after 24 hours of testing, go ahead and use it 2-3 times a week. You can increase or decrease how often you use this AHA depending on how your skin reacts to it.

Possible Side-Effects Of Lactic Acid

Even though this hydroxy-acid is gentler than the others, it has its share of side effects. These include:

  • Sun sensitivity
  • Dryness
  • Redness
  • Burning
  • Peeling
  • Itchiness
  • Swelling

So before using topical lactic acid on your skin, talk to your dermatologist. If you regularly use topical lactic acid, make it a point to apply at least an SPF 30 sunscreen 30 minutes before you step-out in the day. Re-apply every two hours to protect your skin from getting burnt.


Skipping your sunscreen too often may worsen skin conditions like dark spots and wrinkles. Always remember that lactic acid is an exfoliant that exposes your new, younger-looking skin cells to environmental aggressors.

What You Cannot Mix With Lactic Acid?

Lactic acid should never be mixed with Vitamin C. This combination will push the product’s pH further towards the acidic side, which may cause irritation to your skin. Also, lactic acid being the milder one, can get affected when mixed with vitamin C as it is too strong an alpha-hydroxy acid for it to work along with lactic acid. Talk to your dermatologist about what you can use with lactic acid.

Did You Know?

Lactic acid is often recommended in its topical form to treat and reduce symptoms of eczema, psoriasis and other dry skin conditions.

Wrapping Up

Due to its mild nature, lactic acid is one of the best alpha-hydroxy acids to incorporate into your skincare regimen. It is suitable for sensitive skin types as well and offers different benefits in different concentrations. However, it has its share of side effects. So like any new skincare product, sa patch test is a must.

Begin By Knowing Your Skin

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