Active Ingredients: Lactic Acid

Chloe Song Beauty Expert
Active Ingredients: Lactic Acid

Smooth and soften your skin with Lactic Acid!

Lactic acid is a variety of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and is one of the more common ones like glycolic or citric acid. Lactic acid has an unique history, we’ve all heard of the myth of Cleopatra bathing milk to keep her looking and feeling softer and smoother. Well, that myth isn’t all that weird after all. As you can tell from the name, lactic acid is derived from the lactose found in milk.

Lactic acid was first developed by a Swedish chemist called Carl Wilhelm Scheele who was the first to isolate the compound from sour (expired) milk, and later in the 1800s, German pharmacist Boehringer Ingelheim discovered how to mass-produce it as he realized that lactic acid was the byproduct of fermented sugar and starch in sour milk via bacteria. And for the vegans out there, not to worry, with the development of technology, lactic acid can be synthetically formulated making it vegan-friendly. But it is important to read the label to confirm whether or not it is synthetic lactic acid. In most cases, you can find lactic acid in many of the same places you find other AHAs, especially in products that advertise themselves as an AHA product but not specify which type.

What’s the difference between lactic acid and other AHAs? Lactic acid differs in its molecular size and is considered the gentler option compared to glycolic acid as it has a larger molecular size, meaning that it can’t penetrate the skin too deep. This means that you’re getting more of a surface exfoliating treatment that works to polish and firm the skin. As such, lactic acid is a suitable exfoliating agent for those with sensitive or dry skin as the effects are more tolerable and less likely to cause irritation and won’t impeded the skin’s pH level. However, people with acneic skin may find the effects of lactic acid to be lackluster, so we would recommend glycolic or salicylic acid for that extra deep pore cleaning boost.



Increases cell turnover

  • As with all AHAs, lactic acid works the same to help exfoliate the skin of dead skin cells and impurities both in and on the surface of the skin. By doing so, it increases the skin turnover rate causing new and younger skin cells to grows which results in your complexion looking fresher and more radiant.
  • Lactic acid can also be used to treat bumps on the skin, most notably keratosis pilaris. You can look for lactic acid body lotions/creams.

Kills bacteria

  • Lactic acid is found to help kill bacterial that causes skin infections, irritants and even acne-causing ones. 


  • By helping to exfoliate and cleanse the skin of dead skin cells, bacteria and impurities, it prevents the formation of pimples, blackheads or whiteheads. It can also help with the healing process of acne lesions or wounds. 

Reduces wrinkles and fine lines

  • Research also revealed that higher concentrations of lactic acid (5%-12%) actually can penetrate into the dermis and epidermis which results in firmer skin with fewer fine lines and wrinkles. But be careful when using higher concentrations, particularly 12%, and to not use it on a daily basis as it can over-sensitise and weaken the skin. 

Helps retain moisture

  • With the skin growing younger and newer skin cells, it can hold on to moisture better and prevent the skin from experiencing TEWL (transepidermal water loss).
  • Lactic acid is also a humectant ingredient meaning that it attracts moisture to the skin and locks that moisture in. 

Strengthens the skin barrier

  • Lactic acid strengthens the skin barrier by stimulating the skin to produce more ceramides which is vital to healthy skin heath. This is why lactic acid is recommended to those with sensitive or dry skin as it will enhance the skin’s defense barrier. 

Increases the penetration of other products

  • After exfoliating the skin, this means that your following skincare products can be better absorbed into the skin making them more effective.


What to note?

  • As with any acid, use of lactic acid can experience side effects like inflammation, redness, rashes or chemical burns which can accelerate the ageing process. So it’s important to not use lactic acid, or any acid, on compromised skin.
  • If you experience a slight tingling or stinging sensation, this is completely normal especially for first time users. Over time, your skin will build a tolerance and you may find that your skin will need a stronger acid.
  • It is worth noting that lactic acid can be used more frequently than harsher acids (glycolic/salicylic acid) due to its milder nature.
  • Use of any acid must be followed with sunscreen because exfoliating the skin actually causes your skin to be more sensitive and susceptible to sun damage which can speed up the process of ageing skin.
  • People with lactose intolerance or dairy allergies may want to avoid lactic acid or conduct a patch test prior, this goes for everyone.


Products we recommend and where to find them

A La Carte 12% Lactic Acid

a la carte lactic acid 12%

Newly released in Threebs, A La Carte 12% Lactic Acid helps to gently exfoliate the outer layers of the skin to promote cellular renewal to reveal younger and plumper looking skin. This product is a steal with its low price and amazing formula, I mean RM19?!


The INKEY List Lactic Acid Exfoliant

the inkey list lactic acid exfoliant

A gentle exfoliator designed to help skin appear brighter and more even looking, while providing additional hydration. Also helps to gently loosen and remove dead skin cells from the skin's surface for a more even skin tone and brighter complexion.


The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA 2%

the ordinary lactic acid 5% ha

This lactic serum works to exfoliate the skin, targeting and improving uneven skin tone and textual irregularities. This formula is further supported by Tasmanian Pepperberry to help reduce inflammation and sensitivity. As well as, hyaluronic acid that strengthens the lipid barrier and help retain moisture in the skin.


Pixi Clarity Tonic

pixi clarity tonic

This Clarity Tonic promotes the appearance of clearer skin and is suitable for all skin types, especially breakout-prone skin. This tonic/toner features 3 different types of acids, glycolic, lactic and salicylic acid to exfoliate the skin and unclog pores. It also contains aloe extract to help hydrate and soothe the skin.


Eucerin Pro Acne Solution Super Serum

eucerin pro acne solution super serum

A light and fast-absorbing emulsion formulated for oily and acneic skin. It is formulated with concentrated lactic acid to deliver a comedolytic effect and improves the skin’s complexion. Also, contains decandiol which has antibacterial properties to prevent the formation of future acne.


CeraVe Sa Lotion for Rough & Bumpy Skin

cerave sa lotion for rough & bumpy skin

Who doesn’t love CeraVe? This lightweight, non-greasy moisturiser contains ceramides, salicylic acid, lactic acid and hyaluronic acid that all works together to smooth your skin by exfoliating and improving skin texture.

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