What truly sets lactic acid apart from other AHAs, though, acts as a natural moisturizing factor. In other words, lactic acid mimics a “naturally occurring group of molecules found in our skin that helps to hydrate and maintain the skin barrier,” Chan says.
What skin type is lactic acid best for?
Because it has a larger molecule size than glycolic acid and has less systemic absorption, Chan and Lamb recommend lactic acid to their patients of all skin types — even those who are pregnant or nursing.
However, those with sensitive skin should be more careful with it than others. To see how your complexion truly tolerates the ingredient, start off by reaching for it only a few times a week before increasing to daily use, Lamb suggests.
If you are reaching for a product with a lower percentage of lactic acid, around the 5 percent range, it is less likely to make your skin freak out and can definitely be added to your skin-care routine on a daily basis, Chan notes. Higher percentages (10 to 20 percent) are definitely more effective, but they are more likely to cause irritation.
Also, be sure to avoid lactic acid when your skin is irritated or actively inflamed. “Even though it is gentle, it can worsen skin barrier issues, such as flaring atopic dermatitis or rosacea,” Chan says.
Which ingredients shouldn’t be paired with lactic acid?
In this handy guide, we learned retinol-spiked products don’t get along well with acids of any kind. Lactic acid is no exception as both accelerate cell turnover, so the combination is too aggressive to be used at the same time. Instead, Lamb recommends alternating them. “One day, lactic acid; one day, retinol,” she adds.
What are the professionals’ lactic-acid product picks?
Lamb enthusiastically shares the Charlotte Tilbury Super Radiance Resurfacing Facial Treatment is her go-to lactic acid product of choice. “Depending on how my skin is feeling, I like to use it one to two times per week,” she says. It also counts Allure‘s senior commerce writer Sarah Han as a fan due to its mild yet effective formula.
In the serum realm, Chan is all about The Ordinary’s Lactic Acid 5% + HA 2%. (Allure editors are too.) When she was pregnant, she slathered moisturizer on top of it every day. She also loves the Biossance Squalane + 10% Lactic Acid Resurfacing Night Serum. “It was very effective, yet gentle, and smelled incredible,” she adds.
Allure editors are also devotees to the Then I Met You Birch Milk Refining Toner. Digital beauty editor Devon Abelman soaks cotton pads with it and fashions them into her own sheet mask when her pores are acting out. If you’re looking for a high percentage of acids, the Ole Henriksen Dewtopia 20% Acid Night Treatment is the way to go for overnight success or splurge on the beloved Sunday Riley Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment.
Read more about acids in skin care:
Now, watch Pharell and his dermatologists discuss common skin care concerns: