Like a lot of chemical exfoliants, lactic acid is having its moment in the skin-care spotlight right now. And while the buzzy ingredient is certainly more intimidating than say, watermelon masks or "unicorn" scrubs, it can make a dramatic and positive difference to any complexion when usedregularly.
Lactic acid falls into the AHA, or alpha hydroxy acid, family of acids, and is considered one of the more gentle chemical exfoliators. Naturally derived from milk — it's what gives yogurt and sour milk that tang — lactic acid acts as a powerful exfoliant, working hard to lighten dark spots, reduce acne breakouts and blackheads, correct pH imbalances and improve the look of fine lines and wrinkles.
"Milder than a glycolic acid, lactic acid helps release dead skin cells from the surface of the skin," explains Calabasas-based dermatologist Dr. Anna Guanche. "This gives the skin's surface a more dewy, smooth look, as adherent skin flakes make skin look dull and sallow." Lactic acid in particular also has the extra benefit of helping to improve skin's natural moisture factor. According to Dr. Guanche, even the most sensitive skin types can handle lactic acid, but because it is also a humectant, it is especially great for anyone with extremely dry skin.
And while this all may sound ideal, there are still precautions that should be taken into consideration when using or trying lactic or any other acid. For New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman, the biggest mistake she sees being made is over-usage.
"I have patients who start using exfoliating pads, and the result after the first use is so amazing that they use it every day. By day four, they come to me with dry, irritated skin and blame the product," she explains. Her solution? "Start by using [your lactic acid products] every other day, only once, and work up to being able to use once or twice a day."
Whether you're looking to introduce lactic acid to your routine in a more frequent way with a cleanser or toner, or test out new go-to treatments or peels, we've rounded up 13 of the best lactic acid-infused products out there right now, from skin-care favorites like Drunk Elephant and The Ordinary. Tap through the gallery below to see (and shop!) them all.
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