the best lactic acid exfoliants

Can you exfoliate sensitive skin with acids?

Short answer: it depends on the acid. Glycolic is out. Lactic is in.

Long answer? Glad you asked…

What Is Lactic Acid And Why Should You Use It?

Lactic acid is the gentlest member of the Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) family.

Like all AHAs, it works by dissolving the “glue” that holds skin cells together. When the top layer of damaged skin cells sloughs off, skin is softer. Smoother. Brighter.

Lactic acid goes a step further. It’s also a humectant, a fancy way of saying it attracts water from the air into the skin. Or, put even more simply, it exfoliates and hydrates skin at the same time.

The best part? Lactic acid is so gentle, even sensitive skin can use it. 

The catch? Lactic acid is rarely used alone. It’s usually paired with glycolic acid, which is not suitable for sensitive skin. But fret not, I’ve found a couple of products where lactic acid plays solo (and one where it doesn’t šŸ˜‰ ).

Here are the best exfoliants with lactic acid even sensitive skin can tolerate:


Is your sensitive skin throwing a tantrum every time you use something new? Download your FREE “Skincare Ingredients To Avoid” cheatsheet to find out what the most common culprits are and cut them out of your skincare routine:


Best On A Budget: The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA 2% ($6.79)

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA 2% uses a very mild concentration of lactic acid to slough off dead cells. Plus, Tasmania pepperberry extract to soothe any potential irritation. Add hyaluronic acid, a moisture magnet that attracts water from the air into your skin, and you’ve got a clever little exfoliant that plumps up your skin, boosts its hydration and makes it glow. Seriously, if even this bothers your skin, stick to a washcloth.

Available at: Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty and Sephora

Related: Why You Should Add Hyaluronic Acid To Your Skincare Routine

the ordinary lactic acid 10 + ha 2 01

Best For Dry Skin: The Inkey List Lactic Acid Serum ($12.99)

The Inkey List Lactic Acid Serum is a more powerful budget serum than The Ordinary one above. For starters, it has 10% lactic acid – that’s double the exfoliating power. Plus, a sprinkle of hyaluronic acid and castor oil to hydrate dry skin. The watery texture sinks in quickly, layers well with other skincare products and is suitable for all skin types – but dry skin that’s also sensitive will benefit from it the most.

Available at: Cult Beauty, Feel Unique, Look Fantastic and Sephora

Related: The Best Skincare Routine For Dry Skin

Best For Brightening: Sunday Riley Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment – US Version ($105.00)

Warning: In Europe, Sunday Riley Good Genes contains Glycolic Acid, Not Latic Acid

Do you need to spend $100+ to get your lactic acid fix? Nope. But if you’re into luxury skincare, Sunday Riley Good Genes is one of the few products that’s worth splurging on. It has enough lactic acid to do the exfoliating job easily, which alone is enough to give your skin a subtle glow. Plus, it has a sprinkle of licorice extract, a natural skin-brightener. If you have mild pigmentation, this is worth checking out. For severe hyperpigmentation, check out these other (more effective) options.

Available at: Sephora

Related: Lactic Acid Vs Glycolic Acid: Which One Is Right For You?