The Best Lactic Acid Products At Every Price

The gentlest AHA can give your skin amazing results, and these three products are proof.
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The gentlest AHA can give your skin amazing results, and these three products are proof.

I love a good chemical exfoliant. I’ve raved about mandelic acid before, but my love for AHAs doesn’t end there.

Recently, in my never-ending quest for clear, hyperpigmentation-free skin, I’ve been branching out, and I’ve been especially loving lactic acid. Derived from dairy, lactic acid is an AHA that exfoliates the skin to even skin tone and prevent acne, while its humectant properties hydrate the skin. It is gentler than the ubiquitous glycolic acid, so it’s still suitable for sensitive skin, but it's also more available and accessible than mandelic acid, so it’s a terrific bet if you’re still waiting to give AHAs a try. 

Over the past few months, I’ve been testing out so many lactic acid products in every kind of base and at every concentration. Here are my top picks for the most effective products at every price point.

Silk Naturals 8% AHA Toner


At less thant $9, this is the most affordable lactic acid product I’ve come up with, and I’ve looked on the entire internet. As luck would have it, it’s a really lovely formula to, so if you’re feeling a little bit like so...


... this lactic acid toner is gold. GOLD, I SAY.

This toner is gentle enough for nightly use and has an extremely simple formula: water, aloe vera, and a couple of pH adjusters, so if your skin is sensitive and acne-prone, it won’t find much to quarrel with here. 

I swiped some on with a cotton pad after cleansing, and waited about 20 minutes for it to fully dry before applying moisturizer. I always wake up to smoother skin with reduced redness. The only downside is that because the concentration of lactic acid is relatively low, it will take longer to give you results. But you know, slow and steady or whatever. 

Makeup Artist’s Choice 40% Lactic Acid Peel

This next one is a fair bit more potent, and at $35 for one ounce, a bit pricier, too. I swear by MUAC’s at-home peels, and this one is no exception. 

Apply this peel once a week (following the included instructions carefully--nobody wants chemical burns) for big, hyperpigmentation-busting impact. Just one peel will give you smoother, glowier skin, and after about six weeks, you will see a major difference in pigmentation. 

For me, the drawbacks are that it contains alcohol, which dries my skin, and you can only use it once a week, so while it does a number on dark spots, it isn’t a regular enough usage schedule to ward off acne. If you’re not zit-prone, though, this may be all you need. 

If you’re still not convinced, they offer cheaper sample kits so you can feel it out before you commit.

Sunday Riley Good Genes Treatment


Holy crap, you guys. When Sunday Riley sent me this serum, I wanted so badly not to love it for the $105 price tag alone, but it works so, so well. 

The first morning I woke up after using it, I was staring slack-jawed in my mirror and disbelief. I think I actually, out loud, said “Woaaaaahhhhh” at myself. And every morning thereafter I’m still shocked. 

This serum has made the fastest visible difference on hyperpigmentation of any product I have ever used. It contains 40% lactic acid, just like the MUAC peel, but for reasons I do not understand, it can be used daily rather than weekly.  

In addition to the acid, Good Genes is packed with brightening licorice and anti-inflammatory arnica, which do a great deal in fighting uneven skin tone themselves. I know it is mad pricey, but I am already saving up to buy another bottle when this one runs out. It’s worth splashing out for, especially if you have a special event coming up that you want amazing skin for fast

Like buttah.

Like buttah.

You can also make the cost hurt a little less by using it once a week, overnight or as a mask, and using a less expensive product like the Silk Naturals toner to maintain in between. 

In the end, though, it more than satisfies my desire for instant gratification and never-need-foundation-again levels of beautiful skin.