Your Complete Guide to Lactic Acid Peels

Your Complete Guide to Lactic Acid Peels

Figuring out the perfect combination of skincare products to deliver clear, radiant skin can feel alternately like a full-time job and a fascinating journey. To help you arrive at the destination of this journey — flawless, glowing skin — let’s talk about one well-known miracle worker: lactic acid.

“Lactic acid peels can be helpful for many different skin types and in addressing a wide range of skin concerns.”

  • Shani Darden, esthetician

Lactic acid can be used as part of a serum or other skincare product, but it can also be formulated as part of a lactic acid peel. This procedure is well-loved both for its effectiveness and its versatility in addressing a wide range of complexion concerns. Plus, it can work for a wide range of skin types.

Wondering whether a lactic acid peel has a place in your product lineup? Let’s talk about what it is, how it works, and what it can offer your skin to help you make an informed decision.

What Is Lactic Acid?

Lactic acid is a type of alpha hydroxy acid, or AHA. Lactic acid is often derived from dairy sources such as milk, but it also occurs naturally within your body when you exercise. 

While the lactic acid found in skincare products is often synthetically derived, it can be comforting to know that lactic acid is one compound that both occurs in the natural world and is, in certain situations, familiar to your body.

When it comes to skincare, lactic acid is what’s known as a chemical exfoliant. It helps to exfoliate and renew your skin, loosening the bonds between your skin cells and allowing old, dull skin to be more easily sloughed away while revealing newer, brighter growth. 

Because lactic acid can lead to brighter, plumper-looking skin, as many AHAs do, it’s a common ingredient in many skincare products designed to support a youthful appearance. This is because, as we get older, our skin’s natural collagen production tends to slow down

This slow-down can result in visible signs of aging, like wrinkles and fine lines. Luckily, the exfoliating properties of lactic acid mean this ingredient can help your skin feel smoother over time.

But the thing that sets lactic acid apart from the rest of the AHA family is that, while other AHAs can be drying to your skin, lactic acid can help encourage a healthy skin barrier and support your skin’s ability to retain moisture, leading to smoother, plumped, more hydrated-looking skin.

On a related note, lactic acid is generally gentler and milder than other AHAs, which makes it a great option if you have sensitive, reactive, or dry skin and have struggled to integrate AHAs into your skincare routine previously.

What Is a Lactic Acid Peel?

A lactic acid peel is a type of chemical peel that uses lactic acid to help exfoliate the upper layers of your skin. While lactic acid peels tend to be gentle, they are still more powerful than what you might experience with a standard lactic acid product. 

Lactic acid peels are designed to remove dead skin cells, support your skin’s natural collagen production, and overall brighten your skin’s appearance.

Lactic acid is a common component of a chemical peel due to how gentle it is and its ability to hydrate your skin. If your skin is too sensitive for other chemical peels, a lactic acid peel may be an option for you.

What Are the Benefits of Lactic Acid Peels?

Using lactic acid as part of your skincare routine can be a good idea for many reasons. It offers the many benefits of chemical exfoliation without the same side effects that tend to come with other AHAs, making it the most versatile member of the AHA family. But when you dial up those benefits into a chemical peel, you can get even more out of a lactic acid product.

Chemical peels can be helpful if you have some particularly stubborn skincare concerns or if you’re just looking to give your complexion a boost before a special event. While using a lactic acid serum as part of your usual routine can have glowing effects, a lactic acid peel once or twice a week can amplify those effects.

Because of lactic acid’s hydrating properties, lactic acid peels can also help hydrate your skin, leading to a plumper, brighter complexion. This ability to help moisturize can make a huge difference regarding concerns around skin texture, too, especially if you’re struggling with flaking or redness due to dry or dehydrated skin. 

Moreover, lactic acid peels can be useful when it comes to addressing dark spots. Whether you’re looking to fade the appearance of breakout scars or minimize the appearance of fine lines, lactic acid can help to refresh and rejuvenate your skin, leading to a more even skin tone overall.

As I’ve touched on in other sections, lactic acid is known for being more gentle than other AHAs. That said, there is still a risk of side effects.

If you have a preexisting skin condition, lactic acid may not be best suited for you and your skin. Speak to a doctor or dermatologist before adding a new ingredient to your routine, especially if you have a diagnosed or suspected skin condition.

What To Expect From a Professional Lactic Acid Peel

If you want to get a lactic acid peel and prefer to seek treatment from a professional — or if you’re looking for a deep chemical peel that can only be done by a pro — there are a few things to keep in mind. 

First and foremost, it’s important to consult your dermatologist before seeking an outside esthetician if your dermatologist doesn’t provide lactic acid peels. You want to be sure that the products you’re using won’t interfere with your skin’s health.

Second, it can take up to two weeks to recover from a professional deep peel. Your skin may need to be protected completely and treated very gently for up to two weeks after your treatment. 

Lighter peels, on the other hand, may not require any downtime at all. Your provider should give you specific aftercare recommendations after your treatment, and it’s important to follow them to get the best results.

Lastly, although a chemical peel may feel necessary if acne scars or visible signs of aging are eating away at your self-esteem, they’re likely considered cosmetic by your insurance company. As such, you’ll have to pay out of pocket unless you want to try a lactic acid peel from the comfort of your own home.

Can You Do a Lactic Acid Peel at Home?

Professional chemical peels are usually deeper, more comprehensive treatments than the chemical peels you can perform at home, simply because the products available to you over the counter aren’t as strong as the ones available to a licensed aesthetician.

That said, at-home peels are a great option for routine maintenance or if you’re willing to be a bit more patient about results! They work particularly well when you combine them with a brightening and smoothing skincare routine. 

While you shouldn’t do an at-home chemical peel every day, you can start using them once every other week and slowly build up to using them once a week, depending on what your skin tolerates. It’s also important to make sure you apply your chemical peels at night since they can cause your skin to be slightly more sensitive to sun damage.

The good news is that doing a chemical peel at home has never been easier. Allow me to walk you through the steps of applying my Triple Acid Signature Peel from the comfort of your own home.

1. Cleanse Your Skin

Start your peel with a clean slate by washing your face using my Cleansing Serum. My luxurious lathering cleanser melts away makeup and other pore-clogging impurities without stripping your skin of its natural oils. This means that you’ll be left with clean, smooth skin that feels plump and hydrated rather than stripped and tight.

Once you’ve washed your face, you’re ready for your lactic acid peel.

2. Apply Your Lactic Acid Peel

Using the brush that comes included with my Triple Acid Solution Peel, apply an even layer of the peel. It’s important to avoid getting too close to your lip or eye area, both of which can be particularly sensitive. If you’re new to a lactic acid peel, start by leaving it on for one minute, and over time you can build up to two minutes at most.

Some slight tingling with this step is perfectly normal, but it’s important not to remove the lactic acid peel solution just yet. This will give the lactic acid, glycolic acid, and mandelic acid time to work on your skin. Just think of all of the deep cleaning, pore refining, exfoliation, and overall brightening you’re experiencing while that tingle happens!

3. Neutralize the Acid With a Mask

Next, without washing off the lactic acid peel, apply my Kaolin Clay Neutralizing Mask, which is also included as part of this two-step exfoliating peel. Massage the clay mask into your skin over the peel solution, and let it sit for up to 10 minutes. Your skin may tingle again, and although it should dissipate, if it gets too uncomfortable, you can wipe it away after one minute of use.

Kaolin clay can help draw out impurities from your skin and prevent clogged pores, while the bentonite clay in this mask really digs in deep to extract any trapped dirt or oil. 

4. Wash Off & Hydrate

After ten minutes, you can rinse off both of these products with lukewarm water. Follow up your two-step treatment with my Moisture Boost Plumping Serum - Shani Darden and a nourishing moisturizer like my Hydration Peptide Cream. Packed with hydrating and plumping peptides and replenishing squalane, this moisturizer can work wonders when paired with the moisturizing action of the lactic acid in your peel.

You can repeat this process once every week in place of your typical evening skincare routine. The next morning, apply an antioxidant serum like vitamin C serum to help protect your skin from free radical damage. It’s also important to apply sunscreen at the end of your morning routine and throughout the day.

It’s even important to wear sunscreen if you’re not going outside, as UVA rays can still affect your skin through windows and can undo all of the benefits of your lactic acid peel.

The Takeaway

The wide world of skincare products can feel overwhelming, but locking on to a handful of key, science-backed ingredients can help you navigate it with ease. Lactic acid peels can be helpful for many different skin types and in addressing a wide range of skin concerns, and they can really make a huge difference when it comes to dark spots, visible signs of aging, and uneven skin texture.

Armed with this knowledge and my complete guide to lactic acid peels, you’re one step closer to the even, radiant complexion you deserve. To learn more about how to make your skincare work for you, head on over to my blog.


Epidermal and Dermal Effects of Topical Lactic Acid | National Library of Medicine

Alpha Hydroxy Acids | Food and Drug Administration

Characteristics of Aging Skin | National Library of Medicine

Lactic and Lactobionic Acids as Typically Moisturizing Compounds | National Library of Medicine


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