Lactic Acid Peel - Why You Should Use It

Mild at-home peels offer instant results for dry, dull, or aging skin. Here's what you need to know for best results.

by Linda Robison

Afraid to try a lactic acid peel? Don’t be! These gentle, fruit acid based peels can offer quick benefits, especially for skin over 40.

Woman wondering about the benefits of lactic acid peels.

At-home peels are an inexpensive way to give your face a beautiful glow, with tighter, bouncy-looking skin.

They also help reduce the appearance of lines, wrinkles, and pores.

But, if the words “Acid Peel” conjures up images of a red, angry, peeling face…

Read on, because I have great news for you!

The excellent news is lactic acids, the kind you purchase without a prescription, are very gentle and surprisingly hydrating.

We’ll show how to choose them, use them, and the type of results you can expect.

What is lactic acid

Lactic Acid Definition

Lactic acid is a type of alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) that's derived from soured milk or fermented grapes and is considered the least irritating of all the AHA's on the market.

Are lactic acid peels good for your skin?

Yes, they are good for almost all skin types, but are especially helpful to improve the look of aging skin. The mild fruit acid helps dissolve the bond between dead skin cells.

This makes it easier to remove dead, damaged cells from the upper layers of the skin, revealing fresh new cells underneath.

Also, it's hydrating because it helps draw moisture into the skin, which makes it an excellent choice for aging, mature, dry, or sensitive skin.

How often do you need a lactic acid peel?

That depends on a few things:

  • what kind of peel you use
  • each individual needs
  • your age

Generally, you should start by following the directions on the product label.

When I was in my 40s, I used a mild, fruit based peel about once or twice a week. This fruit based lactic acid is so mild, you don't have to rinse it off and can use it around the delicate areas like under eyes without any issues.

See below for more info on this mild fruit based peel.

But, now in my 60s, I feel like I need something stronger a few months of the year to help keep those brown/age spots at bay and reduce the look of fine, crinkly lines/wrinkles.

Plus, the stronger peels give my skin a beautiful sheen. Not greasy shiny, just a healthy sheen.

NOTE: I usually use the stronger lactic acid peels during the winter months because long and direct sun exposure should be avoided when you're doing a peel treatment.

I follow the product suggestion by using the peel once every 14 days for 2 months in a row.

Then allow 1 month rest and doing it again for 2 months in a row.

See below for more info on this stronger lactic acid solution.

How do I know when I need to do a peel?

I generally can tell when it's time because my skin looks:

  • spotty
  • no longer has a nice sheen (or shine)
  • looks dry, dull
  • makeup and other products don't seem to glide on easily 

After a peel, my skin feels super smooth and almost slippery when it's wet. But, when it's time for a peel, my skin feels rough or bumpy.

Once you do an acid peel, you'll feel the difference in your skin and know when it's time.

Which is better, glycolic or lactic acid peel?

  • Lactic acid is milder and best suited for dry, sensitive skin
  • Glycolic is stronger and works best on combo skin

It is said that since glycolic acids may offer more dramatic results.

However, I found you can still get great, dramatic results with lactic acid by using a stronger concentration. Many people may not realize that the concentration for lactic peels range from 10-90%.

When I first started using lactic acid, I was getting great results, with a 15% concentration. Now, I'm up to a 35% concentration because my skin has adjusted to it. 

Which is better? 

It depends on your skin type and needs. I've always been a fan of lactic acids because my skin has always been on the dry side. Even as a teenager. So keep your skin needs in mind when choosing, as this is an individual choice.

Choose your lactic acid peel

Lactic Acid Products

Basically, you’re looking for a product to deliver a superficial peel at-home. However, lactic acid products vary from 10% to 90% concentration. And, the higher percentage can burn your skin if left on too long!

If you're new to chemical peels, it's best to start off with a mild and easy to use lactic acid product. It does a fantastic job of smoothing your complexion and brightening your skin.

Then after a few months, you can move up the stronger peels as your skin adjusts.

Mild Lactic Acid Peels

Start with a mild lactic acid toner that's fruit based.

If your skin is very sensitive, or you've never used a home chemical peel, look for a mild lactic acid with a 5-10 percent concentration. Anything higher might cause some irritation if you’ve never used a facial peel before.

I’ve been using a fruit acid exfoliant with a 10% concentration and 2.3 pH for years with no side effects and amazing results. It's so mild you don't have to rinse it off, and you can use it around the eyes and lips.

Lactic Acid Skin Peel 10% - Fruit Based

Strong Lactic Acid Peels

skin peelLactic acid solution and a cotton pad is all that's needed.

Stronger lactic acid products for quicker results.

Stronger lactic acid (range from 35% to 90% concentration) products offer significant rejuvenation without the downtime associated with professional skin peels. But, make sure to follow directions carefully.

However, if you don't follow directions exactly, you can risk a mild burn. Most of these peels are only left on the skin for 1-5 minutes and need to be neutralized with a mixture of water and baking soda.

Skin Beauty company makes stronger lactic acid products including 50%, 70% and 90%. It's always advisable to start with the 35% until your skin adjusts to the peels.

The company recommends you perform a series of peels (once a week) over a two-month period. Then stop for a month, then resume for two months. You can read more at the link below.

35%, 50%, 70% Lactic Acid Peels

How long does lactic acid take to peel skin?

In most brands, there is no downtime and results are usually seen right away. This is not like an in-office chemical peel. Usually, the dead skin (peel) is rinsed away with the solution.

Just make sure to rinse very well!

If you used a concentration that's stronger than your skin is used to, or you left it on too long, you might experience light peeling or slight redness for a day or two after the peel.

But this is rare, if you follow the directions.

What happens after a lactic acid peel?

If you used a peel appropriate for your skin type and followed the directions, your skin should feel smooth and have a nice glowy appearance. 

For some, the skin might feel a bit sensitive or look slight red. This has never happened to me.

Make sure to rinse well, especially in small areas like around the nose, mouth and corners of the eyes. If you miss an area, you might experience a bit of redness, sensitivity and flaking in those areas. This usually goes away in 2-3 days.

Also, make sure to moisturize well and always wear a sunscreen after each treatment. Finally, don't do peels on days you know you'll out in the sun for long periods of time.

Effects of lactic acid

Lactic acid treatments can modify the upper and lower layers of the skin's surface. Studies show they can change the firmness, thickness, texture, and smoothness of the skin and reduce the depth of fine lines and wrinkles.

Lactic acid also aids in increased cell turnover. This means it helps to "un-stick" or "un-glue" all those dead skin cells that just sit on top of your skin, making it look flaky, dry, and dull. 

Why is this important? Because dead skin cells can get stuck inside the tiny groves of lines (wrinkles) and pores - making them look broader and deeper than they are. Plus, exfoliating old skin cells helps encourage collagen renewal.


So how does skin benefit from a bi-weekly lactic acid peel? The benefits are many and the best part – you’ll see instant results.

Just after one treatment, most people notice a significant improvement in the tone, texture, and smoothness of the skin. You’ll notice a glowy, sort of bouncy skin appearance. And, the benefits increase with repeated application. I ALWAYS use my peel before a special event for that "extra glow". 

Also, because your skin is super smooth, your favorite moisturizing or anti-aging creams will be able to penetrate better – instead of just sitting on top of your skin.

The benefits of a mild lactic acid peel include:

  • smaller pores
  • cleaner skin
  • brighter skin tone
  • reduced appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
  • improved absorption of skincare products
  • improved hydratation
  • bouncier skin texture

Side effects

For Mild Peels (5-10%) Concentration

For the mild (5-10%) concentration peels or fruit acid toners, the side effects are pretty gentle. Some people with sensitive skin might experience slightly tighter or drier skin for a few days. But this usually goes away with over time.

However, as with any peel or exfoliant, your skin could be a bit sensitive to the sun for a few weeks. So it’s best to wear sunscreen (which you should do daily anyway).

Strong Peels (35%-90%) Concentration

With the stronger skin chemical peel (ranging from 35%-90%) - in addition to slight dryness, you may experience mild burning around sensitive areas like lips and nose or if you leave the product on too long.

Again, test a small area and get a feel for how your skin reacts. 

If you begin to feel a burning sensation, rinse immediately, and try to extend the time the next time you apply the peel.

Combining lactic acid and over-the-counter retinol creams

Also, if you’re using retinol creams (over-the-counter), don’t use on the peel on the same day you use lactic acid. Or do a patch test in a small area first to see how your skin will react. Most over-the-counter retinol creams are relatively mild, but to be on the safe side, test it first.

I use a retinol booster every day, and after 3-4 months of adjusting to the retinol, I am now able to add the a twice a week lactic acid peel to my skincare regime with no problem.

If you are using a prescription retinoid cream, any skin medications, or are under a dermatologist’s care, check with your doctor first.

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