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    September 29, 2021 4 min read

    Working With Lactic Acid

    Lactic acid is a well known alpha hydroxy acid, exfoliant and pH adjuster, but did you know it can also act as a humectant and moisturiser? It has an array of uses, but exactly how do you use it in formulations - let’s find out.

    Lactic acid is produced by fermentation of carbohydrates, and also occurs naturally in the body - when it builds up it can give you a ‘stitch’. It is a clear to brownish coloured liquid, has a pH: <2 and it is soluble in water and glycerine.

    Alpha hydroxy acids have been shown to promote smoother, younger looking skin by increasing the rate of cell renewal, exfoliating the top layer of skin, helping smooth and even complexion, keep pores unclogged, brighten the skin and even fade dark marks and discoloration. As an AHA, lactic acid can help stimulate collagen and strengthen the skin, which equals fewer fine lines and wrinkles. No wonder we’ve all heard good things about it!

    NB: when using AHAs in any form it is advised to be extra careful in the sun as they can make the skin more sensitive to sun exposure.


    Using Lactic Acid In Formulations

    Lactic acid is recommended to be used in formulas from 0.5-10%, and it should be added to the cool down phase or cold processed as it is heat sensitive. Depending on the kind of product you make, you will need to check the final pH of your formulation so that it is not too low. If the pH of an emulsion drops too low it may destabilise and you’ll end up with separation. So please adjust the pH if necessary.


    Creams and Lotions

    As a humectant and moisturiser in creams and lotions, lactic acid should be added at 0.5-2%. You will need to check the pH as it can destabilise a formula if the pH drops too low.

    f you aren’t ready to formulate a lactic acid cream from scratch, you can easily add it to a cream base to get the benefits. 

    Easy Cream With Lactic Acid

    97.5%  Escentia cream base

    2.5%  lactic acid

    glass jar

    Weigh out the ingredients, blend together well and decant into a jar - that’s it! This gives a 2% lactic acid concentration so is easily suitable for everyday use.


    Hydrosols and Toners

    You can add it at 0.5% to a hydrosol or toner for a moisturising, plumping effect.

    Toner With Lactic Acid

    99.5%  hydrosol of choice

    0.5%  lactic acid

    Weigh out the ingredients and blend well to incorporate. You can use it daily as a spritzer or apply with a cotton pad as a toner, but remember to wear sunscreen as lactic acid is still an AHA that can make your skin sensitive to sunlight.


    Exfoliating Peels

    You can also make an AHA peel using lactic acid, xanthan gum gel, aloe vera and any other actives you like. We recommend keeping an eye on the pH here, and keeping it above 2.5-3, as products with a pH of 2 and below are typically only used under professional guidance. 

    Exfoliating peels should be used sparingly about once a week. 

    Aloe & Lactic Acid Peel

    20g  xanthan gum gel

    1.5g  lactic acid

    Make up a portion of xanthan gum gel and weigh out 20g. You can include 50%  aloe vera as part of the liquid in your gel if you like. You can also play around with using different kinds of  glycerites such as cucumber instead of plain glycerine. Learn how to make a xanthan gum gel here:  Fun With Plant Based Gels

    Add in 1.5g lactic acid and add it to the gel. This gives a final lactic acid concentration of 5.5% which is decent for a peel. You can go higher if you want but we don’t recommend going over 8-10% lactic acid without professional guidance.

    Apply the peel and leave on for 5-10 minutes then rinse off and apply a calming moisturiser.


    pH Adjuster

    In formulations, lactic acid is also used as a pH adjuster to lower the pH. As it is quite strong, you can quickly adjust the pH level and very little is needed. You can add the 80% strength solution directly but as it is very powerful it can quickly lower the pH which may require re-adjusting up, so we suggest rather making a dilution of a lower strength as a pH adjuster. 


    Diluting Lactic Acid

    Lactic acid comes in different strengths and the one we have available is 80%. But what if you need a lower % lactic acid solution? Here’s how to dilute it:

    Formula: C1V1 = C2V2

    Where C1 is the concentration of the starting solution and V1 is the volume of the starting solution;

    and C2 is the concentration of the final solution and V2 is the volume of the final solution.

    You can decide what you want your final volume/amount to be (V2) which then allows you to calculate the starting amount (V1). You’ll then know how much water to top it up with!

    Let’s calculate.

    The starting concentration C1 is always going to be 80% (or 0.8) since that is the concentration of the lactic acid we have.

    If you want a 10% dilution, C2 will be 10% or 0.1. And let’s say you need to end up with 10g of it (your V2). 

    To calculate V1, we reshuffle the equation to look like this: V1 = C2V2/C1

    V1 = (0.1 x 10)/0.8 = 1.25

    So your starting volume is 1.25g and your ending volume is 10g, therefore you add 10 - 1.25g = 8.75g water!

    We’ve worked out a few dilutions and put them in easier terms here, for those who don’t like math:

    1 part 80% solution + 1 part water = 40% solution

    1 part 80% solution + 3 parts water = 20% solution

    1 part 80% solution + 7 parts water = 10% solution


    We hope you enjoy playing around with lactic acid and get to experience its many benefits for the skin!

    8 Responses


    December 17, 2021

    Hi Shay, that sounds great! A higher % of lactic acid can destabilise some formulas so you’ll need to just watch out for that and perhaps lower it if need be, But have fun and experiment!


    December 17, 2021

    Hi, I’m interested in making a 12% lactic acid body lotion for personal use. I plan to mix the 80% lactic acid with a base like aqueous cream (200g), then lower/adjust the ph with baking soda. Is this alright or would I be off to the wrong start? Also, how long would it last? Thanks.


    November 10, 2021

    Hi Carien, you don’t need to dilute the lactic acid here, but I would perhaps look at your measurements and amounts as you are mixing grams and mils and they are not the same so this may be messing up the ratios. Decide on a % lactic acid amount you want, eg. the recipe above uses 2.5% lactic acid and 97.5% cream base. For simplicity’s sake 100% = 100g, so then you’ll need 2.5g lactic acid and 97.5g cream base. This is quite different to what you are doing, which is possibly the reason for the separation :)

    Carien Morkel
    Carien Morkel

    November 10, 2021

    Hi there
    Still trying to make my cream and it keep splitting. I’ve added baking soda as well and it still happens. I’m obviously doing something wrong. Should I dilute the lactic acid first to lower the %? And then add to base? I’m trying to add 2ml Lactic acid to 40g cream base. I’ve also added it super slowly and it still formed water drops after a few hrs. Help!

    Bianca Lira
    Bianca Lira

    October 11, 2021

    Thank you so much for this post! I can not wait to start formulating and playing around with Lactic Acid!


    October 07, 2021

    Hi Priscilla, so glad you enjoyed the post and using lactic acid! :) yes it is quite strong so do avoid any sensitive areas.

    Lye is a stronger alkaline than baking soda, so it can be easier to adjust the pH up when it’s very low – well spotted!

    Priscilla Taljaard
    Priscilla Taljaard

    October 07, 2021

    Also, ive found asjusting very low pH was easier with a Lye solution than with a baking soda solution!

    Priscilla Taljaard
    Priscilla Taljaard

    October 07, 2021

    Thanks for this informative post. Really enjoying the effect even on my sensitive skin. I did see i need to avoid spots of psoriasis prone areas when applying my lactic acid body cream, but that is just because of the psoriasis. Overall so satisfied and see tremendous good plumping results! Thnx also for a great product and always answering all my questions!

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