Potassium Lactate: What Is It, Skin Benefits, Cosmetic Uses & Side Effects

Fact-Checker: Devina Handayani
This article was last updated on: November 25, 2023
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Every product seems to boast a complex list of ingredients, many with names that sound more at home in a chemistry lab than in your bathroom cabinet. These scientific names, while accurate, can make understanding what you’re applying to your skin a daunting task.

One such ingredient that might pop up on the back of your favorite moisturizer or serum is Potassium Lactate. This component, despite its scientific-sounding name, plays a significant role in the formulation of various skincare and cosmetic products.

In this article, we delve into the specifics of Potassium Lactate. We’ll explore what it is, its benefits for the skin, how it’s used in cosmetics and any potential side effects you should be aware of.

What is Potassium Lactate?

Potassium Lactate, often listed in cosmetic ingredients under the same name, is a key component in various skincare and cosmetic products. This ingredient may occasionally be referred to by other names, such as E326, Potassium Salt, and 2-Hydroxypropanoic Acid.

It is produced by neutralizing lactic acid, which is derived from the fermentation of sugars found in corn and beets. This process results in a clear, syrup-like liquid that is soluble in water. Potassium Lactate serves multiple purposes within cosmetic formulations. Primarily, it functions as a humectant, which means it helps in retaining moisture in the skin. Additionally, it acts as a buffering agent, helping to maintain the right pH balance in products.

In terms of concentration, Potassium Lactate is typically used in varying percentages, depending on the product and its intended use. However, these concentrations are carefully calculated to be effective yet gentle on the skin.

This ingredient is rarely sold as a stand-alone product in the cosmetic world. Instead, it’s predominantly found as part of a wider formulation of ingredients, contributing to the product’s overall effectiveness, texture, and stability.

Who Can Use Potassium Lactate?

Potassium Lactate is a versatile ingredient suitable for a wide range of skin types. Due to its moisturizing and pH-regulating properties, it’s particularly beneficial for individuals with dry or sensitive skin. However, its gentle nature makes it appropriate for use on all skin types, contributing to hydration and overall skin health.

This ingredient is also suitable for vegans and vegetarians. The reason for its compatibility lies in its sourcing; Potassium Lactate is derived from non-animal sources, specifically the fermentation of sugars in plants like corn and beets. This plant-based origin makes it an ideal choice for those adhering to vegan or vegetarian lifestyles.

Concerning its use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, Potassium Lactate is generally considered safe. Its external application and the concentrations used in cosmetic products are unlikely to pose any risk. However, as with any skincare ingredient, it is always advisable for pregnant or breastfeeding women to consult with a healthcare provider before introducing new products into their skincare routine.

Potassium Lactate Skin Benefits

Potassium Lactate offers several benefits to the skin, each rooted in its unique properties and the way it interacts with skin cells:

  • Moisture Retention: As a humectant, Potassium Lactate attracts water molecules to the skin. It helps to maintain hydration by drawing moisture from the environment and locking it into the skin. This process not only hydrates the skin but also helps to maintain a supple and plump appearance.
  • Enhanced Skin Barrier Function: By contributing to the skin’s hydration, Potassium Lactate indirectly supports the strengthening of the skin’s barrier. A well-hydrated skin barrier is crucial for protecting the skin from environmental stressors and preventing moisture loss.
  • Balanced Skin pH: The buffering properties of Potassium Lactate help to maintain the skin’s natural pH balance. The skin’s pH is crucial for its overall health and function, including its ability to fend off harmful bacteria and maintain moisture levels.
  • Soothing Effects: For those with sensitive or irritated skin, Potassium Lactate can provide soothing benefits. Its ability to help balance the skin’s pH and maintain hydration can alleviate feelings of tightness or discomfort.

It’s important to note that the beneficial effects of Potassium Lactate are not permanent. To maintain these benefits, it’s necessary to use products containing this ingredient consistently as part of a regular skincare routine.

Potassium Lactate’s Non-active Cosmetic Uses

In the context of cosmetics, “non-active” refers to ingredients that do not directly contribute to the primary purpose of the product (such as color or fragrance in a moisturizer) but are crucial for its overall formulation and efficacy.

Potassium Lactate’s non-active uses, related to its buffering function, include:

  • Maintaining Product Stability: As a buffering agent, Potassium Lactate helps maintain the pH of cosmetic products, which is essential for the stability and effectiveness of the formulation. A stable pH ensures that the product performs as intended over time and does not degrade or become less effective.
  • Enhancing Other Ingredients’ Efficacy: By keeping the product at an optimal pH, Potassium Lactate can enhance the efficacy of other active ingredients. Many active ingredients in skincare products have a preferred pH range in which they work best, and maintaining this pH can maximize their benefits.
  • Preventing Irritation: A balanced pH in cosmetic products is also important for preventing skin irritation. Products with a pH that is too high or too low can disrupt the skin’s natural pH balance, leading to irritation, dryness, or other skin issues. Potassium Lactate helps in ensuring the product is compatible with the skin’s natural pH.

These non-active uses are based on the official functions of Potassium Lactate as a buffering and skin conditioning agent, underscoring its importance in the overall formulation of cosmetic products.

Potassium Lactate Potential Side Effects

While Potassium Lactate is generally considered safe and effective for use in cosmetics, it’s important to recognize that side effects and reactions can vary from person to person. This variability is often due to individual differences in skin type, underlying skin conditions, and sensitivities. Each person’s skin reacts uniquely to various ingredients, depending on their skin’s characteristics and overall health.

Potential side effects and interactions include:

  • Skin Irritation: In rare cases, Potassium Lactate can cause skin irritation, resulting in redness, itching, or a burning sensation. This reaction is more likely in individuals with sensitive or compromised skin barriers.
  • Allergic Reactions: Although uncommon, allergic reactions to Potassium Lactate can occur. Symptoms may include rash, hives, or swelling, particularly in individuals with known allergies to lactic acid derivatives.
  • pH Imbalance: Overuse or high concentrations of Potassium Lactate in a product could potentially disrupt the skin’s natural pH balance, leading to dryness or irritation.

If you experience any of these side effects while using a product containing Potassium Lactate, it’s advisable to discontinue use immediately and consult a dermatologist or healthcare provider. They can provide guidance on whether the reaction is due to Potassium Lactate or another ingredient in the product.

Adverse reactions to Potassium Lactate are rare, and for most people, this ingredient is a safe and effective addition to their skincare routine. However, it’s always prudent to conduct a patch test before using a new product. Our patch testing guide offers a step-by-step approach to safely test new skincare products, reducing the risk of adverse reactions and ensuring compatibility with your skin.

Comedogenic Rating

Potassium Lactate is given a comedogenic rating of 0, which means it is non-comedogenic. This rating implies that Potassium Lactate does not clog pores or contribute to the formation of acne.

This characteristic is due to its water-soluble nature and ability to attract moisture without leaving a heavy or greasy residue on the skin. Consequently, Potassium Lactate is suitable for use by individuals who are prone to acne or breakouts.


Navigating the world of skincare often involves a blend of experimentation, trial and error, and, ultimately, consistency once you find what works for your skin. Potassium Lactate, with its unique properties, offers both non-active and active effects that can immediately benefit the skin. Its ability to enhance moisture retention, balance skin pH, and contribute to product stability makes it a valuable ingredient in skincare formulations.

Potassium Lactate may not be the most widely recognized or talked-about ingredient in skincare, but its effectiveness is notable. It’s a common ingredient found in many products, similar to other popular humectants like glycerin and hyaluronic acid; these ingredients share the ability to attract and retain moisture, making them staples in hydrating skincare formulations.

Results from using products containing Potassium Lactate can typically be observed over a period of consistent use. While some benefits like hydration can be noticed almost immediately, the full effects, particularly on skin barrier function and overall skin health, are more gradual.

For those concerned about incorporating Potassium Lactate into their skincare routine, it’s reassuring to know that it is generally well-tolerated by most skin types and has a low risk of causing irritation or breakouts. Its versatility and effectiveness make it a reliable choice for various skincare goals, from basic hydration to more complex formulation stability in cosmetic products.

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