Lactic Acid

What is it?

Lactic acid is part of a class of chemical compounds known as alpha hydroxy acids (AHA). It is a white, water-soluble solid or clear liquid that can be produced naturally or chemically synthesized. The natural production method features bacterial fermentation of carbohydrates (sugars, starches). Lactic acid is made from beet sugar, cane sugar, corn and tapioca. Lactic acid is frequently used as an exfoliant and in anti-wrinkle products, and in our body wash, it functions as a natural preservative.

Lactic acid is also a substance the human body produces. When a person exercises, their body uses oxygen to break down glucose for energy. During intense exercise, if there isn’t enough oxygen available to complete the process, lactic acid is made. The body then converts lactic acid to energy without using oxygen.

Lactic acid is also one of the acids that can be produced in the mouth and is responsible for causing caries.

Sourdough breads get their flavor from lactic acid.

What does it do?

In our products it is used as a natural preservative. It prevents the growth of microbes in our products to keep them safe for our consumers.

How is it made?

Our Stewardship Model guides us to select ingredients which have been processed in a manner that supports our philosophy of human and environmental health.

The lactic acid we use in our body wash is produced by the fermentation of sugar, which is sourced from corn but may also be made from beet sugar, cane sugar and tapioca. The corn sugar is fermented with lactic acid bacteria which convert the sugar into an acid. It is also possible to produce through fermentation of milk or whey from animals and so is listed on Peta’s Animal Derived Ingredients List as a caution to verify source if you are trying to avoid animal ingredients.1

As mentioned above, lactic acid can also be made synthetically through chemical addition of hydrogen cyanide to acetaldehyde (from coal or crude oil) and subsequent hydrolysis of lactonitrile with hydrochloric acid and ammonium chloride.

What are the alternatives?

Tom’s of Maine uses multiple different natural preservatives in our personal care products, like benzoic acid, lactic acid and gluconic acid.  Other commonly used synthetic preservatives include sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, imidazolidinyl urea, and DMDM hydantoin, among others. Imidazolidinyl urea and DMDM hydantoin are "formaldehyde donors", which act by releasing microbiocidal levels of formaldehyde. While formaldehyde and formaldehyde donors are safe when used at approved regulatory levels, we recognize that consumers have questions. Therefore, Tom's of Maine does not use formaldehyde donors as a preservative system in any of our products.

Is this the right option for me?

Lactic acid is approved by the Food and Drug Administration as safe for use in food.2

Tom’s of Maine recognizes that no two people are alike, and even with naturally derived ingredients, some individuals may develop an allergic reaction that is unique to them. As with any product, be sure to discontinue use if you experience discomfort or other indications that the product may not be appropriate for your individual body chemistry.