We present a fluorescence-based approach for determination of the permeability of small molecules across the membranes of lipid vesicles and living cells. With properly designed experiments, the method allows us to assess the membrane physical properties both in vitro and in vivo. We find that the permeability of weak acids increases in the order of benzoic > acetic > formic > lactic, both in synthetic lipid vesicles and the plasma membrane of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, but the permeability is much lower in yeast (one to two orders of magnitude). We observe a relation between the molecule permeability and the saturation of the lipid acyl chain (i.e., lipid packing) in the synthetic lipid vesicles. By analyzing wild-type yeast and a manifold knockout strain lacking all putative lactic acid transporters, we conclude that the yeast plasma membrane is impermeable to lactic acid on timescales up to ∼2.5 h.