Mandelic acid is in desperate need of a PR makeover. This under-the-radar gem is practically visible only to people with sensitive skin. So you won’t find it unless you’re looking for it. Admittedly, it doesn’t have as much research behind it. However, you can’t underestimate the fact that it belongs to the royal family of hydroxy acids. The name alpha-hydroxy acid carries a lot of weight and if you take a closer look at mandelic acid, you’ll see the family resemblance. Find below everything you need to know about the use of mandelic acid in skincare.
What Is Mandelic Acid?
Mandelic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) that functions as a chemical exfoliant in skincare. It’s derived from bitter almonds. Mandelic acid is good for treating signs of aging, acne, and hyperpigmentation. With a molecular weight of 152.15 g/mol, mandelic acid is one of the gentlest exfoliants (1).
How Does Mandelic Acid Work in Skincare?
As a chemical exfoliant, mandelic acid prompts skin turnover. As the dead skin cells detach from each other, they shed off easier, revealing healthier and smoother skin.
But mandelic acid, as opposed to the bad boy of the AHAs family -glycolic acid, does this slowly and gently. That way, irritation, stinging, or burning are reduced significantly. That’s why mandelic acid is good for exfoliating sensitive skin (2).
What Are The Benefits of Mandelic Acid?
Mandelic acid shares the common advantages of AHAs. But it has its own thing that makes it special too. Here are the most important benefits of mandelic acid in skincare.
- Mandelic acid is gentler than other AHAs. It exfoliates the skin with minimal to no irritation, which makes it suitable for people with sensitive skin.
- As an exfoliant, it promotes skin turnover. It renews the skin, helps with collagen production, and improves the look of fine lines and wrinkles too.
- Possibly due to its exfoliating benefits, mandelic acid reduces hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and acne marks too.
- Mandelic acid also reduces acne (3). Its anti-bacterial benefits have an edge over other possibly irritating acids. That’s why mandelic acid is a great option for people who are dealing with acne but can’t tolerate retinoids or benzoyl peroxide.
- By resurfacing the skin, it helps with congestion too.
What Are The Side Effects of Mandelic Acid?
As with any AHA, mandelic acid still has the potential to irritate and cause redness. Available commercial use, which is between 5% and 10%, doesn’t seem to have made it to clinical studies.
They are more in the range of 30% and 40% and in dermatological procedures. So there’s no literature to refer to. We know it’s gentle, but I guess nobody tested its limits.
Given the fact that people with sensitive skin are the ones that are interested in mandelic acid the most, you can never be too safe when you have sensitive skin. So proceed with caution. And as always, remember to wear sunscreen as your skin may be too sensitive towards sunlight especially in the first weeks.
Another thing to note here, though I’m not sure if it’s a side effect per se, there was a study done on mature women between the ages of 49 and 71 (4). A chemical peel with 40% mandelic acid resulted in an increase in sebum production on the face except for the T-zone.
Keep in mind that the skin tends to get dry as we age and wrinkles become more visible. So at some point, you wish your skin was more oily. The study suggests that mandelic acid is a great peeling agent and sebum regulator for aging women who are dealing with dryness-related skin issues.
This was a chemical peel with a much higher concentration. So I’m not sure if it applies in any way to products we use in skincare products. But it’s something to keep in mind.
How To Use Mandelic Acid?
If you’re into mandelic acid, chances are you have sensitive skin, or maybe rosacea. So right off the bat, use mandelic acid a few times a week at first to test the waters. As someone with rosacea, I’d never go for more than 4 times a week with any type of acid.
You may be wondering if you can combine other actives with mandelic acid. As a general rule of thumb, avoid combining it with other alpha-hydroxy acids and beta-hydroxy acids in the same routine. Again, avoid pairing it with retinoids or benzoyl peroxide.
And maybe stop with the acid mania. If you have sensitive skin, not layering acids is the safest way to go. Trying to find out which acid did what is a nightmare!
You can use mandelic acid both in the morning and in the evening. To get the most benefits, apply mandelic acid on clean, dry skin and wait for it to dry before moving on to the other steps.
Read Next: The Best Mandelic Acid Serums
- Taylor, M. B. (1999). Summary of Mandelic Acid for the Improvement of Skin Conditions. Cosmetic Dermatology.
- Castillo, D. E., & Keri, J. E. (2018). Chemical peels in the treatment of acne: patient selection and perspectives. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology, 11, 365–372. https://doi.org/10.2147/CCID.S137788
- Sarkar, R., Ghunawat, S., & Garg, V. K. (2019). Comparative Study of 35% Glycolic Acid, 20% Salicylic-10% Mandelic Acid, and Phytic Acid Combination Peels in the Treatment of Active Acne and Postacne Pigmentation. Journal of cutaneous and aesthetic surgery, 12(3), 158–163. https://doi.org/10.4103/JCAS.JCAS_135_18
- Wójcik, A., Kubiak, M., & Rotsztejn, H. (2013). Influence of azelaic and mandelic acid peels on sebum secretion in ageing women. Postepy dermatologii i alergologii, 30(3), 140–145. https://doi.org/10.5114/pdia.2013.35614