You have probably heard of glycolic acid and lactic acid, or even you might be familiar with glycolic acid and lactic acid chemical peels. But there is a lesser-known gentlest fellow on the block in the form of mandelic acid. Let’s deep dive into this multitasking ingredient your skincare routine could be missing.

What is mandelic acid?

Mandelic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) derived from bitter almonds. (The most common AHAs are sugarcane-derived glycolic acid and lactic acid sourced from milk.) These AHAs can even be synthetically produced.

Among AHA counterparts, mandelic acid has a larger molecular structure. For example, its molecules are twice the size compared to glycolic acid. These larger molecules penetrate the skin much slower than AHAs with smaller molecule sizes. Therefore, mandelic acid is the mildest and less likely to cause redness or irritation. 

Benefits of Mandelic Acid

  • Gentlest exfoliation for enhancing texture
    Like other types of AHAs, mandelic acid works by exfoliating the skin. It sloughs the top layer (epidermis) by loosening the bonds that hold dead cells on the skin’s surface and reveals new skin hidden underneath. The exfoliated skin feels softer and smoother and looks brighter and younger.
  • Anti-acne activity
    The chemical exfoliation helps cell renewal and unclog pores resulting in fewer acne breakouts. Mandelic acid also has antibacterial properties (whereas glycolic acid does not), keeping acne at bay.
  • Fades hyperpigmentation
    Exfoliation with mandelic acid helps improved cell turnover. For this reason, mandelic acid helps reduce dark spots, discoloration, and sun damage. Mandelic acid has been shown to fade melasma for a more even complexion.
  • Addresses fine lines and wrinkles
    As we age, collagen production decreases. Chemical peels with mandelic acid have been shown to stimulate collagen production, which helps soften the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, leaving skin with a more youthful appearance.

Recent Popularity due to safety profile

With its nearly-all-skin-safety profile, mandelic acid is becoming popular now. Even people with sensitive skin and rosacea can often use mandelic acid without any irritation. Moreover, unlike other AHAs, mandelic acid works best for deeper skin tones that are genetically prone to discoloration and melasma because it does not trigger inflammation, photosensitivity, and hyperpigmentation.

Even though mandelic acid is thought to be gentle on the skin, it is best to speak to a professional before starting. Your dermatologist can give you guidance or a treatment plan with high-strength chemical peel in a clinical setting based on your individual needs.

Side Effects

Like all AHAs, mandelic acid increases sensitivity to UVA rays. So, slathering an SPF 30 or above during the day is non-negotiable if you want to protect the skin and hold the glow. 

How to add mandelic acid into your skincare routine?

Skin experts advise that it is best to use small amounts at a low strength to start with. Use twice or thrice weekly and work up to daily use. After a few applications, the skin usually builds up a tolerance for everyday use. Apply mandelic acid-containing product as part of your nighttime skincare routine, after cleansing and before moisturizing. Make sure to do a patch test if you are newbie. And, always follow the manufacturer’s directions.

What are the acids that pair well and those that don’t work with mandelic acid?

Given it is the gentlest, mandelic acid could be combined with most skincare actives. They include hyaluronic acid, Sodium PCA, Niacinamide (Vitamin B3). But, you cannot layer mandelic acid at the same time with other AHAs or retinol products that can cause excessive dryness and irritation.