When you’re shopping for a new skincare product—no matter what your individual skincare needs might be—you probably come across a lot of acid-based ingredients. Salicylic acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid: There are all sorts of options. But you may not have heard of mandelic acid and what it can do for your skin.
Here’s everything you need to know about what mandelic acid is, how you can use it, potential risks and which best 11 mandelic products to buy.
What is Mandelic Acid?
Mandelic acid has, thus far, been primarily relegated to use in dermatologists’ offices. However, with the ingredient’s growing popularity, more and more skincare brands are starting to offer at-home mandelic acid solutions.
Dr. Jennifer Davis Alexander, skin scientist at drjenknowsskin.com says, “Mandelic acid is great for sensitive skin or anyone who wants to try AHAs for the first time. Due to its large molecule size, it does not penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin making it milder than many other AHAs, including glycolic and lactic acids. This mild exfoliator promotes cell turnover leaving skin smoother, brighter and more even. It also helps unclog pores and stimulate collagen production.”
If you’ve had issues in the past with peels, you may find that mandelic acid peels are perfectly suitable for your skin, without worries of scarring or hyperpigmentation.
What is Mandelic Acid Used For?
Like its many peel brethren, mandelic acid is used to help rejuvenate your skin and peel away all the gross stuff that builds up over time while helping reduce unwanted discoloration such as acne and sun spots. It can also help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while fighting existing acne and poor texture and tone. In addition, mandelic acid has also been shown to help with excess oil and sebum, exfoliation and cell turnover.
If you use mandelic acid at home versus in a dermatologist’s office, you can expect the treatment to take about three weeks before you notice a brighter, clearer, healthier-looking complexion. However, do note that, since mandelic acid is gentler, its effects are also somewhat less dramatic compared to what you might see with some other products. Although, in contrast, you might not see as fast and as pronounced changes as you might when using glycolic acid, you may see more noticeable results than if you were using a somewhat weaker product like salicylic acid.
Who Shouldn’t Use Mandelic Acid?
Still, even though mandelic acid is a boon for those who want the great benefits of a chemical face peel without the harsh side effects that come with some of mandelic acid’s siblings, it’s not suitable for everyone.
You shouldn’t use mandelic acid products if you already use — and plan on continuing using — a retinol or retinoid formula every day. Combining both products can cause irritation and sensitivity, whereas one alone might not. If you want to try using both products, you may want to ease up on the retinol as you add your mandelic acid in. Consider alternating them throughout the week.
Additionally, you shouldn’t use mandelic acid if you suffer from a nut allergy since, as we mentioned above, it is derived from almonds.
Mandelic acid is not safe for use on sunburned or otherwise damaged skin, and even a tan can increase your chances of an unwanted reaction. Likewise, right after you use any mandelic acid formula, you’ll want to avoid direct sun exposure, as you’ll be more prone to sunburns.
Otherwise, the safety concerns and side effects are minimal. Obviously, like with any skin peel, while the risk of skin irritation when using mandelic acid is much lower than the risk if you were using another acid, there is still a small chance that irritation might occur, mainly if you use the acid in conjunction with another product. Additionally, you’ll want to avoid getting any mandelic acid products in or around your eyes.
As with any new skincare product, if you have concerns, talk to your dermatologist about what’s best for your individual needs. It’s also always a smart idea to perform a patch test before applying any products to your entire face.
How to Use Mandelic Acid
Start using mandelic acid slowly by applying your new formula to a small, out-of-sight portion of your skin to determine if it’s right for you. Then, you can use the product once or twice weekly and increase or decrease your frequency of use based on how your skin reacts.
In addition to serums, you’ll find that mandelic acid also comes in facial cleansers and other similar skincare products, so pick the one that’s right for your skincare routine. If you have any concerns about a potential poor reaction, you may want to choose a product with a lesser concentration of mandelic acid to start.
Most users apply mandelic acid before bed, or at least once they’re indoors for the day, to ensure they can avoid direct sunlight directly after use. If you’re using a peel or mask, you’ll want to apply the formula after cleansing your skin and let it sit before washing it off. If you’re using a serum or face wash, you can incorporate it into your skincare routine just like any other product.
After using the formula — whatever form it takes — consider adding an extra moisturizing step to your routine to prevent mandelic acid-caused dryness.
Best Mandelic Acid Products
So, do you think mandelic acid might be the perfect new addition to your skincare routine? Here are a few best products to consider trying.
This vegetarian-friendly serum contains both mandelic acid and hyaluronic acid for an extra moisture boost. The formula includes seaweed extract and is designed to exfoliate away dead skin and treat acne and rosacea. This particular serum is suitable for use once a week if you have sensitive skin; if not, you can use it up to three times per week. Just wait 20 minutes before using any other product afterward and, like all mandelic acid products, stay out of direct sunlight.
This formulation from Sephora and The Ordinary is an excellent pick similar to the above Victoria Health option, but for about half the price. Made without sulfates or parabens, the vegan and gluten-free formula are ideal for those with uneven skin texture and acne worries. Suitable for all skin types, the lightweight serum can be applied once per day, at night, and can even be diluted, if needed.
If you’d prefer a cleanser versus a serum, this brightener option from Bea Skincare has you covered. The award-winning product offers a lighter concentration of mandelic acid (3%) alongside kojic acid, Vitamin C and alpha arbutin. Not familiar with kojic acid? The fungi-derived product helps stop your skin from producing tyrosine, which causes skin discoloration. The foaming cleanser comes in a pump bottle and can be used up to twice daily.
This cleansing gel by Dr Dennis Gross is similar to the others we’ve mentioned but mixes three different alpha hydroxy acids—glycolic, mandelic and azelaic acids —to help wipe away dead skin cells while minimizing pore appearance and hydrating skin. The vegan formula includes other helpful ingredients, such as snow ear mushrooms, willow bark and barosma betulina. You can use the cleansing gel as your regular face wash, both morning and night.
If you’re all about your micellar water and want something with a similar lightweight feel, you might prefer this option. The exfoliating water formula features 5% mandelic acid for fighting rough, dull skin and removing dead skin cells, leaving you with a bright, smooth complexion.
The best part? This particular product is available conveniently on Amazon, so you can get it shipped straight to your door along with all your other Amazon Prime must-have items. It’s even available in two different sizes.
Want an anti-aging skincare option that’s going to be seriously strong? The only 25%-strength peel on the market, this peel shows dramatic anti-aging benefits while still being safe for at-home use. The peel’s 25%-strength blend includes glycolic acid, mandelic acid and gluconolactone. The peel should only be used twice weekly, but reviewers report that doing so showed a 100% improvement in fine lines and wrinkles and a near-100% improvement in skin tone.
The peel kit comes with an activator pad that you rub over your entire face, then a neutralizer pad that you apply after 10 minutes, or once you experience discomfort, before rinsing and moisturizing. In addition to using the anti-aging formula on your face, you can also use it on your chest and hands.
This three-in-one serum combines lactic acid and mandelic acid to reduce acne, hyperpigmentation and signs of aging. You just simply apply the serum in a light layer to your entire face, every other day, and then build up to daily use as your skin allows.
If you’d like to combine your mandelic acid with salicylic acid versus glycolic acid, this mandelic night serum might be a good fit for you. In addition to mandelic acid, the serum includes lactic acid, salicylic acid, bakuchiol and a unique blend of antioxidants and peptides. The result? A do-it-all formula that can help reduce blemishes, eliminate blackheads, minimize pores, increase cell turnover, add hydration, strengthen your skin’s natural defenses, brighten skin, slow aging and more.
To see the effects, just use the serum every night after your cleanser and toner, but before your moisturizer or face oil.
This Neostrata facial cleanser features mandelic acid and tea tree oil for a combination that reduces redness, smoothes skin and exfoliates away dead skin cells, and reduces your skin’s overall oiliness. You can use it up to twice daily, but if you do, wear sunscreen when you go out and limit direct sun exposure. Even if you use the formula once, it can make your skin extra sensitive to the sun for up to a week.
In addition to mandelic acid, this pore refining formula also includes papain, a papaya derivative that’s used for exfoliation; rice powder and pumice, also for exfoliation; kaolin for absorbing impurities; and bisabolol, a chamomile derivative for skin calming. You can use this treatment up to three times per week, either in the morning or the evening, after cleansing and before using your toner and sunscreen.
Want a mandelic acid serum that you can pick up easily during your weekly Target run? Try this option. This serum can target dark spots and blemishes on the face, neck or chest. You can wear it any time of day, but always follow it up with a moisturizer and sunscreen.
Is Mandelic Acid Right for Your Skincare Needs?
For those with sensitive skin—but still all the skin problems of aging, acne, discoloration and poor texture—there can sometimes seem like there are very few skincare products on the market that will do what you want without making things worse. However, mandelic acid is gentle enough while still being effective enough that it can offer great results for those seeking the perfect skincare solution for sensitive skin.
Remember to patch test, wear sunscreen and don’t mix and match products without a dermatologist’s guidance so you can see the quick and noticeable difference that mandelic acid can have on some of your most annoying skin woes.
You might also be interested in: 15 Best Products For Glowing Skin [An Easy Skincare Routine]
Mandelic Acid Products:
- Victoria Health Garden of Wisdom Mandelic Acid 10% Serum
- The Ordinary Mandelic Acid 10% + HA
- Bea Skin Care Brightening Cleanser
- Dr Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Pore Perfecting Cleansing Gel
- Mandelic Acid 5% Skin Prep Water
- Exuciance Advanced Series Performance Peel AP25
- Vivant Skin Care 8 Percent Mandelic Acid 3-in-1 Serum
- Allies of Skin Mandelic Pigmentation Corrector Night Serum
- Neostrata Mandelic Clarifying Cleanser
- PCA Skin Pore Refining Treatment
- Naturium Mandelic Topical Acid 12%