Many over-the-counter products nowadays include ingredients that address different skin concerns, including dark spots, dullness, wrinkles, acne, acne scarring, etc.
Well, in case you didn’t know, one particular ingredient known as mandelic acid has shown the capability to target all the mentioned skin concerns and then some.
But because it’s still a little bit elusive when it comes to the exact properties it has, and also how to use it, here, I created the complete guide to using mandelic acid for your best skin benefits.
So, let’s start from the beginning.
What Is Mandelic Acid?
Mandelic acid is an increasingly popular alpha hydroxy acid derived from the hydrolysis of an extract of bitter almond and It has a slightly different structure and performance than alternative alpha-hydroxy acids such as glycolic acid.
While they both work to address similar skin concerns, these two are not the same, therefore, you should always educate yourself on both in order to know which one will be more beneficial for your skin type and the skin concern you want to target.
Glycolic acid is another AHA that is widely used in many skincare products for the sole reason that it works excellent. It is derived from sugar cane and is effective at exfoliating the skin just as much. I also have a full guide on glycolic acid, which you should check out.
Mandelic acid, on the other hand, has a larger molecular structure than glycolic acid, which means it doesn’t penetrate the skin as deeply as glycolic acid, so its action is significantly gentler.
What Does Mandelic Acid Do To The Skin?
Mandelic acid is the superstar ingredient that can help with skin aging, pigmentation, sun-damage, acne, and even acne scarring.
It has been extensively studied for its uses in treating common skin problems such as photo-aging (skin aging caused by the sun), irregular pigmentation (such as melasma and age spots), and both inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne.
One of these studies shows that different percentages of mandelic acid can have the upper hand in successfully treating inflammatory acne over salicylic acid (for which I have also written a full guide).
Additionally, using mandelic acid to treat acne can have significantly fewer side effects such as inflammatory reactions as well as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Additionally, the notable difference between salicylic acid and mandelic acid is the lack of post-inflammatory erythema that often accompanies skin treatments with mandelic acid.
This is one of the many positive differences between the two forms of chemical exfoliators, making mandelic acid a safer medium to work with both professionals and products recommended for home use.
How To Start Using Mandelic Acid?
Active ingredients such as mandelic acid should be used in your evening routine and you can start by incorporating mandelic acid up to three times a week, assuming you are not using any other type of exfoliator.
However, if you are also using other chemical exfoliators, it is best to keep it lower than that and you can use mandelic acid once a week or once every two weeks, depending on your skin’s needs.
Initial tingling and sensitivity are normal, especially if your skin is sensitive, however, if this initial tingling becomes uncomfortable burning, this means that the product may be too strong for you or your skin is overly sensitive so you should wash it off and opt for something milder.
Additionally, make sure to always follow up with a high SPF in the morning as mandelic acid, like all other chemical exfoliants, can make your skin sensitive to the sun.
Additionally, I have seen people asking online whether it’s safe to use mandelic acid if they have a nut allergy since mandelic acid is derived from bitter almonds.
Mandelic acid isn’t a protein, therefore it should be safe for use as people with nut allergies are typically sensitive to the proteins found in nuts.
However, it is always best to play it safe, so you should either consult with your health provider before starting to use mandelic acid if you have a nut allergy or do a patch test of products that contain mandelic acid on the inner wrist or behind the ear before trying them out on the entire face.
Can Mandelic Acid Be Used Daily?
It is not recommended for mandelic acid to be used daily due to the reason that mandelic acid often comes in higher concentrations for a better effect, and this may cause some skin sensitivity and potential irritation.
I also personally advise against using exfoliating acids daily, simply because your skin doesn’t need that much exfoliation.
The mature cells that sit tightly packed on the surface of your skin are a part of what’s called NMFs or natural moisturizing factors, therefore, they play an important role in helping your skin retain moisture.
Exfoliating daily, and thus constantly removing these mature cells may potentially damage your skin barrier and lead to irritation, sensitivity, and all sorts of skin problems.
Therefore, be mindful about exfoliation as this is a practice that happens regularly in a good skincare routine, but exfoliating daily is just excessive and your skin doesn’t need it.
Should You Moisturize After Mandelic Acid?
You should always moisturize after using chemical exfoliants and the same goes for mandelic acid.
Mandelic acid is most useful when it comes in the form of a toner, exfoliating solution, or serum, and you should always top it up with a nice, hydrating moisturizer and create an occlusive barrier on your skin in order to help it retain moisture.
Can You Combine Mandelic Acid With Other Actives?
No, mandelic acid shouldn’t be combined with other actives, simply because this acid has been shown to deliver powerful results and tackle multiple skin concerns through various trials.
So, you really don’t need to combine mandelic acid with other actives, because it is possible that mandelic acid will tackle multiple skin concerns at once.
Additionally, as it is a potent treatment on its own, you don’t want to be risking potential skin irritations and sensitivity.
What Should You Not Use Mandelic Acid With?
You should definitely avoid the use of mandelic acid combined with other alpha-hydroxy acids, beta-hydroxy acids, and retinoids.
This is not to say that you cannot use a product that contains a blend of exfoliating acids, because this is a different thing and this product has been formulated by using adequate and safe percentages of these ingredients.
What I am talking about is that you should not combine mandelic acid with other products that contain exfoliating acids or retinoids because it is very possible that your skin can start rebelling against it.
Can Mandelic Acid Cause Breakouts?
Yes, mandelic acid can cause mild to moderate breakouts on the skin and this can mean two things: your skin is either getting used to the product or the product is not good for you.
Does Mandelic Acid Cause Purging?
Yes, mandelic acid, like all exfoliating acids, can cause those initial pimples that come out to the surface of the skin at an accelerated rate than usual, and this is usually called “the purging period”.
This means that the clogged pore that was going to become a pimple in a few weeks’ time will be pushed on the surface prior to its time due to the help of exfoliating acids.
Don’t panic when this happens as this is almost always the case with an active ingredient. The only thing to do is to be consistent with your product and allow it to do what it’s meant to do.
On the other hand, if your pimples don’t cease to pop out in a period of 8-10 weeks, you should consider taking a second look at the ingredients of the product and try to figure out what might be causing the breakouts for you.
Does Mandelic Acid Help Acne Scars?
Mandelic acid can help with acne scars for as long as this scarring is in the form of dark, pigmented spots that are usually left after acne is gone.
Mandelic acid, on the other hand, will not help deeper, ice-pick scarring, or those red spots (post-inflammatory erythema) typically seen on lighter complexions after acne is gone.
For treating post-inflammatory erythema, you should look into something like Azelaic acid, for example.
Best Mandelic Acid Products
So far, I have only tried two mandelic acid products in my life, and I liked them both. However, I do have a third one I’d like to try I am just waiting for the right time to buy it so that it doesn’t leave me broke until the end of the month.
The Ordinary – Mandelic Acid 10% + HA
My trusted, go-to brand that never disappoints has one of the cheapest and very much effective mandelic acid solutions. It’s quite strong too, given that the product contains 10% mandelic acid while, as an esthetician, I only use about 30% in professional chemical peels.
It works to brighten the complexion and help smooth the surface of the skin, and while I also noticed some mild improvement in my acne, I still find that salicylic acid worked much better for me, but that’s just me.
By Wishtrend – Mandelic Acid 5% Prep Water
I actually have an entire review written about this product, however, my opinions have since changed after using it for several months now.
In my original review, I wrote I liked this product, and yes, it initially worked for me for some time, however, I then started noticing how it was drying out my skin to the point where I actually started getting milia on the area along my orbital bone.
I stopped using it for a while and got back to it after taking a break from it, and it worked again, however, this time I was threading a bit more careful with using it.
I am not saying the product is bad, however, this only proves that overusing something, no matter how good it is, can potentially have an adverse effect.
Allies Of Skin – Mandelic Pigmentation Correcting Serum
I’ve been keeping my eye on this product since one of the people whose opinion on skincare corresponds with mine suggested it, however, the price is really ridiculous, and while I am surely going to buy it and test it out, I just need to mentally prepare for dropping so much money on it.
It has great ingredients, a nice blend of alpha-hydroxy acids, as well as plenty of hydrating ingredients, and antioxidants like white tea leaf extract, etc, too.
So, I am sure I will like it once I get it, however, the price is just really something I can’t afford, at the moment.
There you have the complete guide to using mandelic acid as well as some of the most commonly asked questions about this popular ingredient.
Do you use mandelic acid as part of your routine? Don’t forget to let me know in the comments!
Thanks for stopping by! My name is Simone and I am a certified skin specialist. I created this website to teach my readers how to take great care of their skin and I also like to occasionally share my honest opinions on skincare products I’ve tried. You can learn more about me here.