Mandelic acid is one of the hottest skincare ingredients of 2023. An alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), it is derived from bitter almonds and favoured for its gentle yet efficacious nature — and it’s actually not a new addition to the skincare world.
“Mandelic acid has been popular among dermatologists for as long as I have been practicing,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Blair-Murphy Rose. “However, it may be increasing in popularity due to increased awareness among consumers.”
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Michelle Henry is also quick to note that the acid gained traction back in the late ’90s, and that its benefits are widely accepted in skin-expert circles. The reason for that? It’s gentle.
“Mandelic acid is larger in molecular size than other AHAs like glycolic acid, which means it penetrates the skin more slowly and is less likely to cause irritation,” Henry explains. This physical characteristic means that the benefits of chemical exfoliants are available to those with sensitive skin, too.
Here’s everything you need to know about mandelic acid.
What are the benefits of mandelic acid?
Like other AHAs, mandelic acid mitigates the signs of ageing through chemical exfoliation. “Exfoliation removes dead cells from the skin’s surface, reducing dullness and revealing brighter, healthier-looking skin,” says Murphy-Rose. Along with boosting brightness, this sort of exfoliation also helps discourage the formation of wrinkles and fine lines while improving skin texture and tone. (Yes, it helps with skin conditions like hyperpigmentation and dark spots, too!)
Those who deal with breakouts should consider incorporating mandelic acid into their routines, too. Regenerative exfoliation marries with antibacterial properties to clear acne-prone skin, preventing clogged pores and helping to regulate sebaceous glands, all sans irritation.
Finally, research shows that mandelic acid stimulates the skin’s natural regenerative processes, accelerating cell turnover and promoting collagen production for firmer skin.
How to use mandelic acid
You can incorporate mandelic acid into either your morning or evening skincare routine. “Initially, use your mandelic acid product once or twice a week, gradually increasing the frequency as your skin adjusts,” advises Henry, adding that using any AHA at night may be your best bet due to increased sun sensitivity. (Regardless of which route you take or acid you prefer, always prioritise sunscreen to avoid sun damage.)
Murphy-Rose suggests starting with a nighttime serum containing mandelic acid, making sure to avoid the use of other AHAs, BHAs, or retinols during the introduction of the ingredient. “Once you have started mandelic acid, you may be able to re-introduce some of those other products back into your routine gradually. Always make sure to assess your skin’s response,” she says.
“Be mindful of the concentration of mandelic acid in products; higher concentrations may be more effective but also more likely to cause irritation,” says Henry. And post-exfoliation, be sure to use your preferred moisturiser to rehydrate and protect the skin barrier.
How does mandelic acid compare to other active ingredients?
So how does mandelic acid compare to your existing favourites, like glycolic acid or retinol? As noted, mandelic acid features a larger molecule size compared to other AHAs (like glycolic), meaning that its penetration is both slow and uniform. This makes it a milder choice when compared with glycolic, offering similar benefits at a slower, gentler pace.
Retinol, on the other hand, is a powerful, concentrated derivative of vitamin A that boasts many of the same benefits of AHAs (think collagen production and the turnover of skin cells, diminished fine lines and clearer, brighter skin). Though both retinol and mandelic acid are “active” ingredients, they can be used in tandem. For safety, start slowly and always consult your dermatologist if you have any issues.
What are the downsides of mandelic acid?
Though it is gentle, mandelic acid is still a topical acid, and should be used with care. “Similar to other alpha hydroxy acids, potential side effects include redness, peeling and irritation — overuse can cause irritant dermatitis and even chemical burning,” says Murphy-Rose. “All skin exfoliators, including mandelic acid, increase photosensitivity so it is even more important to use sun protection when using these ingredients.”
This article was originally published on British Vogue.
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