Mandelic Acid Is the Powerhouse Anti-Aging Ingredient Missing From Your Routine
By now, you've probably delved into the wonders of hyaluronic acid, and you may have dabbled with lesser-known acids such as lactic acid. Mandelic acid, however, is the underrated acid that has the potential to completely elevate your skincare routine. As an exfoliant that's gentler than more abrasive ingredients, mandelic acid can be tapped for a range of skin concerns—from clearing up clogged pores and improving acne, to brightening your skin and reducing the appearance of fine lines.
To help you figure out whether mandelic acid is the ingredient for you, and how exactly you should use it, we spoke to three skincare experts: Y. Claire Chang, M.D., a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City; Shaan Patel, B.M.B.S., founder and medical director at Aatma Aesthetics in London, UK; and Danielle Gronich, a clinical esthetician, acne specialist, and founder of CLEARSTEM Skincare.
What is mandelic acid?
Dr. Chang explains that mandelic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) derived from bitter almonds. "It's used in skincare for its exfoliating properties," she says. "Because it has a larger molecular structure than other exfoliants like glycolic acid, it tends to penetrate slower into the skin, making it gentler and less irritating."
Gronich notes that while mandelic acid is gentler than glycolic acid, it's "stronger than salicylic acid." She adds, "You generally only find this in professional [or] clinical skincare lines."
What are the benefits of mandelic acid?
Since mandelic acid has powerful exfoliating properties, it helps clear away dead skin cells and debris. "Using mandelic acid can help to reveal a brighter and clearer complexion," says Dr. Patel. "Through its exfoliative action, it also helps to stimulate collagen, which in turn helps to smooth fine lines and firm skin." That means it can be used to prevent the appearance of aging.
That's not all: Mandelic acid also works to reduce dark spots and post-acne blemishes. "Mandelic acid, as a chemical peeling agent, can help brighten [your] complexion and improve hyperpigmentation," Dr. Chang says. "Mandelic acid may be useful in treating melasma, sun spots, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation."
Last but not least, mandelic acid is a great go-to if you're prone to breakouts. "It can dissolve blackheads and clogged pores, so it's very beneficial for treating acne," Gronich says. "Mandelic acid is also one of the few acids that works well on fungal acne."
What are the side effects of mandelic acid?
Simply put, you shouldn't overdo it. "Like any other AHAs, mandelic acid can cause some skin irritation, redness, and itching if used too often, but it's less likely than other AHAs to cause these types of irritation," Dr. Patel says. "Use an SPF with this product every day to reduce further photosensitivity."
It's also important to note that this ingredient may not be for everyone. "Although mandelic acid tends to be better tolerated than other exfoliants, it can still come with possible side effects including allergic and irritant skin reactions," Dr. Chang says. "Mandelic acid may cause redness, swelling, itching, and flaking." If any of this happens to you, stop using the product in question and visit a dermatologist who can help you get to the bottom of the reaction.
What's the best way to use mandelic acid?
How often you use a mandelic acid product depends on the type of product you're dealing with, how concentrated it is, and how sensitive your skin is. "Mandelic acid is found in many products including cleansers, serums, and at-home peels," Dr. Chang says. "Facial serums can be used daily after cleansing and before moisturizing."
Stronger products, such as peels, should be used less often. "At-home mandelic acid peels typically contain a stronger concentration and can be used once or twice weekly," Dr. Chang says. "I always advise my patients to start slowly—start with a lower concentration and just once or twice per week to make sure you tolerate it before applying it more frequently."
Mandelic acid can make your skin extra sensitive to the sun, so you should always wear SPF after using a product that contains this ingredient. As for combining it with other ingredients, here's what Dr. Chang has to say: "Mandelic acid can work in conjunction with other active ingredients, like vitamin C, salicylic acid, and other exfoliants, to optimize results."
Now that you've got the scoop on mandelic acid, here are the five best skincare products with it.
Best mandelic acid serum:
Both Dr. Chang and Dr. Patel are big fans of this serum, which also happens to be super affordable. It can be used every night on clean skin to target hyperpigmentation and acne, and the hyaluronic acid in the product helps to counterbalance any dryness from the mandelic acid (but that doesn't mean you should skip moisturizing!).
Best spot treatment with mandelic acid:
This product is formulated with mandelic acid and salicylic acid, which work together to clear your pores and reduce acne. Dr. Chang explains that you can either use it as a spot treatment or a full face treatment if you have oily skin. Just make sure to follow it with moisturizer and SPF.
Best toner with mandelic acid:
Recommended by Dr. Chang, this daily toner is great for brightening the skin, thanks to its blend of mandelic, lactic, and hyaluronic acids. Used after cleansing and before moisturizing, it leaves your skin hydrated and glowing.
Best cleanser with mandelic acid:
Wash away the day with a powerhouse cleanser containing AHAs to gently exfoliate and clean out the pores. This HoliFrog pick is a gentle, lightweight formula that mixes mandelic acid with a cocktail of regenerating Tamanu oil, hydrating rosehip oil, brightening Australian caviar lime extract, and glycolic acid.
Best mandelic acid peel:
Lili Reinhart's aesthetician created the perfect peel for achieving a red carpet-worthy glow. If you believe in magic, you'll find it in this peel. It's full of exfoliating, antioxidant-rich berries that have AHAs and BHAs that smooth uneven texture, clear pores, stimulate cellular renewal, and fade post-blemish hyperpigmentation.