Mandelic Acid for Skin: The Exfoliating Acid Everyone Should Be Using

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Whether it may be hyaluronic acid, salicylic acid, or anything else, chances are that your skincare routine already contains a few different acids. You may think that you’ve got the world of skincare acids all figured out, but we’re about to share yet another one worth adding to your must-have list.

Although lesser-known than the rest, mandelic acid is just as valuable. It’s highly effective at what it does, yet it’s gentle enough to be used on all skin types. Let’s take a closer look at this skincare superstar.


What is Mandelic Acid?

Mandelic acid

Mandelic acid is a natural acid that comes from bitter almonds. It is classed as an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA). Just like the other AHAs out there, mandelic acid is able to dissolve the tiny bonds that hold skin cells to the surface of the skin, therefore allowing the skin to shed those dead cells.

Mandelic Acid vs. Glycolic Acid & Lactic Acid

So, what makes mandelic acid different from all of the other AHAs out there? It all comes down to its molecular weight. Compared to the others, mandelic acid has a much larger molecular structure – it’s actually about twice the size. This means that mandelic acid takes much longer to penetrate into the skin when applied topically. This isn’t a bad thing – it’s what makes the acid so gentle and non-irritating.

The Skin Benefits of Mandelic Acid

Mandelic acid offers up several skin-enhancing benefits, with the most impressive being as follows:

Exfoliates Dead Skin Cells

The main purpose of mandelic acid is for exfoliation, which is a must in every beauty routine. It’s true that the skin naturally exfoliates itself – the cell turnover process means that the skin is constantly producing new skin cells to push out the older ones. However, cell turnover declines with age, leading to a buildup of old and rough cells on the surface of the skin. This is one of the main reasons behind dull complexions.

Not only can mandelic acid remove dead skin and brighten up your face, but it will also accelerate cell turnover, therefore encouraging your skin’s natural exfoliation process.

Improves the Texture of the Skin

If you’re looking to improve skin texture, mandelic acid products are worth trying. Exfoliated skin is naturally smoother and softer. While other AHAs have this effect too, the fact that mandelic acid is so gentle means that it can be used more frequently, so you won’t have to deal with that roughness in between exfoliation sessions.

Fades Dark Spots

Lady Applying Cream On Elbows

Many turn to the more powerful AHAs when it comes to treating dark marks and hyperpigmentation. However, mandelic acid works just as well. Whether those dark brown spots are caused by sun exposure or hormonal skin conditions, research shows that mandelic acid has the potential to reduce this by up to 50%, after just four weeks of being used regularly [1]. This then leaves you with a more evenly coloured complexion. 

Helps to Treat Acne

When it comes to treating acne-prone skin, mandelic acid is worth exploring. Most of the acne treatments available make use of salicylic acid, but studies have found that mandelic acid peels can be just as effective [2], especially when it comes to treating inflammatory acne skin issues.

What makes mandelic acid even more appealing is the fact that it not only targets existing breakouts, but it also helps to prevent future spots from erupting. It will regulate sebum production, slowing down the amount of oil that your skin naturally produces to stop your pores from becoming clogged. This makes mandelic acid a very effective acne treatment.

Reduces Fine Lines and Wrinkles

AHAs are extremely helpful when it comes to treating aging skin. Glycolic acid peels are often recommended for reducing fine lines and deeper creases. As mentioned, all AHAs stimulate the cell turnover process to give you a clearer and brighter complexion, which will immediately have you looking younger. However, mandelic acid takes things a little further…

Research has found that mandelic acid peels are able to increase collagen production in the skin [3]. Collagen is the protein responsible for how smooth and voluminous your skin is, but the natural production of these fibers declines with age. Using ingredients that boost collagen synthesis, such as mandelic acid, will give your skin the youthful firmness that every anti-aging routine strives to achieve. You’ll notice fewer fine lines and wrinkles, tighter and bouncier skin, and a beautiful natural glow.

How to Add Mandelic Acid to Your Skincare Routine

Mandelic acid is available in a few different forms, so let’s take a look at some of the most effective:

Over-the-Counter Products

Serum beauty cosmetics skincare

The most easily accessible way to start using the ingredient, over-the-counter mandelic acid formulas usually come in the form of serums and creams. For maximum benefits, serums are the way to go. One popular product is The Ordinary Mandelic Acid 10% HA. This formula exfoliates and hydrates at the same time, which is why it’s safe to be used daily. Simply apply a couple of drops to your skin using light patting motions to enhance absorption, and avoid contact with your eyes.

Alternatively, look for an at-home AHA peel that makes use of mandelic acid. You won’t be able to use it daily, but its effects will be more dramatic than that of a serum.

However you choose to apply it, always follow the acid up with a moisturizer. Exfoliation removes that outermost protective layer of your skin, but a good moisturizer will help to build this back up. Make sure that you’re also wearing plenty of SPF during the day – exfoliating with acids leaves the skin more susceptible to sun damage.

Professional Treatments

While over-the-counter products containing mandelic acid are great, you’ll also find the ingredient used in professional chemical peels. Since this AHA doesn’t penetrate quite as much as glycolic acid, it’s more suitable for superficial, rather than deep, peels.

Unlike other AHA peels, those made with mandelic acid are usually suitable for every skin type.

Does Mandelic Acid Have Any Side Effects?

Since mandelic acid is so much gentler than other acids, side effects are far less common. That said, if you’re using a high concentration of the ingredient, you may still experience:

  • Skin irritation
  • Dry skin
  • Flaking and peeling skin

The secret to helping your skin adjust to a new AHA is to add it into your routine gradually. Even if the product is safe for daily use, start by applying it just once or twice a week. You can then slowly increase this frequency, until you’re using it every day without any issues.

If you notice side effects after you’ve been using the ingredient for a while, this could be down to over-use. Cut back on how often you use it and see if your symptoms improve.


Everyday routine for skincare and wellness

Can I use mandelic acid every day?

Mandelic acid is gentle enough to be used every day, but you’ll need to also pay attention to the other ingredients in the product that you’re using. If it also contains other exfoliating acids, daily use might be too much for your skin to handle.

Does mandelic acid lighten skin?

Mandelic acid won’t lighten your normal skin tone, but it will lighten hyperpigmentation, meaning those areas of your skin that contain excess melanin and are darker than your normal skin tone.

Is mandelic acid safe for sensitive skin?

Yes, mandelic acid is very gentle, making it safe to be used even on sensitive skin types.

Can mandelic acid be used with other alpha hydroxy acids?

Yes, many products combine mandelic acid with glycolic or lactic acid. This is safe, so long as you properly follow usage directions.


If you’re looking for a way to gently exfoliate your skin without having to deal with the side effects that stronger exfoliants bring, mandelic acid is your answer. While its immediate effects may be more subtle (although you’ll probably start to notice improvements in your skin after just a couple of weeks of regular use), they rival that of other acids in the long run, making this a very worthy alternative.



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About Alina Jumabhoy

With almost 10 years of experience writing for the skincare industry, Alina brings her unique perspective into all of the in-depth reviews and articles she writes.