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What is mandelic acid and how is it used in skincare?

Here’s what you should know about this alpha hydroxy acid and how it might benefit your skin.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Nov 10, 2023 • 10 min read
Medically reviewed by Jessica Mefford, NP
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Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Nov 10, 2023 • 10 min read
Medically reviewed by Jessica Mefford, NP
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

In this article

What are alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)? 
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Summary

  • Mandelic acid is a gentle alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) derived from bitter almonds, making it increasingly popular in skincare. 

  • AHAs, like mandelic acid, exfoliate your skin's top layer, offering a radiant complexion. 

  • Mandelic acid's benefits include improved skin elasticity, acne treatment, and reduction of dryness in mature skin. 

  • It's suitable for various skin types, particularly sensitive ones, with concentrations of 5-10%.

  •  For more challenging issues like acne, sun damage, and freckles, higher concentrations (30-70%) are effective.

  •  Mandelic acid peels, best done in 6-8 treatments every 7-15 days, show promising results. Consultation with a dermatology provider is advised for personalized guidance.

Mandelic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) making waves for its gentle, yet effective exfoliating capabilities. Whether you’re battling persistent acne, uneven skin tone, or fine lines, this skincare ingredient might help you to reach your skin goals.

So what do you need to know about this increasingly popular ingredient? Let’s look at the science behind this gentle AHA and how it can help you get the glowing skin you desire!

What are alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)? 

AHAs are organic acids found in nature, like sugarcane (glycolic acid), sour milk (lactic acid), and fruits (citric and malic acid).¹ They often treat skin issues like acne, scars, and age spots. AHAs break down the top layer of your skin cells, ultimately helping your skin get a “glowing” appearance.² But they can have some side effects. Depending on factors like concentration and duration of application, AHAs can sometimes irritate your skin.³

What is mandelic acid?

Mandelic acid is a gentle, approved alpha hydroxy acid that has made its way into various cosmetics and topical drug products.⁴ It’s often called almond acid since it’s extracted from bitter almonds.⁵ This AHA is one of the major ingredients in the pharmaceutical world, helping create everything from antibiotics to various drugs.⁶

If you’ve ever explored the skincare aisle, you might have noticed it there too. For years, it’s been found in formulas that can help fight against skin concerns like acnesun damage, and signs of aging.⁷ The beauty of mandelic acid is that it’s gentler on the skin, sinking in slowly without the irritation that sometimes comes with other AHAs like glycolic acid.

The benefits of mandelic acid for your skin

Mandelic acid has been researched thoroughly and offers several benefits. Aside from being gentle on your skin, it can improve elasticity, help with acne, and also reduces dryness.⁸

Let’s take a closer look at each benefit of this ingredient.

Improves skin elasticity

According to one study, mandelic acid has shown impressive benefits in improving skin elasticity.⁹ In this research, 24 participants applied mandelic acid on their faces twice daily for four weeks. The outcome? After consistently using mandelic acid for the month, their skin experienced a significant increase in elasticity and became firmer. Not only did mandelic acid enhance skin quality, but it was also well-tolerated by everyone in the study.¹⁰

If improving skin elasticity is your goal, you may want to start including this AHA in your skincare routine.

Helps against acne and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation

Thanks to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, mandelic acid is a rising star as a peeling agent for acne vulgaris (the scientific term for common acne).¹¹ Research shows that a 45% mandelic acid peel goes toe-to-toe with a 30% salicylic acid peel in battling mild-to-moderate facial acne. However, mandelic acid scores additional brownie points for its better safety and tolerability.¹²

In another study, a cream that contained benzoyl peroxideretinol, and mandelic acid was effective at treating mild acne with little to no side effects.¹³

And for those of you specifically battling post-acne pigmentation (yes, those stubborn marks!), there’s good news. A study involving three chemical peels—one of which combined 20% salicylic and 10% mandelic acid—revealed a significant drop in acne marks. By the end of the study, all peels managed to reduce acne significantly.¹⁴

Reduces skin dryness in mature skin

Mandelic acid not only helps improve elasticity and fight acne, but it can also reduce dryness in mature skin. In a recent study, 28 aging women experimented with either azelaic or mandelic acid peels, given to them five times across ten weeks.¹⁵ Both peels increased oil production in the U-zone (the cheeks and chin). So why does this matter? As we age, our skin can get drier. So, boosting oil levels in certain areas might just be the ticket to more hydrated skin.¹⁶ 

But—and this is crucial—before you dive into the peel wagon, have a chat with a dermatology provider. It’s always best to get expert guidance for your unique skin.

Adding mandelic acid to your skincare routine 

It should be clear by now that mandelic acid is quite a multitasker. In gentler concentrations (5-10%), it’s excellent for sensitive, oily skin types battling comedones (those tiny skin bumps).¹⁷

But its power doesn’t stop there! It’s a great peeling agent, making it effective against wrinkles. In aesthetic medicine, mandelic acid is used in concentrations from 30 to 70%; however, the crowd favorites are the 50%, 60%, and 70% concentrations. These higher doses are effective against challenges like acne, post-sun blemishes, inflammatory discolorations, and even freckles.¹⁸

If you’re thinking of adding mandelic acid peels to your skincare routine, remember to space them out and remember that consistency is key. Mandelic acid peels are most effective when repeated every 7-15 days, ideally in a series of 6-8 treatments.¹⁹

Tempted to add this star ingredient to your regimen? Remember, while mandelic acid may look promising, a dermatology provider can guide you best. Their expertise will help ensure that you make the right decisions for your skin, whether that means using mandelic acid or not.

Speak with a dermatology provider 

Navigating the vast world of skincare can feel like wandering a maze. With so many products and ingredients, how do you choose what’s best for your unique skin? That’s where a dermatology provider comes into play. These skin specialists can provide tailored advice, ensuring you’re treating your skin with the love and care it deserves. 

Curious about mandelic acid? Before diving in, it’s wise to get a dermatology provider's perspective* so they can assess if it’s the right fit for your skincare needs. 

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FAQs

How do you use mandelic acid for skin care?

Mandelic acid is a skincare multitasker. In certain concentrations, it can help address oily skin and wrinkles. It can also combat acne and sun damage. For best results, use peels bi-weekly, aiming for 6-8 sessions.²⁰ However, before starting, it’s wise to consult a dermatology provider for tailored advice.

Is mandelic acid better than retinol?

Are you trying to pick between mandelic acid and retinol? Let’s break it down. Both these powerhouses can offer numerous benefits for the skin, but they serve unique purposes.

Mandelic acid falls under the category of AHAs or alpha hydroxy acids.²¹ Conversely, retinol is a vitamin A derivative, renowned for its anti-aging properties.²² Interestingly, evidence suggests that in certain blends—like retinol at 0.5% and mandelic acid at 1%—these ingredients can team up in the same product, particularly aiding in combating acne.²³

However, as with all skincare, what works wonders for one person might not be the golden ticket for another. So, while both mandelic acid and retinol have their merits, it’s important to figure out which one aligns with your specific skin needs. Not sure where to start? A dermatology provider is your best bet! They can evaluate your skin type, discuss your concerns, and guide you toward a routine tailored just for your skin goals.

Is it safe to use mandelic acid every day?

The answer hinges on its concentration. Some studies have shown it can be used daily without any hiccups.²⁴ However, just like how not everyone likes their coffee the same way, skincare is very personal. The concentration that works for one might be too intense for another.

The safest route? Booking some time with a dermatology provider. They’ll be your skincare compass, guiding you on the optimal frequency and method of your skincare products to get the desired glow.

Who should use mandelic acid?

Mandelic acid is suitable for a wide range of skin types. Given its gentle nature, even those with sensitive skin might find it beneficial. It’s especially useful for those dealing with issues like acne, uneven skin tone, or for those looking for anti-aging benefits.²⁵

Is it safe to use other products with mandelic acid?

While mandelic acid can be combined with some skincare ingredients, it’s crucial to be cautious when mixing it with other active ingredients, especially other exfoliants. It’s always best to consult with a dermatology provider to determine the best combination for your specific needs.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Tang, S.C. and Yang, J.H. Dual Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids on the Skin. Molecules. (2018, April 10).

  2. Tang, S.C. and Yang, J.H. Dual Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids on the Skin. Molecules. Ibid.

  3. Tang, S.C. and Yang, J.H. Dual Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids on the Skin. Molecules. Ibid.

  4. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Compound Summary for CID 1292, Mandelic Acid. PubChem. (2023, October 3).

  5. Kiriş, B., et al. Separation of Mandelic Acid by a Reactive Extraction Method Using Tertiary Amine in Different Organic Diluents. Molecules. (2022, September 14).

  6. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Compound Summary for CID 1292, Mandelic Acid. PubChem. Ibid.

  7. Kiriş, B., et al. Separation of Mandelic Acid by a Reactive Extraction Method Using Tertiary Amine in Different Organic Diluents. Molecules. Ibid.

  8. Wójcik, A., et al. Influence of azelaic and mandelic acid peels on sebum secretion in ageing women. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. (June 2013).

  9. Jacobs, S.W. and Culbertson, E.J. Effects of Topical Mandelic Acid Treatment on Facial Skin Viscoelasticity. Facial Plast Surg. (December 2018).

  10. Jacobs, S.W. and Culbertson, E.J. Effects of Topical Mandelic Acid Treatment on Facial Skin Viscoelasticity. Facial Plast Surg. Ibid.

  11. Dayal, S., et al. Comparative study of efficacy and safety of 45% mandelic acid versus 30% salicylic acid peels in mild-to-moderate acne vulgaris. J Cosmet Dermatol. (February 2020).

  12. Dayal, S., et al. Comparative study of efficacy and safety of 45% mandelic acid versus 30% salicylic acid peels in mild-to-moderate acne vulgaris. J Cosmet Dermatol. Ibid.

  13. Garofalo, V., et al. Clinical evidence on the efficacy and tolerability of a topical medical device containing benzoylperoxide 4%, retinol 0.5%, mandelic acid 1% and lactobionic acid 1% in the treatment of mild facial acne: an open label pilot study. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. (2019, May 15).

  14. Sarkar, R., et al. Comparative Study of 35% Glycolic Acid, 20% Salicylic-10% Mandelic Acid, and Phytic Acid Combination Peels in the Treatment of Active Acne and Postacne Pigmentation. J Cutan Aesthet Surg. (July-September 2019).

  15. Wójcik, A., et al. Influence of azelaic and mandelic acid peels on sebum secretion in ageing women. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. (June 2013).

  16. Wójcik, A., et al. Influence of azelaic and mandelic acid peels on sebum secretion in ageing women. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. Ibid.

  17. Adamski, Z., et al. Acne - therapeutic challenges to the cooperation between a dermatologist and a cosmetologist. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. (February 2021).

  18. Adamski, Z., et al. Acne - therapeutic challenges to the cooperation between a dermatologist and a cosmetologist. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. Ibid.

  19. Adamski, Z., et al. Acne - therapeutic challenges to the cooperation between a dermatologist and a cosmetologist. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. Ibid.

  20. Adamski, Z., et al. Acne - therapeutic challenges to the cooperation between a dermatologist and a cosmetologist. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. Ibid.

  21. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Compound Summary for CID 1292, Mandelic Acid. PubChem. Ibid.

  22. Mukherjee, S., et al. Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety. Clin Interv Aging. (December 2006).

  23. Garofalo, V., et al. Clinical evidence on the efficacy and tolerability of a topical medical device containing benzoylperoxide 4%, retinol 0.5%, mandelic acid 1% and lactobionic acid 1% in the treatment of mild facial acne: an open label pilot study. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. Ibid.

  24. Jacobs, S.W. and Culbertson, E.J. Effects of Topical Mandelic Acid Treatment on Facial Skin Viscoelasticity. Facial Plast Surg. Ibid.

  25. Adamski, Z., et al. Acne - therapeutic challenges to the cooperation between a dermatologist and a cosmetologist. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. Ibid.

Jessica Lee is a certified Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She received her Master in Nursing from Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, CA.

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
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Curology Team

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Jessica Mefford, NP

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