What is mandelic acid?
Many skincare acids are derived from natural plant sources, for example salicylic acid comes from willow bark and glycolic acid is extracted from sugarcane. Mandelic acid is similar. "Mandelic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) named after the German word for almond," says Dr Elif Benar, dermatologist and founder of drelif.co.uk, as it is derived from the extract of bitter almonds. Dr Elif adds that mandelic acid can be used by nearly all skin types, including sensitive skin. It works by exfoliating the top layers of the skin, resulting in a brighter, more glowy complexion.
What are the benefits of using mandelic acid in skincare?
"Mandelic acid is a powerful ingredient that has a multitude of benefits," says Dr Elif, who lists treating ageing skin (such as wrinkles, dullness and skin texture changes), melasma, liver spots and sun damage, which can often manifest in dark spots. "This skin-loving AHA helps to accelerate cell turnover and increases the production of collagen for a more youthful appearance," Dr Elif adds. "Mandelic acid also helps to regulate sebum (oil) production, and can help prevent breakouts in acne-prone skin."
How should you use mandelic acid in skincare?
Dr Elif recommends incorporating mandelic acid into your evening skincare routine, and suggests looking for a leave-on, exfoliating toner. "Apply mandelic acid to clean and dry skin after cleansing and before moisturising," she advises. "It is better as one of the first layers of skincare, followed by a cream. Simply pat it into the skin gently." You can use cotton pad or your fingers if you prefer to be a little more eco-friendly.
Like all acids, proceed with caution. The key to seeing results from mandelic acid is to start slowly. "Start with a small amount at a low strength," says Dr Elif, for example 5%. "Start by using mandelic acid a few times a week, then build up slowly to give your skin a chance to get used to it, and to help to prevent any side effects such as skin irritation." If your skin is tolerating 5% mandelic acid well and you want to amp up the effects, Dr Elif suggests looking for a higher strength product, such as 8% mandelic acid.
How does mandelic acid differ from glycolic acid?
Are there any side effects of mandelic acid?
It's a good idea to stop using retinol before starting with mandelic acid. "If you are using retinol, you should stop using it around 5 days before using mandelic acid to avoid skin irritation," says Dr Elif. "Also avoid using mandelic acid if you have been in the sun recently. The possible side effects of mandelic acid are irritation, redness, swelling, itching and peeling, so if this happens, reduce the amount you use until your skin adjusts to it."
You may also notice dryness and flaky skin. "This is normal, though, and should resolve within a few weeks," says Dr Elif. "If your skin is sensitive or painful, stop using mandelic acid immediately and consult a skin specialist.
What are the best mandelic acid skincare products?
Elemis' Pro-Collagen Tri Acid Peel, £70, is a 15 minute face mask, which contains a trio of exfoliating acids, including mandelic acid. Apply to clean skin (recommended twice a week maximum) and rinse with warm water when the time is up, before following with your favourite moisturiser.
By Wishtrend's Mandelic Acid Skin Prep Water, £20.10, contains 5% mandelic acid to lift away the top layer of cells and to uncover fresher, brighter skin. Decant a few drops on to a cotton pad and swipe all over your face post-cleanse, then follow with a lightweight moisturiser.
You can use Medik8's Pore Minimising Tonic, £40, in the same way. It combines mandelic acid and gentle lactic acid for light exfoliation. If you're after a serum and your skin can tolerate acids well, try The Ordinary Mandelic Acid 10%, £5.80, which is higher in strength. For extra hydration, apply your usual nighttime moisturiser over the top.
Refinery29's selection is purely editorial and independently chosen – we only feature items we love! As part of our business model we do work with affiliates; if you directly purchase something from a link on this article, we may earn a small amount of commission. Transparency is important to us at Refinery29, if you have any questions please reach out to us.