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Upkeep’s Guide To Mandelic Acid

This lesser-known AHA has a lot of advantages when it comes to creating brighter, smoother skin. See why it's a dermatologist and aesthetician fave.

August 21, 2023

When it comes to alpha hydroxy acids, you’ve probably heard of the ones like glycolic and lactic acid. But there are lesser known exfoliators that can go toe-to-toe with these heavy hitters. Mandelic acid is one of them. It’s made from bitter almonds and it has some surprising upsides compared to its more famous siblings in the AHA family. Keep reading to learn what this unsung hero can do to improve your skin tone and texture. 

What is mandelic acid?

Mandelic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid. Similar to glycolic acid, it helps dissolve dead skin cells to reveal brighter, new skin underneath. It comes from bitter almonds, so if you have a severe nut allergy, you may want to steer clear. But it can still be used by many people with nut allergies since food and skin allergies aren’t always the same. Ask your allergist prior to using mandelic acid if you have a nut allergy.

Why is mandelic acid good for skin?

Here are the main benefits of mandelic acid:

  • Brightens skin through exfoliation
  • Makes pores look smaller
  • Fades acne scars and hyperpigmentation
  • Oil control
  • Helps clear congested skin (breakouts and pimples)

Additionally, mandelic acid has a larger molecular weight than other AHAs, so it won’t get absorbed as deeply as other AHAs. What this means for you is that it’s friendlier to sensitive skin and people with darker skin tones. Mandelic acid is effective for melasma and hyperpigmentation for a wide range of skin tones. 

How often to use mandelic acid?

Mandelic acid is often found in toners and serums and is safe to use daily. But if your skin is sensitive, or if you are using other active ingredients such as retinol, it’s best to start incorporating mandelic acid slowly into your routine. Start using twice a week and go up in frequency gradually. Like all AHAs, mandelic acid will make you more sensitive to the sun, so always wear your SPF 30 or higher and consider applying mandelic acid at night time instead of the morning. 

Is it safe to use mandelic acid when pregnant?

There isn’t a lot of research about mandelic acid use in pregnancy. Because of its larger molecular size, it’s unlikely that very much of the product is absorbed into the bloodstream. For this reason, over-the-counter mandelic acid serums and toners are considered safe–but check with your doctor for personalized guidance. 

Will mandelic acid cause purging/acne?

Rarely, mandelic acid can cause breakouts when you first start using it, but it’s less likely than with other AHAs. AHAs and retinol can cause your skin to ‘purge’ because they increase skin cell turnover. But this is usually temporary and doesn’t last for more than 4-6 weeks. 

Can mandelic acid be used with niacinamide?

Yes! Niacinamide is another name for vitamin B3, and it helps reduce the appearance of large pores, improve skin tone, and strengthen your skin’s natural moisture barrier. You can use both niacinamide and mandelic acid together, and in fact, they are sometimes found in the same products. If skin texture or dullness is your primary concern, using both these skincare actives together can give you even more effective results.

Can I get a mandelic acid chemical peel?

Yes! A chemical peel is a skin treatment where a trained medical professional applies a concentrated amount of acid to create more dramatic smoothing and evening of skin tone than you could get with an OTC product. Mandelic acid peels work the same as other peels–you have it done at a doctor’s office or MedSpa, and you’ll have a few days of downtime while the top layer of skin peels off. It’s all worth it in the end, because your skin will be brighter and smoother! Chemical peels used to not be suitable for those with deeper skin tones because the penetration of ingredients like glycolic acid could make hyperpigmentation worse for dark skin. But this has changed thanks to advancements in technology and research. We now know that mandelic acid is suitable for darker skin tones and can help with things like melasma, acne scarring, and dullness. 

Chemical peels are only safe when done by a professional–that’s why we created an app to connect you with the best MedSpa providers in your area! The Upkeep app lets you book chemical peels with a network of vetted, trusted providers. Instead of calling around to see who’s available, you can compare availability and book an appointment that works with your schedule. Want clearer, brighter, smoother skin? Download Upkeep today!

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