If there’s one sure way to revitalise your complexion, it’s applying a dermatologist-approved acid as part of your beauty regime. Here, we make the case for mandelic acid.
Acids. Just when you’ve mastered the difference between retinol and salicylic, the skincare world creates a crop of products starring an acid you’ve never heard of. While sticking to the acids you know inevitably avoids confusion, operating on a need-to-basis doesn’t always cut it in your quest to achieve a radiant complexion.
So, what’s the latest acid worth adding to your arsenal? Meet mandelic, a super gentle acid that has all the hallmarks of other alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) but crucially, without the risk of redness and irritation. Don’t be fooled by its softly-softly approach though. This AHA is a powerhouse thanks to its skin-smoothing and glow-inducing prowess.
So why is mandelic acid only just coming to the forefront of mainstream beauty? Well, in part, the popularity of acids has meant that overuse has got us all in a fluster. “I’ve seen a rise in patients who are coming to me with concerns that are the result of using too many acids or using them incorrectly” explains Dr Sarah Shah, founder of the Artistry Clinic. Mandelic, however, hits the sweet spot for those new to acids because it’s slower to act and therefore much milder.
There are two ways to use mandelic, firstly as a high-strength chemical peel in a clinical setting. It can be nicely combined with a micro-needling procedure to stimulate collagen (effective but costly). Secondly by way of topical formulations, which is wise now that at-home skincare is better than ever. If you’re wary of using mandelic acid DIY style, you needn’t be because you won’t burn your skin. You’re also unlikely to feel any tingling but if you do, it could be that you have very dry skin and the acid is working overtime in order to buff away the top layer of dead cells.
“After a few applications skin usually builds up a tolerance” explains Dr Shah. She advises that it’s best to use small amounts at a low strength to start with, then build up slowly over a few weeks to avoid any side effects. “Ultimately though mandelic acid brings so many benefits to the skin when used in moderation” she adds.
Thinking of investing in beauty’s new hero ingredient? Here’s everything you need to know.
What is mandelic acid?
Mandelic acid is a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that’s derived from bitter almonds. It’s a powerful ingredient which can help to supercharge your skincare routine when it needs a boost.
Like other types of AHAs it works by exfoliating the skin. It’s gentler compared to glycolic acid because its molecule size is twice as big, so it takes longer to penetrate the skin and is therefore less likely to cause irritation.
What is mandelic acid used for?
Mandelic acid can be used to treat three major skin concerns: signs of ageing, acne and enlarged pores, as well as pigmentation that is the result of excess sun exposure, acne scarring, taking hormonal contraceptives and pregnancy. It targets these concerns by speeding up cell turnover that slows with age.
“Very gently it dissolves the tiny glue-like bonds that bind skin cells together, helping to remove dead skin build on the surface. It also strengthens collagen, one of the building blocks of the skin’s support network that gives skin its bounce”, says Dr Wei Chen, senior manager of R&D at DCL.
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What are the skin benefits of using mandelic acid?
By removing the build-up of dead skin cells it thins out the very top layer of the skin so that it becomes smoother is able to reflect the light better. As a result, you can expect improvement in skin texture and a brighter, more luminous complexion. It’s even been shown to reduce melasma by as much as 50 percent in four weeks. Acne suffers can also look forward to a reduction in breakouts. “Mandelic acid has antibacterial properties which help to regulate sebum production. It’s even been shown to benefit those cystic acne sufferers,” reveals Dr Chen.
Can mandelic acid be used for all skin types?
Yes. This is because it’s gentler than glycolic and lactic acid so it’s suitable for even the most sensitive of skins. It’s also especially good for those with darker skintones who are genetically prone to pigmentation and melasma. While other acids can help to treat these issues, dermatologists are reporting problems associated with overuse.
“In darker skin tones, overuse of AHAs can cause the skin to react, leading to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, so you end up exacerbating the very problem you’re trying to correct,” explains Dija Ayodele, facial aesthetician and founder of the Black Skin Directory.
Mandelic however, is so gentle that it’s unlikely to cause hyperpigmentation.
How should I apply a mandelic acid peel at home?
Professional grade peels can be a one-off treatment or used in cycles. While they can bought online, it’s safer to go via a dermatologist first who will advise on how to use them.
Professional peels vary in strength and are usually between 25% and 40%. With a 25% formulation you would soak up the acid with a gauze pad and apply the acid in a downward motion starting at the top of the forehead. After 3-5 minutes rinse off with warm water.
A 40% peel should be applied with a brush and left on according to your skin condition and its sensitivity. Again, your dermatologist will advise on this. To stop the activity of a professional peel you would need to apply the prescribed neutralizer, before rinsing of any excess with warm water and patting dry.
When and how often should mandelic acid be applied?
Always follow the brand guidelines, some mandelic acid products will be gentle enough and formulated in a way that you can use them every day. Others products will require fewer applications.
“If the formulation contains 10% mandelic acid then it should be applied two or three times a week and always in the evening” explains Shabir Daya, pharmacist and co-founder of victoriahealth.com.
Apply your mandelic acid after cleansing and onto dry skin. It needs to go on before your moisturiser and other serums. Always avoid the skin around your eyes.
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How long does it take for mandelic acid to work?
“You can expect to see initial results such as a smoother skin within a few days, once cell turnover kicks and the acid starts to resurface your skin,” continues Allies of Skin founder Nicolas Travis.
Blemishes will be reduced within 1-2 weeks and stubborn dark spot will begin fading within 4-8 weeks of using the acid. The results keep getting better if you are diligent and use SPF every morning.
Can mandelic acid be used in combination with other ingredients?
However, Daya advises that you shouldn’t use mandelic acid with other acids as this increases the risk of irritation.
Are there any side effects of using mandelic acid for your skin?
Like any acid, even though it is gentle, a patch test would be advisable if are new to the world of AHAs. “Generally speaking mandelic acid is well tolerated by skin and doesn’t cause the whitening on darker skin tones so often associated with other types of alpha hydroxy acids such as lactic acid and glycolic acid,” reveals Daya. Finally, we’ve said it once and we’ll say it again. SPF is a must when using an acid.
The best mandelic acid beauty products to add to your skincare routine
Garden of Wisdom Mandelic Acid 10% Serum
Pores are something of a beauty bete noire in that they can’t be shrunk or forced shut. They can however, be cleaned, which helps to minimise their appearance.
Pleasingly this mandelic acid serum is a long-term clarifier that does a stellar job at blitzing dirt from your pores. An easy addition to your routine, simply apply 2 to 3 times a week post-cleansing. Aim to leave on for a good twenty minutes before moisturising, as this will allow for proper penetration.
DCL Multi-Action Penta Peel
These easy to use pre-soaked pads mean you don’t have to worry about whether you’ve applied too much or too little of the acid. Simply sweep across the skin to let the potent blend of mandelic, lactic, salicylic, and phytic acids work together to even out skin tone and banish breakouts.
This type of treatment serves acid aficionados best due to the super-strength formulation, which requires rinsing with cool water after 5 minutes. The tingling is forgivable once you see how luminous your complexion is the following morning.
Bea Skin Care Brightening Cleanser
Developed by aesthetician Bianca Estelle, this hero cleanser is a cult-classic among UK beauty editors for its radiance boosting ability. 3% mandelic acid gently resurfaces skin while 7% kojic acid and vitamin C further accelerates brightening so sun spots and pigmentation drastically fade over time. Added vitamin E and green tea boost your skin’s ability to protect itself from future damage.
The Ordinary Mandelic Acid 10% + HA
It’s the perfect choice for those new to acids. Its uncomplicated ingredient list means it can also be diluted with other products until you build up your tolerance levels. With change left over from a tenner, this is a no brainer for those who want a budget-friendly option.
Allies of Skin Mandelic Pigmentation Corrector Night Serum
Whether you’ve spent too many years sun worshipping or battle discoloration, this overnight serum goes to town on stubborn pigmentation. Because it blends three different types of acid (mandelic, lactic and salicylic acid), its best for those whose skin is already au fait with acids.
As well as fading dark spots, additional peptides also work synergistically with the skin to prevent the production of melanin, stopping pigmentation in its tracks. Worried about visible flaking? Don’t be as a hydrating blend of hyaluronic acid and organic rosehip quench skin’s thirst to prevent dryness.
Medik8 Pore Refining Tonic
Pores can get blocked thanks to incomplete keratinisation, a process where a skin cell is not able to fully mature into to a dead skin cell, causing it to get stuck on the skin’s surface. Pleasingly, this mandelic acid-based toner is adept at turfing out pesky cells that won’t budge from pores.
Red clover extract works hard to reduce sebum production, while potent antioxidants protect the skin from premature ageing caused by pollution and UV rays. The non-greasy formula also dries to a matte finish, further helping to diminish the appearance of pores. A great all-rounder for everyday use.
Dr Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Pore Perfecting Cleansing Gel
For those with skin that’s already parched, using drying ingredients to improve pores isn’t an option. Enter this super moisturising cleanser that exfoliates (that would be the mandelic acid) while also imparting heaps of moisture thanks to snow ear mushrooms, a super natural hydrator.
Soap has been replaced with barosma betullina (a flowering plant native to South Africa) to wash away the onslaught of dirt and pollution without disturbing the good bacteria on the skin and disrupting the skin’s delicate balance.
Wishtrend Mandelic Acid 5% Skin Prep Water
Don’t make the mistake of thinking this prep water should replace your toner. Its creators are Korean, who are firm believers in prepping your face so that it’s better at absorbing the follow on products in your routine. If you use a toner, then this skin sloughing tonic should be next in line.
If you’ve been skipping toner all these years, fear not. Simply use straight after cleansing and prepare to be wowed at how much your skin glows. Moreover, because the percentage of mandelic is fairly low, it can be used around 4-5 times a week without the worry of irritation.
Main image: Getty/brands