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For this instalment of 'skincare ingredients you might not know about but should', we're talking mandelic acid. It wasn't a common ingredient in skincare a few years back, but it's cropping up more and more these days, so if you've seen it in an INCI list or advertised on the front of a product and you're intrigued: this post is for you...
Mandelic acid is an AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) derived from bitter almond, so it's in the same water-soluble chemical exfoliant family as lactic and glycolic acid. It has a larger molecular size than either of these more well-known AHAs, and what that really means is that it penetrates more slowly so can feel a lot gentler on the skin. So, if you've tried glycolic acid (usually considered the most irritating chemical exfoliant) and found it just too much for your skin, this could be a great alternative.
Mandelic acid is, of course, an exfoliant but if you're familiar with different types of acids you'll know that they all have their own ways of working and added benefits and these nuances are what will help you decide which is for you. Mandelic acid is thought to have antibacterial benefits, making it a great option for blemish-prone skin, and it's also believed to be specifically good at targeting hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone, which makes it a double threat for breakouts (both treating existing scarring and preventing future spots from forming). At the same time, it's also doing that surface exfoliation to smooth the skin. It might also have some well-ageing benefits too - obviously it's speeding up cell turnover (which slows with age) but it could also help with collagen production. This all makes it a pretty great all-rounder.
As you might have noticed from my images, mandelic acid is light-sensitive, so look for products with opaque or tinted packaging if you want an effective formula. I tend to use my AHAs in the evening and how often I use them is really driven by their strength. If I'm using a mandelic acid in itself and it's not formulated alongside any other exfoliants then I'd choose a 10% concentration and use it around 3 times a week. If you have sensitive skin, you could go for a 5% concentration instead. If you prefer a 'little and often' approach, I think 5% would be ok to use most days, though I'm never the biggest proponent of daily exfoliation. If it's combined with other acids then it would really depend on how strong I think the overall formulation is. All the products we're talking about today are either serums or toners, so which ones you want to hone in on really depends on your preferences.
Getting into the products I've used and enjoyed over the past couple of years, I have to start with the first ever mandelic acid product I tried: the Ordinary's Mandelic Acid 10% + HA | £6.90. This has propanediol at the top of the INCI list, so it has that hydrating, very light, almost water-oil texture. Sorry if that's a terrible description, but if you've tried a product with a good concentration of this ingredient in it, you'll know what I mean! It also contains a hyaluronic acid derivative and glycerin to bring hydration into the skin and soothing plant extracts, to balance the formula and give a gentle exfoliation that's totally non-stripping. I would use this around three times a week as part of my evening skincare routine. It's brilliant for dark spots, congestion and even sun damage, whilst also giving your skin that glow and smoothness. It was incredibly effective for me from my first use and the results only got better over time, and I experienced zero irritation.
The next product I tried and loved containing this ingredient was the PSA Skin Heroine Mandelic & Licorice Superfood Glow Toner | £28. This contains a 6% blend of mandelic and lactic acids, so I'd use something like this every other day, and they're formulated alongside niacinamide and licorice root. Niacinamide is a very popular ingredient these days; it helps with oil production in the skin, but can also boost up its barrier function and help to stop pigmentation spread through the skin. Essentially, what that means is that if you get breakouts and the scar often ends up being bigger than the original spot: niacinamide can help with that. Licorice is another product that's great at helping to even out dark spots. We also have lots of hydrating, soothing and fermented ingredients in this formula, so you're getting an essence benefit with this product too and it's so gentle on the skin. If you've been inclined to over-peel in the past, I can't recommend switching to this kind of formula enough!
For the more sensitive-skinned amongst us, who like the sound of all of the benefits I've discussed but perhaps haven't vibed with chemical exfoliants in the past: the By Wishtrend Mandelic Acid 5% Prep Water | £20.10 (15% off with code JASMINETALKSBEAUTY (affiliate) | is for you. This is a really simple, lightweight formula with 5% mandelic acid alongside soothing centella asiatica, moisturising castor oil, hyaluronic acid to draw water into the skin and beta-glucan and panthenol for soothing hydration, plus you have licorice extract in this formula too, to support the aim of evening out the skin's tone. This is super-gentle and gives the skin a healthy glow, a dose of hydration and helps with overall clarity.
Next, let's talk about the Facetheory Mandelibright Serum S7 with 10% Mandelic Acid and 2% Niacinamide* | £18.99 (25% off with code JASMINETALKSBEAUTY25 (not affiliate). This is another formula that combines the skin-evening benefits of mandelic acid with niacinamide and also licorice, this time in a lightweight serum (that will work for most skin types). Facetheory add to this soothing antioxidant green tea, chamomile and humectants. You might be sensing a pattern here in that I love a formula that contains both exfoliants but also calming and hydrating ingredients so the skin barrier stays happy despite the fact you're using an acid. This is another very effective formula for both active breakouts and resultant scarring and I would use it 3 times a week.
If you're in the US, definitely check out the Stratia Soft Touch AHA 10% Mandelic Acid Gel | $16. I personally use something like this 3-4 times a week as a serum in my nighttime skincare routine. Alongside your robust 10% concentration of mandelic acid, you have panthenol, aloe, chamomile, allantoin and glycerin to soothe and hydrate the skin. This really is more of a standalone exfoliant product balanced with the calming and hydrating ingredients to make it very gentle, rather than a multi-active like some of the others in this post. So, if you get your niacinamide or other skin-unifying benefits through different ingredients already in your routine and want to keep it simple: this is still an effective formula for clarifying and smoothing the skin.
I also recently tried a mini of the Allies of Skin Mandelic Pigmentation Corrector Night Serum | £28 (15ml). This yellow lotion is the heaviest serum of the lot (with rosehip and tamanu oils to moisturise the skin) so is best for drier people and obviously it doesn't come cheap! I can't tell you with this product what the exact concentration of mandelic acid is, but it's a blend of 11% mandelic, lactic and salicylic. So, you're getting the resurfacing and brightening effects of the lactic (as well as its hydrating benefits) and the pore-penetrating anti-blemish action of the salicylic acid. This combination of mandelic and salicylic makes this a great option for blemish-prone skin because they're working on the same issue in different ways. We also have niacinamide and peptides in the mix to support the work of the other actives to even out the skin tone, plus hyaluronic acid and antioxidants like bakuchiol and superoxide dismutase. Overall, this is a great formula that really worked for me when I was having breakouts over the festive period. Would I repurchase it? At this price-point, probably not because I recently discovered...
The Youth to the People Mandelic Acid + Superfood Unity Exfoliant* | £32. I hope you liked that segway into my go-to at the moment! This gentle toner uses 3% mandelic acid to bolster its 2% salicylic acid, plus contains a dash of PHA for good measure. What I love about this formula is that although the salicylic is obviously the star of the show, being formulated at its most-proven and highest cosmetic concentration, I do really enjoy the combination of it with mandelic to clear congestion, treat breakouts and minimise scarring. This product does all of that but feels so gentle on my skin with licorice and green tea to support those ingredients alongside panthenol and aloe to soothe and calm the skin and lots of antioxidants. A fantastic all-rounder and definitely one to try if you're decidedly more acne-prone but your skin leans more towards being sensitive.
Have you tried mandelic acid in your skincare products?