You don’t have to be at the cutting edge of beauty ingredients to notice the meteoric rise of acid-based skincare.
There is a new generation of products that have been launched to match our ever-growing knowledge and interest in the details of each ingredient list. Emerging Skintellectuals have brought transparency to the industry where skin-damaging components that have dominated the pre-active offering have been supplanted in favor of engineered, potent and science-guided product lines with acids at their heart.
From hyaluronic acid to azelaic acid, it can feel like you have to know a high-tech name every week, making it daunting to know where to start. But if you’re just starting to up the ante in your skincare routine, there’s one powerhouse acid you need to have on your radar.
Mandelic acid should be your gateway to the world of chemical peels. The gentler AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) is derived from bitter almonds and removes dead skin in a less irritating manner.
The multitasking ingredient accelerates cell turnover, improves the appearance of hyperpigmentation and helps unclog pores.
we have dr Kemi Fabusiwa (@dr.fab), junior doctor and skincare expert for the INKEY list, consulted to decipher mandelic acid.
What does mandelic acid do?
“Mandelic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid found in different types of products like serums, blemishes, and scrubs. It increases cell turnover by removing the top layer of dead and dying skin cells, allowing your younger, healthier cells to surface. Mandelic acid has a larger molecular size than other AHAs like glycolic acid, which means it can exfoliate the skin without penetrating too deeply. This makes mandelic acid a great option for those in need of a gentle exfoliation.”
What should you use mandelic acid for?
“Alpha hydroxy acids like mandelic acid have the ability to exfoliate the skin and remove older skin cells. Because of this, they can help remove old skin cells that are clogging pores, making them ideal for breakouts and acne. But it can also help remove areas of hyperpigmented skin if you want a more even skin tone.”
What skin type does mandelic acid work well on?
“Mandelic acid is a universal ingredient that works well for those with oily or dry skin. Due to its large molecular size, it is also suitable for people with hypersensitive skin types.”
What ingredients does mandelic acid works well with?
“Mandelic acid works well in conjunction with ingredients like niacinamide and salicylic acid. It is important to always look out for signs of inflammation (redness, swelling, warmth, irritation) when combining active ingredients. But it has a nice synergistic effect with other anti-acne ingredients.”
In which products does mandelic acid work best?
“Mandelic acid is an exfoliating acid, which means it works well in serums, skin peels and blemishes. In some formulations it can also act overnight.”
Shop the best products with mandelic acid below
The mandelic acid treatment on the INKEY list
The INKEY List pares long lists of ingredients down to the essentials, placing mandelic acid at the heart of this gentle yet effective treatment. It is designed to reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation and acne scars with the successful combination of mandelic acid and retinol. The latter is included in the small percentage of 0.1 to ensure that it does not cause irritation but smoothes the skin with continuous use.
The texture is extremely light and, thanks to the addition of the vitamin A derivative, also regulates sebum and reduces wrinkles. Apply to clean skin and follow with a moisturizer.
Buy now for €9.99, iconic beauty
Ordinary mandelic acid 10% + HA
When breakouts leave behind an unwanted souvenir, call upon mandelic acid to brighten, smooth and say goodbye to the scarred residue. This topical treatment from The Ordinary begins with a gentle exfoliation.
In this formula, mandelic acid combines with glycolic acid in a slow but steady approach that ensures it is tolerated by all skin types. There’s also HA (aka Hyaluronic Acid) to help hydrate and plump. The light texture is quickly absorbed and leaves a healthy glow.
Buy now £6.90, Space NK
Allies of Skin Mandelic Pigmentation Corrector Serum
Best applied at night, Allies of Skin’s serum allows it to work while you sleep. Specially formulated to treat stubborn hyperpigmentation, large pores, imperfections and uneven texture, it turns your concerns on their head to leave you with a glowing glass skin.
While you sleep, it strengthens the skin’s natural barrier by combining mandelic acid with other powerful ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, bakuchiol, peptides and organic rosehip. These work together to produce noticeable improvements in skin – smoothing texture, firming, increasing elasticity and calming redness. Small things have a big impact. Use at night.
Buy now £89.00, Space NK
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting Scrub with 25% AHA + 2% BHA
Combatting dullness, uneven skin tone and textured skin in one fell swoop, Paula’s Choice launched this combination of acids. The brand is popular for its Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant and this follows in the same vein, but alongside clearing up blemishes, it adds skin smoothing, brightening and fighting fine lines to its list of achievements. This differs from some of the other formulas on this list as it is a rinse-off scrub meant to be used once a week.
In just 10 minutes, salicylic acid (BHA) unclogs pores while the AHA cocktail (glycolic, lactic, mandelic, tartaric and malic acids) rejuvenates the skin’s surface. Add in the soothing effects of allantoin, butterfly pea flower extract and the like and you have an impressive, effective yet skin-friendly treatment.
Buy now £39.00, Paula’s Choice
Youth To The People Mandelic Acid + Superfood Unity Scrub
While the Youth To The People Exfoliant smoothes and decongests pores, it also leaves skin hydrated, supple and radiant. Powered by antioxidant-rich botanical extracts, it’s a water-like liquid that includes mandelic acid in the formula to slough off dead skin cells and minimize the appearance of hyperpigmentation. There’s also stain-fighting salicylic acid and gluconolactone, known for their moisturizing effects. Still, it can feel quite dry on the complexion, so follow application with a nourishing moisturizer. Bonus points for the herbal scent.
Buy Now £32.00, Iconic Beauty
Glow Recipe Strawberry Smooth BHA+AHA Salicylic Serum
The Strawberry Smooth Serum from the K-Beauty Label Glow Recipe is not a cult product for nothing. To achieve that coveted glassy complexion — a trend that started in South Korea and has since gained momentum around the world — this formula is on hand to shift dull skin cells and illuminate you from the outside in.
This is achieved through a combination of BHA and AHA acids, the former being salicylic acid and the latter being mandelic acid. It acts quickly and effectively, but fear not, there is no downtime as it moisturizes at the same time thanks to hyaluronic acid, strawberry water, leaf extract and enzymes. It also smells fruity, absorbs quickly and forms a smooth base for subsequent make-up application.
Buy now £36.00, iconic beauty
dr Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Extra Strong Peel Pads
Wipe away the dark stains with one wipe of this cloth. The pad was developed by dermatologist-led label Dr. Dennis Gross designed to act as a professional treatment that you can do at home. As such, it is not as aggressive to the skin as you will find in the clinic and is designed to be used on a daily basis when required. The peel consists of a two-step process.
You start with the first pad – enriched with AHAs lactric, mandelic, glycolic and BHA salicylic – which you glide over the face in a circular motion, wait for it to dry and complete with the pad marked “Two” repeat, which highlights retinol, reservatrol and headlight ascrobic acid among other anti-aging ingredients. The peeling pads make your complexion more radiant and sunspots appear much lighter, while an uneven complexion has been smoothed.
Buy now £89.00, Space NK
VOTARY Radiance Reveal Mask
VOTARY harnesses the power of natural ingredients to provide your skin with all the nutrients it deserves. Each product is made in the UK in small batches and blended by hand to be kind to both the planet and your complexion. The Radiance Reveal Mask delivers what it promises.
Mandelic acid plays a key role in the formulation, placed alongside lactic acid to gently renew the skin’s surface for a radiant complexion. Use twice a week — say Wednesday and Sunday, for example — and you’ll notice the reduction in fine lines, the lightening of hyperpigmentation, and even fewer breakouts.
Buy now £55.00, iconic beauty