Mandelic acid

What does it do?
Gently chemically exfoliates the skin, lifting off dead skin cells
Promote collagen remodelling
Improve skin hydration

What’s it used for?
Skin brightening and smoothing
Hyperpigmentation, dark spots and uneven skin tone
Fine lines and wrinkles

How do I use it?
Apply at night one to three times per week, followed by moisturiser
Apply sunscreen in the morning

Key benefits
A good alpha hydroxy acid for those with sensitive skin

Ideal concentration
Up to 10% in leave-on products, or in higher concentrations in chemical peels

Evidence rating

Yet another skincare acid, mandelic acid is a standout because of its low potential for irritation. It has lots of benefits without the drawback of irritation often seen with other acids, so is a great choice for those with sensitive skin. 

What is mandelic acid, and what does it do?

Mandelic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid. Due to its large molecular size, it’s absorbed more slowly so is less irritating than other alpha hydroxy acids such as glycolic acid and lactic acid, but is also less powerful. It’s a gentle chemical exfoliant, lifting off dry, dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. It can also stimulate collagen production.

Why should I use it?

Mandelic acid can help brighten dull skin, and fade uneven skin tone and hyperpigmentation. It can also improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and help manage acne. It’s a great choice if you have sensitive skin, as it’s less irritating than other alpha hydroxy acids.

How should I use it? 

Apply mandelic acid at night followed by moisturiser, one to three times per week. If you have sensitive skin, start just once weekly to a test patch of skin first. It can also be used in a higher concentration less frequently, as a chemical peel

Does it have any drawbacks? 

Despite being less likely to cause irritation than other alpha hydroxy acids, there’s still the potential for irritation, especially if you have extremely sensitive skin. Mandelic acid can increase sun sensitivity, so always use sunscreen during the day. It’s light-sensitive, so must be kept in the dark (ideally in an opaque or dark glass container) to remain effective.

Dayal S, Kalra KD, Sahu P. Comparative study of efficacy and safety of 45% mandelic acid versus 30% salicylic acid peels in mild-to-moderate acne vulgaris. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2020 Feb;19(2):393-399.

Jacobs SW, Culbertson EJ. Effects of Topical Mandelic Acid Treatment on Facial Skin Viscoelasticity. Facial Plast Surg. 2018 Dec;34(6):651-656.


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Spotlight on Skin was created by award-winning Melbourne-based dermatologist, Dr Julia Rhodes.

Julia knows first-hand how overwhelming the skincare world can be, and that’s with over 10 years of experience practicing dermatology. Given that even she gets overwhelmed, she appreciates how hard it can be for those of you without a scientific background to make sense of all the information available, and choose products that are right for your skin…