Your Complete Guide to Mandelic Acid for Skin

Your Complete Guide to Mandelic Acid for Skin

Sometimes my clients come to me looking for a miracle. They’re dealing with uneven skin tone, rough or dull skin texture, fine lines and wrinkles, and congested skin that seems to always break out at the most inconvenient times. They need a skin care treatment that addresses all of these concerns without causing irritation, clogged pores, or excessive dryness. 

“Dull, uneven skin tones, dark spots, congestion, and even signs of aging are no match for this powerful heavy-hitting ingredient.”

  • Shani Darden, esthetician

My go-to solution is mandelic acid. For years, I’ve been using this ingredient to help address a myriad of skin conditions and concerns. It’s a useful ingredient for addressing these issues, but it’s also a favorite ingredient of mine to help reveal radiant, glowing skin. 

I’ll explain what it is, how it works, and how you can use it in your own at-home skincare routine to get real, visible results.

What Is Mandelic Acid?

The skincare world is full of beneficial facial acids, but it can be hard to know which ones work best for your skin type and your skincare needs. You don’t have to be a dermatologist to crack the code, but you may need a little professional guidance. Luckily, I have an entire blog post dedicated to understanding facial acids and helping you decide which ones are best for you. 

Mandelic Acid is one of my favorite acids because it’s such a powerhouse ingredient. Derived from bitter almonds, mandelic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid with a twist. Most AHAs are water soluble and only able to work on the surface of the skin. Mandelic acid, however, is more oil soluble than other AHA acids, allowing it to work like both an AHA and a beta hydroxy acid (BHA). 

It’s generally well tolerated by all skin types and has the added benefit of being generally gentler for dark skin tones than some other acids, especially if you have a dark skin type with pigmentation issues. 

Now, let me explain what this acid does when it hits your skin. 

What Are the Benefits of Mandelic Acid?

No matter your skin type, adding a mandelic acid skincare product to your lineup can be a great way to reveal healthier-looking skin. There’s virtually nothing that it can’t do.

1. Addresses Uneven Skin Tone

The skin is constantly renewing, creating new skin cells in the deepest layers of the skin and pushing those new cells to the surface. Once the new skin cells reach the surface, dead skin cells should naturally slough away. 

As we get older, this skin cell turnover takes longer, especially after the age of 50. When cell turnover slows down, the skin begins to look dull and congested and becomes more prone to blemishes. Mandelic acid addresses these concerns by invigorating the skin and exfoliating dead skin cell buildup, revealing a more even skin tone. 

2. Helps Balance Oil Production

Remember that mandelic acid is more oil-soluble than most AHAs. That means it dissolves into your skin’s natural oil, sebum. 

Because it can dissolve into the skin’s oil and penetrate more deeply than other AHAs, it can help encourage balanced sebum production, helping mattify oily areas (like the T-zone) without causing dryness in other areas of the skin. This can help support your skin’s natural moisture levels, which can be incredibly effective — especially for those with combination skin types. 

3. Supports a Balanced Microbiome

You don’t have to be a teenager to suffer from breakouts. I see clients of all ages dealing with congested skin. A lot of times, the issue stems from an imbalance in the microbiome on the skin barrier. 

The skin barrier contains beneficial bacteria that keep skin protected and regulated, but it also contains some bad bacteria that can congest the pores and lead to blemishes. Mandelic acid has properties that can support a balanced skin microbiome, which can help you see less congestion in your pores. 

4. Fades the Appearance of Dark Spots

If you were born before 1990, you probably spent a lot of time baking in the sun without sunscreen. Those golden tans (or any amount of unprotected sun exposure) may have left areas of discoloration on your skin that are hard to cover with makeup. 

Mandelic acid is a great tool for diminishing the appearance of dark spots, especially those left behind after sun damage or breakouts. It’s a gentler way to even out your skin tone than invasive cosmetic procedures, and you can get great results when you use it consistently. 

5. Minimizes the Appearance of Aging

In addition to losing the speed at which your skin renews, aging also slows down the rate at which your skin produces collagen and elastin, two proteins that are vital to keeping your skin firm and plum. 

After age 30, you start losing one percent of your collagen production each year, which can mean the development of fine lines and wrinkles. Using a mandelic acid serum or peel can help diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and reveal more youthful-looking skin. 

When I said that there’s really nothing this acid can’t do, I meant it. Now, let’s talk about how you can use it at home. 

How To Use Mandelic Acid

Some of the treatments I’m best known for are my signature peels. One I use consistently is a blend of mandelic acid, lactic acid, and glycolic acid. I have performed this peel on numerous clients who need to look radiant for big events, as well as clients who just want to look as youthful as possible.

I decided to formulate a version of this peel that could be used at home so that you can get fresh, glowing, iconic skin without making a trip to L.A. My Triple Acid Signature Peel is powerful but gentle enough for sensitive skin types. 

It includes:

  • Triple acid peeling solution. I combined three powerful acids to make this cruelty-free peel incredibly effective. Glycolic acid reaches deeper levels of the skin and refines pores, while lactic acid and mandelic acid resurface the skin to reveal an even, glowing skin tone. 
  • Neutralizing clay mask. The included mask activates the peeling solution and deep cleans pores. Kaolin clay draws out impurities and prevents skin congestion, while bentonite clay helps remove dirt and oil trapped deep in the skin. 

In just 12 minutes, you can see visible improvement in the appearance of your pores and in the texture of your skin. 

Apply the Triple Acid Signature Peel 

Using my Triple Acid Signature Peel is an effective way to add the benefits of mandelic acid to your skincare routine. You can use this formulation twice a month to deeply clean, exfoliate, and polish your skin. 

Here’s how to do it:

  1. On cleansed skin, apply a thin layer of Triple Acid Solution Peel with the provided brush, keeping it away from your lips and eyes. 
  2. Leave the peel solution on your skin for one minute. You’ll feel a tingle, and that’s completely normal. As you get used to using the peel, you can build to two minutes.
  3. After you’ve reached one to two minutes, apply the Kaolin Clay Neutralizing Mask directly over the Exfoliating Peel Solution and massage it into the skin to activate it. 
  4. Leave the mask on for ten minutes. You’ll feel a tingle, which is normal, but if you cannot immediately tolerate it, you can wipe the mask off after one minute. 
  5. Rinse your skin with lukewarm water to remove the remaining solution and mask. 

You can use this peel every week to every other week, beginning with once a month until your skin tolerates it. I generally recommend that my clients use this mask in the evening in case they experience any irritation. Before you try it, patch-test it on an inconspicuous area of your skin to make sure it’s a good fit. 

Follow Up

Once you’ve finished your peel, I recommend following up with a hydrating facial serum and moisturizer. The Moisture Boost Serum is a great option to help soothe after-peel side effects, especially if your skin feels tingly after your treatment. 

My Weightless Oil-Free Moisturizer layers nicely on top, giving you a double dose of hyaluronic acid coupled with hydrolyzed collagen to keep the skin hydrated, plump, and refreshed. This is a congestion-free moisturizer that won’t cause clogged pores for those with oily skin. However, if you have dry skin, you may want to try my Hydration Peptide Cream instead.

Don’t forget your eye cream, which goes on after your moisturizer, and if you’re looking for an eye cream that addresses every possible issue (dark circles, puffiness, crow’s feet, etc.), you’ve found it. 

I developed my Intensive Eye Renewal Cream to target every eye concern my clients have. It literally does it all. It contains firming peptides, nine age-defying actives, and silk tree, which firms and brightens immediately. I also added squalene for hydration and niacinamide to fight crow’s feet and fine lines. 

The Next Day

Anytime you have a peel, you can expect to wake up to radiant skin, but remember that your skin may also be more sensitive to the sun and external stressors than before you had your peel. It is crucial to make sure you use gentle products the day after you use your peel, and always wear sunscreen. 

I recommend a hydrating cleanser that won’t disrupt your skin barrier. My hydrating Cleansing Serum contains ultra-hydrating hyaluronic acid, oat bran extract to soothe and restore, and olive and chicory leaf to help calm stressed skin. This is my favorite cleanser to use after any chemical peel because it’s effective in removing dirt and oil but is non-drying, so it won’t strip the skin of moisture or cause irritation.

For daytime moisture post-peel, I recommend a moisturizer that doubles as a sunscreen. I love Supergoop Play Everyday Lotion SPF 50

This clean formula is lightweight and absorbs rapidly into your skin to protect it from the visible effects of both UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) rays. It also contains natural oat fraction to soothe the skin and help retain moisture, candle bush extract to help chip away at visible photodamage, and marine micro-organism to help protect against intrusive infrared radiation. 

Helpful Tips

Your skin may be noticeably brighter and more radiant once you use the peel, but I’ve got a few tips to help you get the best results. 

  1. Don’t use retinol on the same day that you use mandelic acid. Both retinol and mandelic acid are physical exfoliants, and using them together can cause redness and irritation. If you regularly use my Retinol Reform, don’t use it on the same day you use my Triple Acid Peel or any mandelic acid product. 
  1. Be consistent. You’ll generally get the most benefits by consistently using any product, and mandelic acid peels are no different. If you have incredibly sensitive skin, start by using the Triple Acid Peel once a month, building up to every other week. 
  1. Don’t sleep on aftercare. Chemical exfoliants are powerful ingredients, so it’s important to focus on soothing ingredients like aloe vera, niacinamide, vitamin C and E, and various other antioxidants during the few days after your peel.

Once you try mandelic acid, there’s no going back. It’s simply one of the most effective skincare ingredients available. 

Mandelic Acid: A Gift for Skin

No matter your skin concern, mandelic acid can probably address it. Dull, uneven skin tones, dark spots, congestion, and even signs of aging are no match for this powerful, heavy-hitting ingredient.

You can find it inside my Triple Acid Signature Peel, a powerful peel that mimics the red carpet treatments I give my clients and is safe enough to use at home. 


18295 Mandelic acid, a lipophilic alpha hydroxy acid, reduces lipid production, enhances exfoliation and provides clinical and patient perceivable benefits to oily and photodamaged skin |

Age-associated changes in human epidermal cell renewal |

Antimicrobial Properties of Mandelic Acid, Gallic Acid and their Derivatives |

Why does skin wrinkle with age? What is the best way to slow or prevent this process? | Scientific American


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