Are There Health Benefits to Mandelic Acid?

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on May 26, 2023
3 min read

There are so many skin care products that claim to reverse the signs of aging. Some of them list an active ingredient called mandelic acid. The idea of putting acid on your face may sound scary. But mandelic acid is a popular exfoliant that's known for being gentler than similar ingredients.

Mandelic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid. There are other alpha hydroxy acids on the market such as lactic or glycolic acid. Alpha hydroxy acids are chemical exfoliants. This means they help you shed the cells on the surface of your skin. 

Skin cells die and replace themselves naturally. But the process slows down as you age. Dull and dry cells can make the surface of your skin look older. Clearing them off may brighten your complexion. Chemical exfoliants may also improve the look of fine lines and reduce the appearance of dark spots on your skin. 

Mandelic acid is a chemical exfoliant. Exfoliation removes the top layers of skin cells. Some people find that removing old cells improves their skin's appearance when their skin starts to look dull or dry. 

Your skin has multiple layers. The layers you can see are called the epidermis. The top layer of the epidermis is called the stratum corneum. It consists of between 10 and 30 layers of dead skin cells.

These dead skin cells are constantly sliding off and being replaced by new cells. A complete cycle of cell turnover takes about 28 days. This natural shedding process slows down as you age. It takes about 45 days to complete for older adults.

Products that contain mandelic acid trigger exfoliation. So regular use may result in a brighter overall complexion. Some people may see improvements in the appearance of wrinkles or age spots. Mandelic acid can also help with acne and reduce the appearance of acne scars.

Mandelic acid has a larger molecule size than other popular alpha hydroxy acids. The larger molecular size means it doesn't penetrate as deeply into your skin when you apply it. That makes it gentler than other acids. People with sensitive or acne-prone skin have fewer issues with mandelic acid than other alpha hydroxy acids.

Mandelic acid is proven to exfoliate the skin. The kind of effects you'll notice depends on the concentration of mandelic acid in your product. 

The FDA has approved products with a mandelic acid concentration of 10% or less for consumer use. Doctors can prescribe products with a higher concentration of active ingredients. These will have more dramatic effects.

Mandelic acid has several health benefits, including the following.

Skin firming. In one study, people used a mandelic acid product for 4 weeks. Researchers saw significant improvements in the elasticity of the skin under their eyes. Tighter and more elastic skin looks less wrinkled than looser skin.

Acne treatment. In another study, people received a much higher dose of mandelic acid as an acne treatment. The people in the study got treatments of a 45% mandelic acid solution every other week for 12 weeks. These treatments reduced acne and skin inflammation.

Discoloration. Mandelic acid treatments of concentrations from 10% to 50% can fade dark spots on your skin. Some doctors may combine mandelic acid with other ingredients for better results.

All alpha hydroxy acid can irritate your skin. You should take care when using mandelic acid.

Start slow. Choose products with a low concentration for your first use of mandelic acid. Make sure it doesn’t irritate your skin before you try a more potent product.

Limit use. Experts recommend limiting how often you use any alpha hydroxy acid at first. Start by applying it every few days and work up to daily use.

Rotate products. Be careful if you use mandelic acid at the same time as other alpha hydroxy acids or retinol products. Combining them can cause dryness or irritation.

Wear sunscreen. Alpha hydroxy acids can lead to sun sensitivity. Limit your sun exposure by wearing sunscreen with at least a 8% zinc oxide concentration, staying in the shade, or wearing protective clothing.

Speak to your doctor if you have questions about using mandelic acid.