Mandelic acid: is it the hot new active?

The multi-functional serum ingredient taking over our shelves…

Content Producer / February 12 2024

It seems like every week there’s a ‘hot new active’ on our radars, sweeping our feeds and finding its way onto our beauty shelves. Sure we know retinol, the deep-hitting skin turnover saviour. And of course, there’s skin-plumping niacinamide. But skin care is not a one size fits all kind of solution. So, if those actives aren’t quite hitting the skin-perfecting spot, this is the newbie active, on the skin superstar block…

To find out more about this latest hot new active, BEAUTYcrew caught up with Dr. Naomi, the wonderfully renowned Australian Cosmetic Physician for her thoughts on the active, mandelic acid. 

What is mandelic acid?

If you’re looking for an breakout-busting, fine line-smoothing, skin-resurfacing serum, we’re pleased to introduce: mandelic acid. This alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) is here to help with skin cell turnover and for that, we’ll be forever grateful.

So, we turned to Dr. Naomi to figure out what exactly mandelic acid does do for your skin? She gave us the mandelic acid run-down. “Mandelic acid is a type of AHA that works as a skin exfoliator & resurfacer, loosening and lifting dead skin cells to encourage renewal,” Dr. Naomi explains. “This is great for pore minimising, skin brightening and addressing uneven skin tone. It is particularly good for those concerned with congestion and problematic skin”.

Anything with pore-clearing capabilities and skin-brightening effects has us all but sold already! But before we stand (at someone's door…) holding cards declaring our love for mandelic acid, let's find out more…

Will it be *the* hot new active?

Our top two aforementioned holy grail actives have been in our skin care routines since, well, forever now. But before we chuck them out in preference for a shiny new toy, we asked Dr. Naomi for her take on if mandelic acid is in fact the latest A-lister or just having its five minutes of fame. Her thoughts? “It is a useful addition, but will not take over. Retinol [and] Niacinamide are both hero ingredients [and] essential in addressing a very broad range of skin concerns”. So there we have it, a new step in our skin-cycling journey.

Who should use it?

Because of the way this active is composed (with a larger particle size) it means that the product absorbs slower into the skin. And why does that matter? Well, first up, it means that you’re less likely to get skin irritation. And because it’s oil-soluble it can penetrate deeper, soothing the skin at a dermal level.

But Dr. Naomi recommends caution when starting down the ‘active’ route: “AHAs in general come with a caution for sensitive skin, it’s important to introduce active ingredients gradually.” But even if your skin skews to the less-than-sensitive side, both Dr. Naomi (and we) would still say to “conduct a patch test (on your arm) before applying to your face”. 

How do you incorporate it into your routine?

Because it’s an active ingredient, we’d recommend making sure that your ingredients are compatible (check with your local facialist) before layering them on each other. But because for the most part mandelic acid comes in serum form, Dr Naomi recommends for it to “be applied after cleansing and before your moisturiser and sunscreen”. A simple addition to your routine. 

Are there any downsides to using it?

What we’re hoping to achieve when using mandelic acid is a resurfaced, rejuvenated face. So, to avoid the signs of ‘visible’ (think, peeling and redness) resurfacing Dr Naomi suggests “not starting use too close to any important events” (a valid warning). Her other tip? “To initially apply the product as a wash off mask”, as a great way of letting your skin gradually build up a tolerance.

The Mandelic Acid Products To Try

 Dr. Naomi Sweet Spot

Of course we couldn’t get the knowledgeable Dr. Naomi’s intel without asking her which products from the Dr. Naomi range she would suggest if you’re looking to try mandelic acid. Her top pick? The Dr. Naomi Sweet Spot. This ‘powerful and targeted treatment’ works to eliminate dark spots and acne breakouts, working by ‘exfoliating skin to fade existing pigmentation’ but fair warning: the hard-hitting treatment is not for AHA newbies. 

$89 at Dr Naomi 

The Ordinary Mandelic Acid 10% +HA

If smooth and radiant skin is on the cards for you, this hyaluronic acid-boosted mix of mandelic acid is for you. The gentler-than-others formulation works to (slowly and calmly) exfoliate your skin, buffing away dead skin to reveal a brightened, resurfaced face.

$13 at Adore Beauty 

Paula’s Choice 6% Mandelic Acid + 2% Lactic Acid Liquid Exfoliant

This liquid exfoliant is an oh-so-gentle skin-resurfacing dream-come-true. Not only does it target a myriad of skin-concerns (think correcting uneven tone and busting blackheads), this exfoliant even works to reveal brightened, hydrated skin. Oh, and its seriously gentle formula means everyone gets to look their best! 

$47 at Paula’s Choice

Main image credit: @yarashahidi

Not ready to move on from the retinol trend? Here’s everything you need to know…

Emma Allcock began her career in the world of fashion and beauty in 2015, interning for various PR fashion houses. Naturally her love for style soon extended to beauty, and Emma landed firmly in the beauty and wellness world thanks to an internship-turned-role at local Australian fragrance brand Maison Blanche. One thing that remained consistent whether unpacking accessories or creating social content? Her commitment to an always-perfect manicure. Luckily, she’s since turned her talents to helping her readers achieve the same, writing about all things beauty and wellness. Emma is now a Content Producer for BEAUTYcrew, with her words and recommendations also appearing across beautyheaven. Emma loves the process of diving deep into the world of testing (and writing) about everything from haircare to fragrance. When she’s not slathering her skin in something new, she’s going for an early morning stroll to catch a stunning sunrise (coffee in hand, of course), because life’s all about that wellness balance after all.

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