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What Is Mandelic Acid? Everything You Need to Know about the Gentle AHA

One of this year’s buzziest additions to the arsenal of anti-aging offerings? Mandelic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) derived from bitter almonds and favored for its gentle yet efficacious nature—and it’s actually not new at all.

“Mandelic acid has been popular among dermatologists for as long as I have been practicing,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Blair-Murphy Rose. “However, it may be increasing in popularity due to increased awareness among consumers.”

Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Michelle Henry is also quick to note that the acid gained traction back in the late ‘90s, and that it’s benefits are widely accepted in skin-expert circles. It’s growing acclaim over recent years is likely down to its slightly oxymoronic nature. Because what even is a gentle acid?

“Mandelic acid is larger in molecular size compared to other AHAs like glycolic acid, which means it penetrates the skin more slowly and is less likely to cause irritation,” Henry explains. This physical characteristic means that the benefits of chemical exfoliants are available to those with sensitive skin, too.

Here’s everything you need to know about mandelic acid.

What Are the Benefits of Mandelic Acid?

Like other AHAs, mandelic acid mitigates the signs of aging through chemical exfoliation. “Exfoliation removes dead cells from the skin’s surface, reducing dullness and revealing brighter, healthier-looking skin,” says Murphy-Rose. Along with boosting brightness, this sort of exfoliation also helps discourage the formation of wrinkles and fine lines while improving skin texture and tone. (Yes, it helps with skin conditions like hyperpigmentation and dark spots, too!)

Those who deal with breakouts should consider incorporating mandelic acid into their routines, too. Regenerative exfoliation teams with antibacterial properties to clear acne-prone skin, preventing clogged pores and helping to regulate sebaceous glands, all sans irritation.

Finally, research shows that mandelic acid stimulates the skin’s natural regenerative processes, accelerating cell turnover and promoting collagen production for firmer skin.

How to Use Mandelic Acid

Mandelic acid can be incorporated into either your morning or evening routine—with thoughtful considerations, of course. “Initially, use mandelic acid products once or twice a week, gradually increasing the frequency as your skin adjusts,” advises Henry, adding that using any AHA at night may be your best bet due to increased sun sensitivity. (Regardless of which route you take or acid your prefer, always prioritize sunscreen to avoid sun damage.)

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