Chemical peels are cosmetic interventions in which experts apply a chemical solution to the face to remove dead skin cells and stimulate the growth of new cells. There is evidence to suggest mandelic acid peels are effective and safe to treat skin conditions, such as acne.

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Mandelic acid is an acidic chemical that has become popular for its use in skin cosmetics.

Mandelic acid chemical peels are common forms of single-ingredient chemical peels, alongside glycolic acid, glycolic acid, and lactic acid chemical peels.

This article explores the effects of chemical peels on the skin and the use of mandelic acid on the skin. It will also look at the safety of mandelic acid and products that contain this ingredient and compare it with other types of acid peels used on the skin.

As a 2018 review explains, the goal of chemical peels is to remove a predictable, uniform thickness of damaged skin.

A chemical peel can help with:

Along with other acid-based chemical peels, mandelic acid chemical peels do not penetrate very deeply into the skin to achieve their effects. Chemical peels of this variety are known as superficial peels.

Mandelic acid can be helpful for some people with skin conditions. For example, 2018 research suggests mandelic acid can increase skin firmness and elasticity. Moreover, there is further evidence that mandelic acid chemical peels may be useful for:

  • dyspigmentation — an abnormality in the skin pigment
  • skin redness — erythema
  • oily skin or excess sebum

It is worth noting that many skin concerns are cosmetic in nature. Although cosmetic concerns can be psychologically significant, they do not directly affect a person’s physical health.

How to use it on the skin?

Mandelic acid has a unique chemical structure, which results in a more uniform penetration through lipid-rich areas of the skin.

As the side effects and downtime after mandelic acid peels are generally less than other peels, there can be more frequent “touch-ups’ and shorter intervals between peel sessions if they are desired.

A 2019 study comparing the glycolic acid, salicylic-mandelic acid, and phytic acids on acne showed no substantial side effects in this study.

However, the National Library of Medicine suggests that mandelic acid, similar to other acids used on the skin, may cause:

  • acute toxicity if swallowed
  • skin irritation
  • eye irritation or damage if in the eye

A person should seek further advice from their physician if they have any concerns about the safety and risks of mandelic acid.

Learn more about the use of chemical peels.

The desired effects of mandelic acid tend to be subtler than those of glycolic acid chemical peels. Mandelic acid chemical peels are easier to recover from — and their side effects tend to be less pronounced — than their glycolic acid counterparts.

Additionally, a 2020 study suggests that mandelic acid chemical peels are just as useful for treating acne as salicylic acid chemical peels while being much less likely to cause side effects.

Further evidence suggests that a salicylic-mandelic acid-based peel showed significant improvements in acne lesions.

The 2018 study looked at how a 12-week-long acid-based chemical peeling program affected 45 people’s acne. The study authors report the following approximate reductions in acne scores for the different acid-based peels:

  • 74% for a combined salicylic acid and mandelic acid peel
  • 71% for the glycolic acid peel
  • 70% for the phytic acid peel

It may be that these differences are due to the combination of salicylic and mandelic acid, or in the sacyclic acid alone, rather than in the mandelic acid.

Although some clinics may provide mandelic acid chemical peels, some individuals might wish to purchase and apply those peels themselves. Existing brands that results are based on professional treatments are Divine Derriere and Platinum Skin Care.

Chemical peels will differ in their instructions. When applying a chemical peel, it is important to follow these instructions carefully and to heed any relevant safety warnings, such as the ones described above.

Other products which contain mandelic acid also include exfoliants and cleansers.

A person should perform a patch test before using any products that contain mandelic acid or any other acid.

Find out what the best chemical peels are.

Chemical peels work by removing the top layers of skin.

Mandelic acid is a superficial chemical peel that typically has comparatively fewer side effects and less downtime than other chemical peels and can be both safe and effective for several skin conditions.