Dark spots, wrinkles, dullness, and acne are skin care issues that many people are looking to overcome. The good news is that many over-the-counter (OTC) products include ingredients that address these specific concerns while improving the overall appearance of skin.

Mandelic acid is one of these beneficial ingredients. While there’s not a lot of research on this alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), it’s thought to be gentle on the skin and may help with acne, skin texture, hyperpigmentation, and the effects of aging.

Keep reading to learn more about mandelic acid, and how you can use it to benefit your skin.

Mandelic acid is derived from bitter almonds. It’s an AHA that’s been mostly studied for use with acne.

AHAs are natural and synthetic ingredients that provide skin care benefits ranging from exfoliation to increasing hydration and firmness.

Other types of AHAs found in skin care lines include glycolic acid and citric acid.

Gentle on the skin

One main benefit of mandelic acid is that it may be more gentle on the skin compared to other AHAs. This makes it an ideal choice for those with sensitive skin.

This gentleness seems to be due to mandelic acid being one of the largest AHAs, and as a result, it penetrates the skin at a slower rate. This makes it less irritating on the skin.

Accelerates cell turnover

Mandelic acid accelerates cell turnover and functions as a powerful exfoliate to remove dead skin cells. For this reason, mandelic acid is found in some chemical peels.

Promotes collagen production

Mandelic acid also improves skin appearance because it promotes collagen production, which is the main protein found in skin and connective tissue.

Results from using mandelic acid vary from person to person, but some people anecdotally notice a difference in their complexion and appearance after a couple of weeks.

Mandelic acid can improve various skin care concerns, such as:

1. Acne

Skin oils, bacteria, dead skin cells, and inflammation can trigger acne. Using skin care products containing mandelic acid help regulate sebum production, unclog pores, and reduce inflammation. This can result in fewer acne breakouts.

One recent study found that a chemical peel with 45 percent mandelic acid was equally effective as a chemical peel with 30 percent salicylic acid in mild to moderate acne.

The study also found that mandelic acid may have an edge over salicylic acid when treating inflammatory acne (papules and pustules), and mandelic acid may also have fewer adverse effects.

2. Skin texture

The exfoliating action of mandelic acid removes dead skin cells, which may leave your skin firmer and smoother.

3. Hyperpigmentation

Mandelic acid may also have some lightening properties for dark spots, such as those seen in melasma.

Research from 1999 shows that mandelic acid may reduce hyperpigmentation in melasma by as much as 50 percent in about 4 weeks.

4. Wrinkles and fine lines

According to a 2013 study, chemical peels with mandelic acid may help stimulate collagen production, which tends to decrease with age. This can help soften the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, resulting in a more vibrant, youthful appearance.

Even though mandelic acid is considered gentle on sensitive skin, you should talk to a dermatologist before starting any new face treatment.

A dermatologist can give you guidance — based on your individual needs — for how to properly incorporate mandelic acid into your skin care regimen, and what products to use.

There’s a risk of side effects when using any skin care product. Some people can use mandelic acid with no problem, but you should stop using this AHA if you experience any type of irritation, including:

  • redness
  • swelling
  • itching

If skin irritation develops after several days or weeks of using mandelic acid, this might be due to overuse. Reduce the number of times you use products containing mandelic acid per day to see if your skin improves.

You should also discuss this issue with a dermatologist and follow their recommendations.

Glycolic acid is another AHA that’s widely used in many skin care products. It’s derived from sugar cane and is effective at exfoliating skin, reducing fine lines, and preventing acne, according to a 2009 study.

Glycolic has the smallest molecular weight amongst all the AHAs, and thus penetrates the skin more easily. For this reason, glycolic acid may be more irritating to the skin than mandelic acid.

Due to its larger molecular structure, mandelic acid doesn’t penetrate the skin as deeply as glycolic acid, so it’s gentler on the skin.

Mandelic acid has been found to be effective for inflammatory acne and some forms of hyperpigmentation, as well as treating sun damage and evening out pigmentation.

Whether you’re trying to get rid of acne or improve skin texture and hyperpigmented patches on your skin, a consistent, good skin care routine is crucial.

Mandelic acid may transform your skin in as little as 2 weeks. It’s a great choice for sensitive skin, as it’s less irritating than other AHAs and has mild side effects.

Before using any type of chemical peel, it’s a good idea to check in with a dermatologist. They can recommend products and how best to use them for your skin type.