Acne is a common and frustrating skin concern for a lot of people. It can leave your skin feeling oily, red, and painful, and often leads to scarring. One type of treatment that can help improve the appearance of acne is chemical exfoliation. Salicylic acid has traditionally been the go to exfoliant for oily, acne-prone skin but there’s an underrated acid that can work just as well and may be a better choice for your skin type. So how do you use mandelic acid for acne?
What Causes Acne?
Acne is caused by multiple overlapping factors:
- Your hormones cause your oil glands to produce too much oil
- Your skin doesn’t exfoliate itself as well as it should do so you get a build up of dead skin cells on the surface of your skin which can blog your pores.
- A specific type of bacteria that lives within your pores (c.acnes – previously p.acnes) feeds off of your oil and, when there is a lot of oil, can multiply rapidly.
- The increase in bacteria causes inflammation which your body senses and sends in white blood cells to kill the bacteria.
Once the white blood cells have killed the bacteria they die and leave behind pus (pus is literally just dead white blood cells). Eventually your body absorbs this pus and the healing process begins.
There are different types of acne that can be classified as either inflammatory or non-inflammatory.
Non-inflammatory acne includes whiteheads and blackheads which form as a result of your pores becoming blocked. If the blockage is exposed to air, it oxidizes and turns a brown/black colour (blackhead) but if it’s not exposed to air then it just appears as a flesh-coloured bump (whitehead).
Inflammatory acne includes papules (red bumps), pustules (red bumps with visible pus), nodules (larger and deeper bumps that may be red or purple), and cysts (larger and deeper red bumps filled with pus). If you have a lot of nodules and cysts, over-the-counter (OTC) skincare may not be enough for you and you may need to see a dermatologist for prescription treatments instead. However, papules and pustules can often be treated effectively with OTC skincare products.
What Is Mandelic Acid?
Mandelic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) that is found in almonds. It acts as a chemical exfoliant by breaking down the bonds that hold your dead skin cells together so that they can be shed from the surface of your skin.
Mandelic acid has a high molecular weight (large molecule) which means that it penetrates your skin more slowly than other AHAs like glycolic acid and lactic acid.
There are a number of ways that mandelic acid can benefit your skin, including:
- Treating existing acne
- Preventing new acne
- Controlling oil production
- Exfoliating your skin
- Boosting collagen production to improve fine lines and wrinkles
- Hydrating skin
- Reducing hyperpigmentation/dark marks
- Preventing bacteria growth
- Reducing inflammation
As it is quite gentle, mandelic acid sometimes needs to be combined with other AHAs or BHAs to increase its effectiveness. However, on its own it’s a great option for sensitive skin.
Mandelic Acid For Acne
Mandelic acid is a great option for acne-prone skin as it treats all four of the main causes of acne. It:
- Controls oil
- Prevents the growth of bacteria
- Prevents clogged pores by increasing your skin’s natural exfoliation process
- Reduces inflammation
It’s less likely to cause skin irritation than other AHAs (e.g. glycolic acid, lactic acid) or BHAs (e.g. salicylic acid). Plus, research suggests that 5% mandelic acid was just as effective at improving acne papules and pustules as 10% mandelic acid over an 8-week period, so you don’t even need a high strength to see results.
Mandelic acid is equally as effective at treating acne as salicylic acid. A clinical study found that it was actually better at treating inflammatory acne than salicylic acid and caused less irritation and fewer side effects. Other research, however, found salicylic acid to be more effective than mandelic acid but also more likely to cause hyperpigmentation.
You can also use a product that combines mandelic acid and salicylic acid for you. The two exfoliants in combination have been found to be more effective than glycolic acid at reducing acne and hyperpigmentation. The combination of mandelic acid and salicylic acid was also less irritating than glycolic acid was on its own.
However, it’s best to avoid combining chemical exfoliants if you have sensitive skin. Instead, opt for mandelic acid as it’s less irritating but just as effective as salicylic acid at treating acne.
How To Use Mandelic Acid For Acne
Mandelic acid should be applied to dry skin a maximum of three times per week to avoid irritation. If your skin isn’t particularly sensitive then you can combine mandelic acid with salicylic acid, although it’s better to use a multi-ingredient product than to layer the two ingredients yourself.
There are also professional chemical peels that combine mandelic acid with salicylic acid for you.
AHAs like mandelic acid increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun which means that daily sunscreen use is essential to avoid damaging your skin.
Summary – Mandelic Acid For Acne
Mandelic acid is an AHA that is much gentler than glycolic acid and just as effective at treating acne as salicylic acid. It’s suitable for sensitive skin when used alone but can also be combined with salicylic acid for increased acne-fighting effects.