Mandelic Acid vs Lactic Acid

Mandelic Acid vs Lactic Acid | The 1 Key Difference.

Exfoliation is an essential part of any skincare routine as it keeps your skin looking soft, smooth and radiant. As you age, your skin’s natural exfoliation process slows down and you can be left with dull and rough looking skin that enhances the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Enter acids! So which acid is right for you – mandelic acid vs lactic acid?


Mandelic acid vs lactic acid key difference

Chemical Exfoliation

Chemical exfoliants increase the rate that your skin naturally exfoliates itself. They do this by breaking down the bonds that hold your dead skin cells together which makes it easier for them to be shed from the surface of your skin.


There are three main types of chemical exfoliant; alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), and polyhydroxy acids (PHAs).



Mandelic Acid

Mandelic acid is an AHA made from bitter almond extracts. It 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.



Lactic Acid

Lactic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) that’s made from the sugars found in milk (lactose). It is naturally present in your skin as part of your natural moisturizing factors (NMFs). NMFs act as humectants to draw water into your skin cells which means that they’re excellent for increasing the moisture content of your skin.


Lactic acid is generally less irritating than glycolic acid (depending on product formulation) and, due to its hydrating properties, may be more suitable if you have drier skin.


The main benefit of AHAs, like lactic acid, is that they help exfoliate your skin. It’s thought that they do this by removing the calcium ions from the bonds that hold your dead skin cells together which weakens them and allows exfoliation to take place.


Lactic acid also helps to:

  • Improve fine lines and wrinkles
  • Improve skin texture
  • Brighten skin
  • Reduce enlarged pores



Mandelic Acid vs Lactic Acid

There isn’t a huge difference between mandelic acid vs lactic acid. They’re both AHA’s and will have a similar effect on your skin. However, mandelic acid may be more suitable for you if you have particularly sensitive skin while lactic acid is probably the better choice if you have drier skin.


As mandelic acid helps to control oiliness, it’s also a great option if you’re prone to acne – particularly if you find salicylic acid to be too harsh and/or drying for your skin.


Research suggests that mandelic acid was equally as effective at treating acne as salicylic acid but caused less irritation. 


best acids mandelic acid vs lactic acid

How To Use Mandelic Acid vs Lactic Acid

Both mandelic acid and lactic 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 use both exfoliants together, although it’s better to use a multi-ingredient product than to layer mandelic acid and lactic acid yourself.


You may be able to use acids more frequently if they’re in a multi-active serum or cleanser as multi-active products are usually tested for irritation potential and designed to be used daily while cleansers are rinsed off (acting as short-contact therapy). 


AHAs, like mandelic acid and lactic acid, increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun which means that daily sunscreen use is essential to avoid damaging your skin. It also makes them better suited to nighttime use as well, especially as that’s also when your skin’s natural exfoliation process is at its highest.



Summary – Mandelic Acid vs Salicylic Acid

Mandelic acid and lactic acid are both chemical exfoliants that can help improve skin texture, hyperpigmentation, and fine lines and wrinkles.. Mandelic acid tends to be gentler than lactic acid and is suitable for sensitive skin but lactic acid tends to be more hydrating and better suited to drier skin. However, if your skin isn’t particularly sensitive you may be able to combine the two ingredients together. In fact, mandelic acid often requires a little helping hand from other acids.


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