Exfoliation is an important part of any skincare routine as it keeps your skin looking smooth and glowing. As you age, your skin’s natural exfoliation process slows down and you can be left with dull and rough looking skin that emphasises any fine lines and wrinkles. Enter chemical exfoliants. If you have oily, acne-prone skin you may be wondering what exfoliant would work best for you – AHA vs BHA? Mandelic acid vs salicylic acid? Both?
What’s the difference between mandelic acid vs salicylic acid anyway?
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 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.
Salicylic acid is the most well-known BHA and is derived from willow bark. The main benefit of using salicylic acid for acne over other chemical exfoliants is its ability to penetrate and exfoliate your pores due to its oil-solubility. This means it’s also able to get into your oil glands and control the production of oil.
Other ways that salicylic acid benefit your skin are by:
- Reducing inflammation and soothing skin.
- Offering some protection from UV radiation.
- Preventing the growth of bacteria (due to its acidic pH).
- Increases collagen production to improve fine lines and wrinkles.
As it is very effective at reducing oil production, it can be quite drying and may not be suitable for dry skin.
Mandelic Acid vs Salicylic Acid
The main difference between mandelic acid and salicylic acid is that one is an AHA and the other a BHA. AHAs are water-soluble while BHAs are oil-soluble.
Mandelic acid also tends to work on the surface of your skin while salicylic acid also exfoliates your pores.
Research suggests that mandelic acid and salicylic acid are equally as good at treating acne but salicylic acid has an advantage when it comes to non-inflammatory acne (whiteheads, blackheads) while mandelic acid was better at treating inflammatory acne (papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts).
Although salicylic acid and mandelic acid were equally effective at treating overall acne, mandelic acid caused less irritation.
Can You Use Mandelic Acid and Salicylic Acid Together
You have to be pretty careful when combining exfoliating acids together as it can be easy to over exfoliate your skin and damage your skin barrier.
However, research suggests that the combination of mandelic acid and salicylic acid is less irritating than glycolic acid used alone. Furthermore, it was more effective than glycolic acid at reducing acne and hyperpigmentation.
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 vs Salicylic Acid
Both mandelic acid and salicylic 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 salicylic acid yourself.
There are also professional chemical peels that combine mandelic acid with salicylic acid.
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. Salicylic doesn’t increase sun sensitivity and may even help protect your skin from sun damage but it’s no substitute for sunscreen.
Summary – Mandelic Acid vs Salicylic Acid
Mandelic acid and salicylic acid are both chemical exfoliants that can help exfoliate your skin and improve acne. Mandelic acid tends to be gentler than salicylic acid and is suitable for sensitive skin. However, if your skin isn’t particularly sensitive you can combine the two ingredients together for maximum acne-fighting effects.
Laura is a skincare addict and sunscreen enthusiast with more than 10 years of experience working in healthcare and over 5 years of experience working as a nurse. She has experience in plastic and reconstructive surgery, dermatology, and aesthetics and has received training in laser treatments. Laura is currently working in healthcare education and writes for ScienceBecomesHer in her spare time. Read More.