Chemical peels: What does mandelic acid do for the skin?

So at this point, spending enough time surfing on the skincare side of the internet, you’ve probably heard of a chemical peel. It’s a treatment that has been gaining lots of popularity recently as the awareness of chemical exfoliation over physical exfoliation has grown. There are so many types of chemical peels, those you can get done by your dermatologist, aesthetician or even products you can buy to do it at home. Whatever you chose it is important to be aware of which type of chemical peel you buy and which exfoliating acid it contains. Why? Because adapting your skincare to your skin type and selecting ingredients best suited for your skincare concerns is how you get the best results from your money.

What is mandelic acid?

When it comes to chemical exfoliation there are three types of acids you typically find: AHAs, BHAs and PHAs. Mandelic acid falls under AHAs- Alpha Hydroxy Acids. Now those of you with a bit of skincare knowledge will know that typically when someone mentions AHAs we think of glycolic and lactic acid. Mandelic acid is a much gentler version of these AHAs whilst still carrying out the same effects, so it’s perfect for those with sensitive skin. The reason it’s much gentler is due to its size. It’s known to be one of the bigger AHAs so, therefore, does not penetrate the skin as deeply in comparison. Also, Mandelic acid is derived from bitter almonds. AHAs work by exfoliating the top layer of dead cells on the surface of the skin. This speeds up the cell regeneration process to produce a brighter and more even skin tone.

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What does mandelic acid do for the skin?

Mandelic acid has multiple benefits for the skin whilst still being gentle to the skin barrier. Some of these are:
1. Ageing, fine lines and wrinkles
Mandelic acid has powerful exfoliating properties meaning it effectively removes the top layer of dead skin cells on the surface of the skin. This can help to increase cell turnover, meaning cells regenerate faster. It also, in combination helps to increase collagen production. Collagen is the main protein found in our skin and tissues and is what gives skin elasticity. This decreases with age which is what causes the formation of wrinkles. A study in 2013 showed that mandelic acid helped increase collagen production in the skin. Overall this means a softer appearance of wrinkles and fine lines and keeps skin elasticity whilst looking more brighter in tone.

2. Hyperpigmentation
As mandelic acid stimulates a faster cell turnover, it can help to even out skin tone and discolouration. A study in 1999 showed that mandelic acid may reduce hyperpigmentation caused by melasma by almost 50% in a time frame of about a month. This helps to lighten dark spots and brighten the complexion.

3. Acne
Exfoliating helps to remove dead skin cells on the top surface of the skin. These can go on to clog pores and be a site for bacteria, all leading to problems with acne. It has also been shown that mandelic acid can help regulate sebum production, due to some antibacterial properties. An overproduction of sebum (the oil on your face) leads to clogged pores, inflammation and acne. Meaning this results in fewer acne breakouts. There has also been some research into mandelic acid being more effective than the BHA salicylic acid in chemical peels, in terms of treating acne. It has been shown to be more effective, whilst having less adverse effects.

Facial Peels

How do you apply mandelic acid to the face?

Firstly it is important to know when we should be applying mandelic acid to the face. There are differences between what you need in the morning and your evening skincare. In the morning we should be focusing on protection from all the environmental aggressors, however, exfoliation doesn’t fall under this category. In the evening is when we should be applying our mandelic acid. That’s the time when our skin is replenishing its protective barrier and cells begin to regenerate, exfoliating helps that process.
Now there are many different forms of mandelic acid that you can find. You can find them as smaller size serums or as larger liquid/toner exfoliants. You can find mandelic acid as a single ingredient in the product or part of a list of ingredients if you’re using a mixed AHA/BHA exfoliant. Mandelic acid can even be found in chemical peels as a treatment given by your dermatologist or aesthetician. So let’s talk about the ways we can apply it:

1. In the home as a bought product
When layering skincare a principle I like to follow is to go from thinnest to thickest products, or lowest to highest viscosity. Exfoliation should be done after cleansing the face but before you begin to put on your serums and creams. This is because it is typically found as a liquid and following this principle, this is where it would fall into the routine. You can choose to put your product on a cotton pad and then apply it onto your face or some people prefer to just put the product into their hands and then apply it onto the face. Either method works fine it’s simply down to preference however always remember to gently pat your product into your face and not wipe, as it absorbs better this way and there is less pulling on the skin.

2. As part of a chemical peel treatment
After lockdown, this may be a treatment that many of you try so this is usually how it works with a light chemical peel such as mandelic acid. First, your dermatologist will cleanse the skin. Then beginning with small areas of the skin working out they will begin to apply one or more chemical solutions. It’s normal to feel a slight burning sensation which usually lasts about 10-20 minutes during and after the treatment. After 2-5 days you will notice your skin begin to peel which is completely normal. It is important to let the skin peel naturally and not expose any skin which could be inflamed and aggravated.
It’s also important to note that exfoliation and chemical peels do sensitise your skin to UV rays. So after having a treatment or incorporating an exfoliating product into your routine it’s important to wear SPF.

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What is the strongest chemical peel?

There are three types of chemical peels: light, medium and deep. Light chemical peels are the most common and can be carried out by trained aestheticians or dermatologists, this is what you’re getting in your typical paid treatment. Medium and deep chemical peels are only used for more serious long-term skin conditions and can only be carried out by dermatologists. In terms of the strongest or most effective chemical peel, you can find on the market, the PCA facial peel is a strong contender. PCA facial peels are expertly formulated with over 25 years of experience in chemical peel treatments. Their line of facial peels are used both by dermatologists and aestheticians and to be able to carry out this treatment you must be a PCA Skin certified professional. This means that for your money, you are receiving pharmaceutical-grade products in a treatment, something that you would not be able to find in an over the counter product. Their most common chemical peel and what they are most known for is the modified and enhanced Jessner’s peel. In fact, they were the first company to ever release this type of chemical peel. It is a mixed solution of lactic acid, salicylic acid, kojic acid, citric acid and resorcinol. It aims to target hyperpigmentation, acne, fine lines and wrinkles etc… The combination and strength of all the exfoliating acids the peel contain helps to enhance the effects and increase the cell regeneration cycle. There are also many variations of this chemical peel you can find, ones which are more gentle for those who are sensitive, retinoid peels for targeting signs of ageing and boosters to include in treatments.

Facial Peels

Does Mandelic acid help acne scars?

Mandelic acid is effective in treating acne scars. However, this all depends on which type of acne scar you have. There are box-car, depressed and ice pick acne scars which can all lie deep in the face. These are much more difficult to get rid of and typically require the help of a dermatologist and laser treatments. However macular and lumpy hypertrophic scars are the types of acne scars that typically leave red and brown discolourations on the face, and also an uneven bumpy texture. Mandelic acid can help with these types of scars. For hyperpigmentation and discolouration, as mandelic acid dissolves dead skin cells on the skin’s surface, this essentially removes layers of these marks until skin tone has completely evened out, fading the hyperpigmentation. In terms of texture, mandelic acid can help to stimulate collagen production. Collagen as we know is the main protein found in the skin and helps with elasticity and even texture. Removing the top layer of dead skin cells helps this so for acne that has left bumps in the skin, these begin to even out, for overall smoother skin.

acne breakouts

Can you use mandelic acid every day?

Mandelic acid is said to be a gentler form of AHA and is tolerated very well by the majority of skin types, including sensitive skin. And many exfoliating products will say that using them daily causes no harm to the skin. However when starting with exfoliating products in a routine its best to begin using them only twice a week, especially if you’ve never exfoliated before. From there you can begin to work up the amount you use your products to maybe 3-4 times a week, this is when you see maximum effects. I believe using exfoliating products daily is too much for the skin to handle and can over sensitise the skin. Especially if you have inflamed acne or any open wounds on the face over-exfoliation is a big problem and something you want to avoid. As exfoliating helps regulate sebum production, over-exfoliating can also end up drying out the skin. So I would advise you to not use your mandelic acid products daily.

facial treatments

How quickly does mandelic acid work?

As I mentioned earlier, when beginning to use exfoliating products in a routine it’s important to integrate them slowly. How quickly you see results depends on several factors:
• Staying consistent with your skincare routine
• Wearing SPF every day to protect your skin from the sensitisation exfoliation causes
• Following up with a moisturiser
If you’ve received a mandelic acid facial peel:
• Not peeling your face
• Wearing SPF every day
• Moisturising adequately to help with peeling
• Not wearing make-up whilst your skin is peeling
If you’re following all these steps, using a mandelic acid exfoliating product, results should start to show a couple of days after using it, the skin will be smoother and more radiant. However, the biggest results are seen once cell turnover kicks in which usually takes a couple of months. For a mandelic acid treatment, instant results are seen after the peeling has gone away however the biggest results are seen after about 12 weeks, hyperpigmentation is faded and skin looks less dull. Overall though if the goal is to improve fine lines and wrinkles the biggest results are seen in the long-term when you remain consistent with treatments or applying products.

Mandelic acid overall is a great exfoliating acid due to its unique point of how gentle it is. It is suitable for the majority of skin types and tones whilst other AHAs aren’t. If you’re someone starting with exfoliation it would be a great single-ingredient exfoliating product to put into your routine. Or if you’re looking for a chemical peel treatment, it can be a great option and something to bring up with your dermatologist or aesthetician.


Author: Ema Kanlic