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Skincare Ingredients: Mandelic Acid vs. Glycolic Acid

Are you finding it difficult to choose between products with mandelic acid and glycolic acid? While both ingredients have similar effects, they penetrate your skin differently. Keep reading to compare mandelic acid vs. glycolic acid and find the perfect product for your specific skin type and needs.

The Lowdown on Mandelic Acid

Mandelic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) derived from bitter almonds. Compared to glycolic acid, it has a larger molecular structure, causing it to not penetrate as deeply into your skin. This property gives it the following characteristics:

  • Gentle Exfoliation: Mandelic acid’s larger molecular size causes it to penetrate your skin more slowly, offering a gentler exfoliation suitable for sensitive skin.
  • Anti-Aging Properties: Regular use of mandelic acid can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by promoting cell turnover. Glycolic acid has a similar effect, but mandelic acid is a gentler option.
  • Acne Treatment: Mandelic acid can help treat acne by unclogging pores and reducing inflammation. It’s more lipid-soluble than glycolic acid, so it can work deeper into pores, targeting problem areas without causing irritation elsewhere. Research also shows mandelic acid reduces excess oil production, whereas glycolic acid does not.

How to Incorporate Mandelic Acid in Your Routine

When introducing mandelic acid into your skincare routine, start slowly, especially if you have sensitive skin. You can find this acid in various products, including face serums, toners, essences, and peels. Here are some tips for using it effectively:

  • Perform a Patch Test: Before fully incorporating mandelic acid into your routine, do a patch test to ensure it doesn’t irritate your skin. While many products will include specific instructions for this process, you can also watch the video below for general patch test guidelines from the American Academy of Dermatology.
  • Use Mandelic Acid at Night: Apply mandelic acid products during your evening skincare routine, as this is when your skin repairs itself most actively. It also allows any redness to dissipate by the morning, helping leave your complexion looking smooth and clear.
  • Wear Sunscreen Daily: AHAs can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so always follow up with a broad-spectrum sunscreen in the morning. It’s probably okay to use makeup or a moisturizer with SPF if you’ll only be out for a few minutes early in the morning or late in the afternoon. However, you should generally apply proper sunscreen with SPF 30+ protection if you spend more time outdoors.

Comparing the Benefits of Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid, another AHA, is derived from sugar cane and has a smaller molecular structure than mandelic acid. This small size means it can penetrate your skin more quickly and deeply. Here are the benefits you can reap from glycolic acid:

  • Deep Exfoliation: It works to remove dead skin cells from the top layer of your skin, revealing a brighter, more youthful complexion underneath. While mandelic acid also exfoliates your skin, glycolic acid has stronger effects. Choose mandelic acid if you have sensitive or dry skin, whereas glycolic acid may be ideal for oily skin or as a spot treatment on combination skin.
  • Collagen Production: Glycolic acid promotes collagen more effectively because it penetrates into the dermis. Mandelic acid, in comparison, mostly affects your skin’s surface, so it’s not very good at stimulating collagen synthesis. Overall, glycolic acid is one of the best skincare ingredients for aging skin, as it helps reduce fine lines, wrinkles, looseness, and other common problems.
  • Hyperpigmentation: Another effect of glycolic acid stemming from its ability to reach your skin’s dermis layer is its ability to brighten your skin tone and alleviate hyperpigmentation. Mandelic acid also has this effect but to a much milder degree. However, you might consider pairing mandelic acid with niacinamide to brighten your complexion if you have sensitive skin.

Tips for Using Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid is potent, and using it requires a careful approach to avoid irritation. Here are some tips to help you use it safely:

  • Introduce the Ingredient Gradually: Start with a lower concentration of glycolic acid and gradually increase your use of the ingredient as your skin gets accustomed to it. If you have sensitive skin, you may only ever be able to use lower concentrations of this particular AHA.
  • Avoid Mixing Glycolic Acid With Other AHAs and BHAs: Avoid using glycolic acid with other strong acids—at least initially—to prevent skin irritation. While it’s possible to use several of these acids together, such as glycolic acid and salicylic acid, you shouldn’t try them all at once. You may want to avoid mixing acids entirely if you have sensitive skin, as combinations multiply the drying effect.
  • Hydrate Your Skin: Following up with a hydrating moisturizer is essential to keep your skin healthy and prevent dryness, and this applies to all skin types. Consider using a light, water-based product such as hyaluronic acid to moisturize oily skin or a heavier hydrator such as shea butter for dry skin.

Making Your Choice: Mandelic Acid vs. Glycolic Acid

Choosing between mandelic acid vs. glycolic acid boils down to your skin type and concerns. If you have sensitive skin or are new to AHAs and BHAs, mandelic acid might be your go-to, as it offers a gentler approach to skin exfoliation and renewal.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for quick results and have a more resilient skin type, glycolic acid could be your ally in achieving a radiant complexion. If unsure, it’s never a bad idea to consult a skincare specialist, as they can also help you choose other products to round out your regimen and nourish your skin more thoroughly.

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