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Though mandelic acid, an alpha-hydroxy acid, is an effective ingredient in its own right, it’s the formula as a whole that determines the best mandelic acid serum for your skin type. According to Dr. Rachel Maiman, who spoke to Elite Daily for this article, mandelic acid’s benefits include exfoliating your skin’s upper layer to treat surface hyperpigmentation and acne, and it’s also great for promoting generally brighter, plumper skin. If you have sensitive or acneic skin and want an exfoliant that’s less harsh than most other AHAs, stick to a straight-up mandelic acid serum or one that contains hydrating ingredients. But, “Because it is relatively less potent than some other AHAs, it is often found in products within a blend of other acids [like lactic or glycolic acid] to optimize efficacy,” explains the dermatologist, who says mandelic acid paired with vitamin C is also a winning combo.
“Mandelic acid is a gentler AHA and, consequently, really need not be avoided in anyone in particular,” Dr. Maiman says, noting that “It has been studied and proven to be safe in the treatment of acne and hyperpigmentation, even in those with darker skin tones.”
If you’re using retinol, Dr. Maiman says that the best way to incorporate both ingredients into your routine is to use lower-strength mandelic acid products in the morning and retinol at night, or, use both at night but on alternating nights (rather than layering them).
To find your perfect mandelic acid serum match, just keep scrolling.
1. Best Budget-Friendly Mandelic Acid Serum
This serum from Naturium contains 12% mandelic acid accompanied by niacinamide, a gentle form of vitamin B3 that helps reduce redness and inflammation, among its various other benefits. There’s also sodium hyaluronate in here (aka hyaluronic acid) to provide lightweight hydration, as well as sugar cane and sugar maple, two botanicals known for their gentle exfoliating properties. At just $20, it comes at an eminently reasonable price, too.
2. Best Mandelic Acid Serum For Shine-Prone Skin
NEOSTRATA Clarify Mandelic Mattifying Serum is designed for people with oily or shine-prone skin. The mandelic acid goes to work exfoliating and enhancing your skin’s radiance, while the addition of dimethicone helps blur pores and gives your skin a smooth, matte finish. That makes this serum ideal for mornings worn on its own or under makeup to keep shine at bay all day long.
This fragrance-free serum also contains the PHA gluconolactone, a gentle hydrator and exfoliator. Dr. Maiman explains, “Like mandelic acid, PHAs offer similar exfoliating benefits to the more well-known and potentially irritating alpha-hydroxy acids but work more slowly and are overall more tolerable to those with sensitive skin.”
3. Best Mandelic Acid Serum For Sensitive Skin
With a lower percentage of mandelic acid, along with calming niacinamide, the skin-repairing humectant sodium PCA, and smoothing urea, this gentle serum from Vivant Skin Care is a great choice for all skin types, including sensitive skin. It also contains another AHA, lactic acid, and the expert says the two AHAs share many similarities. Both are larger in molecular weight compared to glycolic acid, making them gentler on skin since they penetrate more slowly and less deeply.
Fun fact: This brand was created by the person who co-developed Retin-A, so they’ve got all sorts of smart science behind their products.
4. Best Mandelic Acid Serum With Vitamin C
If your goal is clear, bright, even-looking skin, try CLEARSTEM’s CLEARITY serum. In here, mandelic and lactic acids work together to resurface your skin and boost its glow, but along with those helpful AHAs, it also features vitamin C, the antioxidant known for its ability to both brighten (aka even out) skin and protect it from free radicals. Rounding out the ingredient list? Olive oil, witch hazel, and turmeric, the latter of which has both anti-inflammatory and skin-brightening benefits.
5. Best Extra-Strength Mandelic Acid Serum
Featuring a higher percentage of mandelic acid, along with lactic acid, this Shira Shir-Radiance Corrective RX Mandelic Serum is better for those who are experienced with exfoliating actives. Still, it’s thoughtfully formulated with hydrating sodium PCA and glycerin to help balance out the formula, while the addition of witch hazel — a natural astringent — makes this a solid choice for acne- or blackhead-prone skin types.
6. Best Splurge
This night serum from Allies of Skin contains a blend of mandelic, lactic, and salicylic acids, as well as 1% bakuchiol, which is often used as a gentler alternative to retinol, thanks to its ability to treat hyperpigmentation and breakouts. The hard-working formula also features a whole host of antioxidants, peptides, and fatty acids, so it’s basically jam-packed with all the best ingredients for your skin (including hydrating hyaluronic acid and nourishing rosehip oil). In other words, this is a one-and-done serum that covers all your P.M. skin care needs, making it well worth the splurge, if your budget allows.
You May Also Like: A Dermatologist-Approved Mandelic Acid Peel
Dr. Maiman says that the Elemis Pro-Collagen Tri-Peptide Peel is “an excellent example of a product that contains mandelic acid as one of several acids in a blend aimed at optimizing cosmetic results without compromising tolerance.” She further explains, “In addition to mandelic acid, it also includes lactobionic acid, a polyhydroxy acid (PHA), [and] asiatic acid, an ingredient derived from the Centella asiatica plant [which] has been shown to promote collagen synthesis.”
The expert suggests using this at-home peel once or twice a week, at most, and removing it after a maximum of 15 minutes. She also advises avoiding retinol for at least three to five days before using a product marketed as an at-home peel, because typically, peels contain a higher strength of mandelic acid.
Effects of Turmeric (Curcuma longa) on Skin Health: A Systematic Review of the Clinical Evidence, by Alexandra R Vaughn, Amy Branum, and Raja K Sivamani; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27213821/