Meet Mandelic Acid, the Gentle Exfoliant Perfect for Skin That Can’t Decide if It’s Oily or Dry

Photo: Getty Images / Sergey Mironov
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When you have combination skin, it can be tricky to find the perfect balance in your routine. You want to use products that can help manage oil production without drying out the rest of your face—a tall order, indeed. According to Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, mandelic acid, an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA), is the perfect ingredient for treating combination skin.

AHAs are sugar-derived acids that break up the glue that holds dead skin cells to the surface of your skin. They provide chemical exfoliation, which tends to be gentler than the physical exfoliation you'd get from a scrub, and help to unclog pores and brighten up your complexion. All skin types can benefit from the use of AHAs—on oily skin, they can help you avoid breakouts, and on dry skin, they make it easier for your moisturizing products to penetrate more deeply—but those with dry skin may not be able to handle the same strong acids as someone with oily skin. So if you have combination skin, a gentle AHA like mandelic acid is perfect to use all over.

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"What's nice about mandelic acid is that because it is a larger molecule, it's generally a little bit easier to tolerate and less irritating than other alpha-hydroxy acids, like glycolic acid," says Dr. Garshick. "It's a great option for combination skin because it's going to have benefits to help get rid of the dead skin cells, help to reduce breakouts, acne, hyperpigmentation, and things like that, but without causing significant irritation."

Mandelic acid is available in cleansers, serums, peel pads, and more. While cleansers provide a rinse-off way to get the acid without too much contact (and thus less irritation), serums and peel pads offer a more-intensive leave-on option. Shop nine mandelic acid skin-care products below.

9 mandelic acid skin-care products perfect for combination skin

Glow Recipe Strawberry Smooth BHA + AHA Salicylic Acid Serum
Glow Recipe Strawberry Smooth BHA + AHA Salicylic Acid Serum — $40.00

This smoothing serum contains both mandelic acid and salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid that’s known for its pore-unclogging abilities. “It’s going to be great overall for blemishes, dark spots, fine lines, wrinkles,” says Dr. Garshick. “It will give you little of everything, but overall helping to smooth out the overall texture of the skin.”

Neostrata Mandelic Clarifying Cleanser
NeoStrata Mandelic Clarifying Cleanser — $32.00

Dr. Garshick likes this soap-free mandelic acid cleanser from NeoStrata. It works to smooth skin texture and clarify pores while washing away excess oil and problematic bacteria.

Dr Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Ultra Gentle Daily Peel
Dr Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Ultra Gentle Daily Peel — $88.00

Dr. Dennis Gross’s Alpha Beta Peel Pads are known to be among the best exfoliants on the market, but the original formula can admittedly be too intense for those with gentle skin. With that in mind, he created a gentler version of the peel that uses mandelic acid along with lactic acid, hyaluronic acid, and witch hazel to help refine the tone and texture of your complexion.

Allies of Skin Mandelic Pigmentation Corrector Night Serum
Allies of Skin Multi Hyaluronic Antioxidant Hydration Serum — $95.00

Mandelic acid is the star of this night serum that also uses lactic acid, salicylic acid, peptides, and bakuchiol. This power-packed combination of actives reduces hyperpigmentation, breakouts, inflammation, fine lines, and wrinkles while stimulating collagen production, strengthening the skin barrier, and replenishing lost moisture.

PCA SKIN Pore Refining Treatment
PCA SKIN Pore Refining Treatment — $64.00

This “after-cleansing” treatment from PCA Skin—another one of Dr. Garshick’s favorites—is designed to be applied and washed off right after you wash your face. It mixes mandelic acid with physically exfoliating rice powder and pumice, oil-loving clay, and brightening papaya enzymes, as well as a calming chamomile component that will help you avoid irritation on sensitive skin.

Elemis Pro-Collagen Tri-Acid Peel
Elemis Pro-Collagen Tri-Acid Peel — $115.00

This leave-on peel mixes actobionic, Asiatic, and mandelic acids to exfoliate the skin while supporting hydration. It pairs these actives with Elemis’s fan-favorite algae (the hero ingredient in all of the brand’s products) to condition, firm, and moisturize skin.

Naturium Mandelic Topical Acid 12%
Naturium Mandelic Topical Acid 12% — $20.00

This mandelic acid from Natrium also includes discoloration-reducing niacinamide. Dr. Garshick likes it because it gently exfoliates while increasing cell turnover for brighter skin and helps to reduce the look of fine lines.

Vivant Skin Care 3 Percent Mandelic Acid 3-in-1 Toner
Vivant Skin Care 3 Percent Mandelic Acid 3-in-1 Toner — $56.00

This pH-balancing toner combines mandelic acid with witch hazel to help control oil production, diminish hyperpigmentation, minimize pores, and heal and prevent breakouts.

The Ordinary Mandelic Acid 10% + HA
The Ordinary Mandelic Acid 10% + HA — $8.00

Dr. Garshick also likes this mandelic acid serum from The Ordinary. It’s made with 10 percent mandelic acid and hyaluronic acid to gently exfoliate skin, improving dullness, uneven texture, fine lines, wrinkles, acne, and blemishes.

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Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.

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