Is Mandelic Acid The Best Exfoliant For Sensitive, Acne-Prone Skin?

by Gio
the ordinary mandelic acid 10 + HA

Haven you given up on exfoliating acids because they ALWAYS irritate your skin?

Would you like to jump on the glycolic acid bandwagon but are scared it’ll make your skin peel?

Do you have sensitive, acne-prone skin and don’t know what the heck to use to exfoliate it without inflaming it even more?

If you’ve answered yes to even just one of these questions, meet the new exfoliating acid on the block: mandelic acid.

Already popular in Asia, The Ordinary brought it on our Western shores. Needless to say, I had to put it to the test and see what all the fuss is about.

Without further ado, here are my thoughts on The Ordinary Madelic Acid 10% + HA (and why it’s particularly good for sensitive skin):

Mandelic Acid

Mandelic acid is a member of the Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) family. Yep, the same family as glycolic acid.

The main difference between mandelic and glycolic acids is their size: mandelic is twice as big as glycolic! As a rule, the smaller the size, the faster it penetrates into the skin. That makes it more effective but also more irritating.

Because it’s a giant, mandelic acid mostly stays on the surface of the skin, where it dissolves the “glue’ that holds skin cells together without irritations. Seriously, if even this bothers your skin, use a washcloth.

Once those dead cells are off your face, your skin is smoother, softer and brighter. It’s just that mandelic takes a little longer than glycolic to work so don’t be surprised if you don’t see results immediately. This is a case where slow and steady wins the race.

Mandelic acid isn’t good just for sensitive skin. This acid also has antibacterial properties that help you get rid of P. Acnes, the bacteria that’s making you life so miserable.

Imo, salicylic acid is better than mandelic for acne because it also exfoliates deep within the pores. But, if for some reason your skin isn’t reacting well to that, mandelic is a great alternative to try.

Related: AHAs VS BHA: Which One Should You Choose?

Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid is a moisture magnet (in science lingo, that’s a humectant).

Put simply, hyaluronic acid attracts water from the air and drops it into your skin. It’s so powerful, it can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water.

All that water makes your skin very happy: it softens it up, plumps it up so your fine lines and wrinkles look smaller and gives it a lovely, as if lit-from-within glow.

Hyaluronic acid is a great way to hydrate oily skin without adding more oil and to quench dry skin’s thirst without irritations.

Related: Why You Should Add Hyaluronic Acid To Your Skincare Routine

Let’s Put It To The Test: Personal Use & Opinion

I have resistant, combination skin that’s dry on my cheeks and oily on my t-zone. My nose is prone to blackheads too.

I use glycolic acid every other night and dab a few drops of salicylic acid on my nose whenever I see a hint of blackheads. So, I was really curios to find out how The Ordinary Mandelic Acid 10% + HA would compare to my usual exfoliating routine.

The texture feels like an oily water, if that even makes sense. It’s slightly oily but very lightweight, sinks in quickly and, well.. it looks just like water.

The first time I used it, I didn’t see any improvement. It didn’t make my skin tingle. It didn’t irritate it. It didn’t peel it. That’s good but… it also makes it hard to see if it’s doing something!

Well, it’s been a month now and my skin is looking softer and smoother. It also has a healthy glow. The best part? I haven’t been plagued with blackheads in a while.

It works slowly than other acids so you won’t see results as quickly, but if you have sensitive skin, you’ll be find with that.

As for me, I think I’ll go back to my old exfoliating routine. I like what mandelic acid did for my skin and I’m glad I got a chance to try it but glycolic is what works best for my skin type.

FYI, if you’re struggling to choose the best exfoliating acid for your skin type or you’re not 100% sure if you should give mandelic acid a go yet, check out my Complete Guide To The Ordinary Exfoliating Products.

Available at: £5.80 at Adore Beauty, Beauty Bay and Cult Beauty


Have you tried Mandelic Acid? Share your experience in the comments below.

PR Sample. Affiliate links.



Lotus August 2, 2018 - 1:47 am

Hi Gio,
This was a great and informative post. You should make a YouTube channel as well 🙂 Back to mandelic acid, is it true that it isn’t well studied and it is possible to cause excess sebum production cause this is what I’ve read in beautypedia.

Gio August 5, 2018 - 9:45 am

Lotus, thank you! I will think about it. :0

There’s one study that shows that 20% azelaic acid + 40% mandelic acid peel increased sebum production on the U-zone (BUT not the t-zone) of mature women. You can check it out here:

Here, mandelic acid is used alone at a smaller dose so I wouldn’t worry about it. I didn’t experience more sebum anywhere while I was using it.

Wava November 7, 2018 - 5:31 pm

Hello Gio, i have Mandelic Acid 5 % Skin Prep Water by Wishtrend and COSRX One Step Originnal Clear Pad, and i just wanted to be sure.. Can i layer them? Since mandelic acid is AHA (with properties of BHA also) and the COSRX pads are BHA, and i guess they could work together. I have clogged pores, acne scars, breakouts here and there plus dehydrated skin… Also thanks to you i just got into skincare a bit more science-ish way and i love it.. still learning tho. Much love x

Gio November 10, 2018 - 6:52 pm

Wava, glad to hear you’re getting into the science of skincare too. It’s fascinating, isn’t it?

I don’t recommend using more than one exfoliant in your skincare routine. When you use two, you remove double the amounts of dead cells, so there’s a higher risk of irritation and dryness. Instead, I’d use Mandelic Acid for a month and Cosrx for another month and see which one your skin likes best.

Fatima December 8, 2018 - 4:48 pm

I have purchased The ordinary mandelic acid, niacinimide & zinc & azelaic acid. How am i supoosed to use them? All at once or alternatively?
Thanks in Advance!!

Gio December 9, 2018 - 8:44 am

Fatima, you can use niacinamide in the morning and azelaic acid at night. A couple of nights a week, use Mandelic Acid after cleansing.

Vana February 11, 2019 - 7:13 pm

Dear Gio, which one would you recommend for sensitive/combination skin: THE ORDINARY MANDELIC ACID 10% + HA or Paula’s Choice RESIST DAILY PORE-REFINING TREATMENT 2% BHA?

Thank you in advance

Gio February 15, 2019 - 1:22 pm

Vana, I prefer salicylic acid because we have more research backing it up.

Sara April 24, 2020 - 5:16 pm

Hi gio, can I use a moisturizer after mandelic acid in my pm routine?


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