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Mandelic Acid Vs Lactic Acid

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If you’ve found yourself in a beauty store aisle or shopping for face acids online, reading through labels and ingredients with a furrowed brow and empty, confused eyes, you’ll appreciate this breakdown of face acids. 

A face acid, when used correctly, can make a huge difference in the appearance of your skin, helping you achieve a more youthful, healthy glow. It’s all about choosing the right product for you though. 

Below, I explain the differences between mandelic acid and lactic acid, what each of their benefits are, and which is best suited for your specific skin type. 

The importance of exfoliation

Your skin sheds dead skin cells, natural oils clog pores, pigmentation causes dark spots, and as a result, pores look larger and fine lines look deeper. Exfoliation buffs away at these layers, revealing the soft, bright skin living just beneath the surface. 

This is where face acids come in — it’s chemical exfoliation that takes on the focused job of tackling your clogged skin to reveal all the beauty underneath. Contrary to popular belief, chemical exfoliation is mild and gentle on the skin and so long as you don’t have any cuts or wounds on your face, it’s a great step in the right skincare direction.  

When you exfoliate your skin, you create the much-needed space for your other topical products to seep into your skin. So, it’s a double whammy — you clear your skin of debris and clear the way for ultimate hydration.   

What is mandelic acid?

Mandelic acid is one of the gentlest alpha hydroxy acids, derived from bitter almonds, and can works perfectly if your skin is ultra-sensitive. It does not penetrate as deeply as other acids, keeping your skin safe, soft, and supple. It includes antibacterial properties that clean your skin and has even been praised for its acne-clearing abilities

Mandelic acid is also widely recognized for helping soften skin texture, reduce dark pigmentation on the skin, and reduce the appearance of fine lines through the stimulation of collagen.1 

What does mandelic acid do?

It has a large molecular size, meaning it penetrates the skin at a much slower rate than other acids, protecting your sensitive skin against irritation. It pulls the layers of dark pigmentation away from the surface layers of the skin, resulting in a gradual fading of dark spots. 

Mandelic acid keeps your oil levels at minimum, consequently creating an atmosphere that prevents acne from thriving. And since it’s antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, it’s ideal for preventing bacterial growth, clearing skin of acne and softening the appearance of acne scars. 

Mandelic acid benefits:

  • Safe for use on sensitive skin
  • Great for clearing acne
  • Softens skin texture
  • Reduces dark pigmentation on the skin

How often can mandelic acid be used?

It can be used regularly because of how mild it is. However, if it’s your first time trying out a product with mandelic acid, use with caution until you understand how well your sensitive skin takes to its use. You can start to use it three times per week and see how your skin reacts.

What is lactic acid?

Lactic acid is either synthetically produced or derived from milk. It has a great reputation in the dermatology world because it’s extremely effective yet relatively gentle on the skin. Lactic acid has been heavily researched and is proven to significantly increase firmness of the skin, resulting in diminished appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.2 

What does lactic acid do?

Lactic acid is like mandelic acid in that it has a large molecular size, which causes it to exfoliate the skin slowly and gently. It buffs away at the top layer of the skin, revealing the naturally vibrant skin laying just under it. 

Your complexion receives a nice, brightening boost because of its use. It also works to clear the skin of debris, aiding in overall cleanliness and even in the reduction of dark spots. It also encourages acne-free skin, working to soften the skin and clear any active blemishes. With continued use, you’ll notice a decrease in acne breakouts, as this face acid creates an environment that allows for clear skin to flourish. 

Although some face acids are known to dry out skin, lactic acid works against dehydration. In fact, it increases your skin’s ability to retain water, providing you with a well-moisturized glow that rejuvenates your overall appearance.

Lactic acid benefits:

  • Gently exfoliates the top layer of your skin
  • Promotes a clear, blemish-free complexion
  • Works to hydrate the skin while exfoliating
  • Stimulates collagen production

How often can lactic acid be used?

To start, it may be used two to three times per week. So long as your skin bodes well during the initial phase, you may increase use gradually over time. However, it’s important to keep in mind that overusing lactic acid is likely to cause irritation of the skin. 

Mandelic acid vs. lactic acid — which is better?

While both mandelic acid and lactic acid have proven positive effects for the appearance and texture of your skin, mandelic acid is the gentler of the two options. So, if your skin is sensitive and reactive to facial products, opt for mandelic acid as your skin is more likely to tolerate its use.

Mandelic acid is also a great go-to if you have acne-prone skin that acts up with other harsh exfoliants. It is also a great option for first-time face acid users. If you notice your skin is able to tolerate mandelic acid and you want to try lactic acid, you can make that shift in your skin regimen.  

Lactic acid is gentle enough to be tolerated by sensitive skin types as well but must be used with caution. If your skin is irritated or red, avoid using it until it is healthy enough to tolerate the exfoliant. Lactic acid is also available in different concentrations — if the formula contains a lower concentration, you can expect a hydrating effect. If the formula has a higher concentration, you can expect a more potent exfoliating effect.

You know your skin best — choose mandelic acid for the gentlest effect and find the right concentration of lactic acid for a super hydrating or strong exfoliating and firming result. 

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