Aesthetic Dermatology Update

Mandelic acid


Acids peels are used to elicit a chemical exfoliation of the skin by hydrolyzing amide bonds between keratinocytes, reducing corneocyte adhesion, as well as inducing an inflammatory reaction stimulating tissue remodeling. Release of cytokines such as interleukin (IL)-1 and IL-6 by keratinocytes activates fibroblasts to increase the production of matrix metalloproteinases. These are involved in the production of hyaluronic acid and new collagen formation.

Mandelic acid was derived from bitter almonds (mandel is the German word for almond). It is a white powder originally used as an antibiotic for the treatment of urinary tract infections. Its antibacterial properties make it an excellent product for the topical treatment of acne, as well as for use in topical preparations to treat hyperpigmentation and photoaging. In cosmetic use, mandelic acid is a slow acting chemical peel that can be used in all skin types, including sensitive and rosacea-prone skin, as well as skin of color. Its large molecular size allows for the slow penetration of the acid on the skin and thus it can be carefully titrated.

Dr. Lily Talakoub, McLean (Va.) Dermatology and Skin Care Center

Dr. Lily Talakoub

Studies have shown its efficacy in reducing sebum content, acne, acne scarring, and hyperpigmentation. In clinical practice however, the most effective use of this acid is on sensitive skin. It is a great tool for clinicians to use as an effective exfoliant in less acid tolerant skin types. In commercially available concentrations of 5%-45%, mandelic acid can be used alone or in combination with other beta hydroxy peels, depending on the indication.

Dr. Naissan O. Wesley, a dermatologist who practices in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Dr. Naissan O. Wesley

Most dermatologists and patients prefer in-office peels that induce noticeable peeling and resurfacing of the skin. Mandelic acid is one of the largest alpha hydroxy acids, a lipophilic acid that penetrates the skin slowly and uniformly, making it an ideal peel in sensitive or aging and thin skin types. Although many mandelic acid peels are available, however, there is a paucity of studies comparing their benefits and efficacies.

Dr. Lily Talakoub and Dr. Naissan O. Wesley are cocontributors to this column. Dr. Talakoub is in private practice in McLean, Va. Dr. Wesley practices dermatology in Beverly Hills, Calif. This month’s column is by Dr. Talakoub. Write to them at They had no relevant disclosures.


1. Wójcik A et al. Dermatol Alergol. 2013 Jun;30(3):140-5.

2. Soleymani T et al. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2018;11(8):21-8.

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