Mandelic Acid Review - The Acne Experiment

Mandelic Acid Review - The Acne Experiment

Mandelic acid is a relatively new AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) that is supposedly a great option for acne prone skin. It's said to be gentler than glycolic acid and lactic acid, humectant, and is thought to have antimicrobial properties. This makes sense because mandelic acid is made from bitter almonds, which are just bursting with antioxidants.

Now, what the hell is a bitter almond. I will share my firsthand knowledge with y'all, because I have a mouth and used it to eat a bitter almond. It was bitter as hell – like spit this nut out, my taste buds are telling me it's poison, bitter. Bitter almonds look like normal almonds, so it would be fun to mix the two together and put a bowl out at a cocktail party.

Unlike other AHAs, mandelic acid is pretty hard to find. I only found two brands that make mandelic products: MUAC (Makeup Artist's Choice) and GoW (Garden of Wisdom). The MUAC mandelic products lean more towards peel (high potency) and contain alcohol. Garden of Wisdom sells about a dozen slightly different mandelic products in a range of lower potencies and a variety of formulation options. Their customer service folks are very nice as well. I will share my firsthand knowledge with y'all, because I have email and I used it to contact them. They put up with my unnecessarily long emails and general pushiness. I'm sure they can help you as well.

To minimize the chance of a break-out by cutting out unknown variables, I went with a middle of the road, low ingredient product: the mandelic acid 10%, no alcohol, no seaweed formula.

  • GoW Mandelic Acid 10% Serum (No Alcohol/No Seaweed) - Spring Water,  Rooibos (red) Extract, Mandelic Acid, Lactic Acid, L-lysine, Sodium PCA, Panthenol B-5, Sodium Lactate, Hyaluronic Acid
  • Spot Treatments as needed (salicylic acid (this) on active acne + Manuka Honey (this) for face wounds)

  1. Wash your face as usual (I water wash, if at all).
  2. Get yourself ready for some cutting. edge. shit.
  3. GoW's mandelic serums are watery, so add a few drops to the palm of your cupped hand and apply a thin layer on your face with the tips of your fingers.
  4. You can also use a bit of thin cotton to apply. (I recently discovered these multi-ply Japanese situations. They are soft and lovely.)
  5. Alternately, you can tilt your head back and drip the serum directly onto your face, then use your hands to prevent it from dribbling whilst spreading around the mess you made.
  6. Oh gurl.
  7. Apply spot treatments as needed.


Garden of Wisdom is a great indie brand. They do use preservatives (although refrigeration is recommended), and offer a huge range of formulated products as well as a ton of raw ingredients for the skincare alchemists out there. The GoW website leaves much to be desired, but they are a legit company. Shipping was quick too. If you like natural products, this is a good place to start.

GoW's mandelic serum was the first natural product I tried in several months, and like everything I try, I really wanted it to work. Unfortunately, I didn't see enough of an improvement to stay on it. I suspect the before/afters would have been more dramatic had I not been coming immediately off of a month-long glycolic acid trial.

Mandelic Acid Before & After :: The Acne Experiment
Mandelic Acid Before & After :: The Acne Experiment

GoW Mandelic Acid 10% Serum (No Alcohol/No Seaweed) Before & After:: The Acne Experiment
GoW Mandelic Acid 10% Serum (No Alcohol/No Seaweed) Before & After:: The Acne Experiment

While I didn't experience any kind of major breakouts, my skin does not seem to be a fan of rigorous chemical exfoliation. I got little bumps all over, including in my usually normal cheek area.

Mandelic Acid Irritation(?) - The Acne Experiment
Mandelic Acid irritation (?) :: The Acne Experiment

So, while I do think my skin tolerated it better than the PC glycolic acid, I don't think this one's for me. If you like glycolic or lactic acid exfoliation, I do think mandelic acid is worth a test-a-roo.

I ordered a few other Garden of Wisdom samples at the same time and tested the CoCoBasil Clarifying Tonic and the Not Tonight Honey Cleansing Mask in subsequent weeks. Nothing mitigated my stubborn forehead breakouts. At this point I've been doing The Acne Experiment for about a year and a half and frankly, I'm getting real frustrated, y'all. I'm going minimalist.


PS: If this AHA/exfoliant business is confusing, check out my chemical exfoliants guide.

ALL Acne Experiment Posts are listed at The Acne Experiment MOTHER HUB

Testing Mandelic Acid on Adult Acne - The Acne Experiment
Garden of Wisdom Mandelic Acid Review :: The Acne Experiment

All Images © Crappy Candle / The Acne Experiment


  1. Hey, found your blog through some googling. I am so relieved to see I'm not the only one who didn't like GOW's Mandelic Acid. I bought the 5% (no seaweed or alcohol) and my face too got those red little bumps on my cheeks. Guess what? I persevered, hoping to see an improvement.

    Yeah, that never happened. Redness, itchiness and red bumps on my cheeks that won't go away, even weeks after I stopped using it. And yeah, I DO have sensitive skin, but still, the mandelic acid did nothing positive for my skin. I can recommend their Marityme Gel though, very nice.

    1. It's always a relief to hear I'm not a freak, or worse, an oversensitive freak. I've taken note of the Marityme Gel. Thank you for the hot tip.

  2. Shay I just found your blog, it is amazing and so helpful! I haven't tried many of the products you reviewed but have recently had mild success on a regimen of tretinoin, clindamycin, a heavy duty Clinique moisturizer and (this was a big splurge) the Kiehl's clearly corrective dark spot solution... I don't know if you feel like giving this a shot but I *think* it's been helping my scarring from the few months of awful cystic acne I had this past fall!

    1. I may or may not be testing one of the products in your list RIGHT NOW. I'll be writing about that soon!

  3. Hi ! i love your blog and those acne experiments are very informative. It seems like topical treatements doesn't do much for you. I'm in the same situation and my diet helped signiflicantly. I stopped gluten, dairy and foods high in sugar. I also take vitamin A (accutane is made from vitamin A) but only 10 000 iu. I hope this will help you.

  4. i am currently using L-Mandelic from my esthetisican's own brand. She actually told me to beware of certain "mandelic" products because in order to get the results it claims, the company manufacturing it needs to remove a certain ingredient to make it "L-Mandelic acid serum" instead of just "Mandelic acid serum". She broke its chemistry down to me and I will not attempt to try and repeat it. BUT I am using 8% L-Mandelic acid serum and I first had the same reaction as you, getting blackheads in normally clear areas of my face as well as red inflamed spots. But I figured it was the "purging effect" and I was right. I don't break out anymore and all my hyperpigmentation has been lightening up. Not at all 100% clear but it's definetly fading. I've been using it for about a month now.


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