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Benzoyl Peroxide or Mandelic Acid: Which Should You Choose?

There are many acne treatment products on the market. We will briefly go over some basic facts about two common active ingredients found in most acne treatments, benzoyl peroxide and mandelic acid. Armed with the facts, you will be able to choose the right product for your skin.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide has been around for a long time. It has been used to treat acne since the 1930’s. It works in three ways: it kills bacteria, it loosens your skin cells (therefore exfoliating), and it has anti-inflammatory properties. These properties combat breakouts on multiple levels. The exfoliating action helps keep your pores clear, the anti-bacterial action keeps them free from bacteria and the anti-inflammatory properties help keep acne under control. 

When introducing benzoyl peroxide there are a few things to be mindful of. One, it can turn your hair, linens and towels white pretty quickly. This is fairly manageable if you keep a white towel handy, but it can definitely be something to watch out for.

Second, benzoyl peroxide soaks up your skin’s supply of vitamin E pretty fast. This can quickly lead to irritation. To avoid dryness, stinging, peeling, and redness, be sure to pair your benzoyl peroxide regimen with a water-based moisturizer. Avoid formulations with alcohol or concentrations over 10%. Research suggests that low concentrations are just as effective as higher ones when it comes to treating acne. It is important to work with an acne specialist to ensure that you get the best coaching and education available.

Finally, benzoyl peroxide interferes with tretinoin, a chemical that helps clear pores. You can mitigate this by using one product in the morning and the other at night, or by switching to a retinol product that is designed specially to keep the Vitamin A stable. Adapalene and tazarotene are alternatives to tretinoin that do not interact with benzoyl peroxide.

If you are worried about controlling your acne, you should strongly consider using benzoyl peroxide as part of your treatment regimen. It has a number of unique properties that make it very effective at combating acne on multiple levels.

Mandelic Acid

A mild AHA ( Alpha Hydroxy Acid), mandelic acid is primarily used as an exfoliant. Mandelic acid has a larger molecular structure than other AHAs. This means that it absorbs slower and is much more gentle on your skin. It has some anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, exfoliating properties and even moisturizes your skin.

Mandelic acid and other AHAs work by loosening the bonds that hold dead skin cells in place. This allows the dead skin cells to slough off naturally, revealing bright and healthy living cells underneath. Studies suggest that AHAs help improve your overall skin health, thickness and elasticity.

Mandelic acid is made from bitter almonds. If you have a nut allergy, you should NOT use any product containing mandelic acid without consulting your doctor unless it is derived from a synthetic source, which does not contain any actual nuts.

While mandelic acid is very mild, it might not be the best AHA for your skin. If you can, try using glycolic acid and lactic acid for a month, or two and compare the results. Glycolic acid tends to have the strongest effect while being the most irritating, while mandelic acid is the least irritating but slowest acting. Everyone’s skin is unique, so it is worth giving all three a shot no matter what skin type you have.

All AHA’s reduce your skin’s ability to fight off UV radiation. While using mandelic acid or another AHA, make sure to apply sunscreen daily to avoid damaging your skin.

AHAs are usually applied daily, depending on the composition of the formula and the active percentage. It’s mild enough that you could potentially get away with using mandelic acid early in the week and applying benzoyl peroxide on subsequent days, although you will have to be extra careful to keep your skin hydrated.

The Right Choice For You

If you need to combat acne on multiple levels, benzoyl peroxide is a great choice. If you want a mild exfoliant, try a product with mandelic acid. If you are confident in your ability to manage your skin’s moisture, try exfoliating with mandelic acid and then applying BPO on subsequent days. Whichever you choose, make sure to moisturize and use sunscreen to help keep your skin young and healthy.

Written by Leah LaVanway