Can I use mandelic acid and alpha-arbutin together?

When it comes to dealing with skin issues such as acne, blemishes, dark spots, hyperpigmentation, and fine lines, alpha-arbutin and mandelic acid are two common skincare actives that can help. These potent actives individually function in different ways to help achieve brighter skin but what happens when they are used together? Can they even be paired in the same routine? In this article, we answer these questions for you.  

What is mandelic acid?

Mandelic acid is a gentle exfoliating acid that belongs to the family of alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA). It is derived from bitter almonds and has the capacity to dissolve the bond between skin cells to reveal brighter and younger skin.

Its molecules are quite large which means its exfoliating action is limited solely to the outermost layer of the skin. This is why it is considered the most gentle AHA and is recommended for sensitive and mature skin.

This exfoliating acid is used in the treatment of acne, premature aging, and hyperpigmentation.

What is alpha-arbutin?

Alpha arbutin is a skin lightener and antioxidant naturally found in blueberries, cranberries, and bearberries.

This potent extract is commonly referred to as natural hydroquinone or  Hydroquinone β-D-glucopyranoside. 

Although it can be naturally derived, it is equally lab-engineered to improve its stability. It is commonly used to treat various forms of hyperpigmentation as it is classified as a tyrosinase inhibitor. 

Can mandelic acid and alpha-arbutin be used together?

Before answering this question it is important to understand alpha-arbutin’s action on the skin. This active ingredient has a similar chemical structure to an amino acid present in the skin called tyrosine.

Tyrosine plays an important role in the production of melanin in the skin by binding itself to tyrosinase enzymes. The chemical reaction produced from this chemical bonding serves as a catalyst or triggers the formation of melanin in the skin.

Alpha arbutin mimics the action of tyrosine and attaches itself to tyrosinase enzymes thereby blocking the synthesis of melanin in the skin. This helps prevent any skin discolorations due to UV exposure or inflammations on the skin and helps brighten already present discolorations. 

When it comes to mixing alpha arbutin with other acids care should be taken as this is a potent active. However, alpha arbutin can be paired with exfoliants such as AHAs like mandelic acid. Using alpha arbutin with mandelic acid will help enhance its penetration within the skin.

According to experts, it is recommended to blend alpha arbutin with other skin brighteners like vitamin C and alpha-hydroxy acids.

Although studies on the combination of mandelic acid and alpha-arbutin do not exist, the general consensus when treating conditions like hyperpigmentation is that it is best to combine a variety of skin brightening and lightening agents that have different mechanisms of action for better results.

In the case of mandelic acid and alpha-arbutin, while the former helps get rid of already formed discoloration, alpha arbutin’s action prevents the production of excess melanin that causes skin discoloration.  

How to use mandelic acid and alpha-arbutin together

The most common risk when pairing actives is them being too potent for the skin. Alpha arbutin can be used with mandelic acid in the same routine but knowing how to layer them is essential to avoid possible irritation. 

Since mandelic acid is an exfoliant it serves as a great prep for the absorption of alpha arbutin. By getting rid of all dead cells present on the outermost layer of the skin, mandelic acid unclogs your pores and allows for better penetration of alpha arbutin. It therefore should be applied before alpha-arbutin, this way you are sure to get the best out of your activities.

When used in the same routine, alpha arbutin can be used twice a day, morning and night.  Mandelic acid on the other hand should not be used more than 3 times a week.

If you have sensitive skin, make sure you start out with low concentrations of these actives as too much can irritate your skin.

Alpha arbutin is considered safe at a maximum usage rate of 2% so you might want to start below this. 

In this study, mandelic acid dosed at 5% and 10% were shown to trigger mild irritations in participants with sensitive skin. As such, do not go overboard with this active your skin doesn’t tolerate strong actives.

Related articles:

Mandelic acid and vitamin C: What’s the difference and can you use them together?
Alpha Arbutin vs Vitamin C: Which is Better?
Alpha Arbutin vs Azelaic Acid