Mandelic acid and vitamin C: What’s the difference and can you use them together?

One of the things most people look for when it comes to skincare is getting bright skin and an even skin tone. That is why most of the active ingredients with brightening properties are commonly used in various types of products. Vitamin C and Mandelic acid belong to this category. In this guide, you will learn about their differences and how to use them together in your skincare routine.

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What is mandelic acid?

Mandelic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) derived from bitter almonds used to exfoliate the skin. This skincare ingredient is known to help shed dead skin cells to reveal brighter skin. It is one of the most gentle AHAs and is used to treat skin conditions such as acne, and hyperpigmentation and to revive dull skin. 

Mandelic acid vs vitamin C

While both mandelic acid and vitamin C can help get brighter skin, these actives function in very different ways. 

Mechanism of action

Mandelic acid’s main action is to loosen the bonds between skin cells found on the top layer of the skin to reveal younger and brighter skin. This exfoliant increases cell turnover resulting in brighter and firmer skin.

Vitamin C, on the other hand, functions both as an antioxidant and tyrosinase inhibitor.

As an antioxidant, vitamin C helps reduce damage caused by free radicals and UV rays to the skin. 

As a tyrosinase inhibitor, vitamin C disrupts the formation of melanin in melanocytes (cells where melanin is produced) which in turn renders the transfer of pigment in the skin resulting in brighter skin. 

How to use Mandelic acid

Just like every exfoliant mandelic acid is recommended to use at most 3 times a week. Because its role is to boost the skin’s natural renewal process, daily usage can lead to irritation of the skin. It is usually best to use it at night as it increases the skin’s sensitivity to the sun. If you include this exfoliant in your routine make sure to apply sunscreen regularly. 

Mandelic acid should not be applied to damaged or broken skin as it should not be used together with other exfoliants and retinoids as this may cause skin irritation. Although it is the most gentle AHA you want to be cautious and start using lower percentages to get your skin used to its effect before increasing the dosage over time. 

How to use Vitamin C

Vitamin C is commonly found in serums and other facial treatments and based on the type of vitamin C and its concentration the results it delivers may differ.

Vitamin C-based products can be used on a daily basis but it is most recommended to use them during the day as their antioxidant properties take action the most against free radicals and UV rays. 

However, it should be noted that to get the most signified results it is best to go for percentages between 10-15%. 

Differences between Mandelic acid and Vitamin C

  • The most obvious difference between these two is their categorization. While mandelic acid is an exfoliant, vitamin C is classified as an antioxidant. 
  • While vitamin C is safe to use on a daily basis, mandelic acid is recommended to use just 3 times a week. Over exfoliation present a risk of irritation to the skin.
  • Vitamin C is very unstable and its effectiveness is dosage-dependent. Mandelic acid, on the other hand, is more stable and effective in concentrations as low as 5%.
  • Vitamin C can be used both morning and night while mandelic acid is recommended to be used at night. 
  • Mandelic acid brightens the skin by facilitating the shedding of dead cells. Vitamin C does so by protecting the skin against UV and free radical damage as well as preventing the formation of melanin.

Which should you use: mandelic acid or vitamin C?

Mandelic acid and Vitamin C both have unique benefits but are not equal to each other. Based on the skin concern you have one may be more suitable than the other. Here is a break of their efficacy on various skin concerns;

Acne treatment

Mandelic acid as compared to vitamin C is a better treatment for acne. It is known to control sebum production and unclog pores. While vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant it cannot get rid of acne-causing bacteria. 

Improving skin texture 

In terms of smoothening the face, mandelic acid is a better option as its exfoliating properties as well its capacity to boost collagen production result in smoother and firmer skin.

Vitamin C is equally known to stimulate collagen production on the skin, however, it does not help shed not get rid of active acne present on the skin causing texture.

Skin redness 

Vitamin C is more effective at reducing skin redness caused by acne and other inflammatory skin conditions. The combined action of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties helps soothe the skin and prevent further irritation. 


Vitamin C plays an essential role in the process of collagen synthesis in the body as such it is the most indicated for reducing fine lines and wrinkles.

Vitamin C boosts the production of collagen and elastin resulting in firmer and more plump skin While mandelic acid equally increases collagen production it isn’t as effective as vitamin C.


In terms of hyperpigmentation, both work effectively to clear discolorations on the skin. In this study, mandelic acid was found to be effective against melasma. Vitamin C is also known as a popular depigmenting skin agent. 

Can mandelic acid and vitamin C be used together?

Yes, mandelic acid and vitamin C can be used together in the same routine. The combination of these two actives can help tackle skin discoloration concerns. Together they can help you get firmer and youthful skin. 

How to use mandelic acid and vitamin C together

Mandelic acid and vitamin C can be safely used together, either layered in the same routine or together in a single product. It is common to find facial serums that contain both actives for brighter skin. 

It is also possible to layer both actives in your routine. The order in which to apply products containing each active will depend on the type of product.

It is very common for vitamin C to be formulated as serums and creams while mandelic acid is usually formulated as cleansers, toners, or serums. As such, mandelic acid should be layered before vitamin C.

As mandelic acid exfoliates to reveal younger and more sensitive skin, vitamin C should be applied after to provide antioxidant protection against UV rays and free radicals.

Related articles:

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Petra Nakashian (previously Kravos) is a dedicated natural health and beauty blogger, driven by the loss of her parents to cancer, which led her to meticulously research beauty product ingredients. With over 10 years of experience, her in-depth knowledge has made her a trusted expert in the field. Founder of Be Healthy Now and Green Beauty Talk, Petra recently expanded her expertise with Beauty Insights Hub, exploring a wider range of beauty treatments. Committed to transparency and honesty, her work is a vital resource for navigating the complex world of beauty.