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by Dr.Ying-Chin Wu

Are you using mandelic acid correctly? What is superior about DR.WU's mandelic acid? A dermatologist's take on the proper use

Summer is the peak season for acnes and pimples, and while many consumers like using mandelic acid for skin renewal and enhancement of cell turnover, we also hear news from time to time about how mandelic acid actually causes pimple, skin flaking, or even darkening to some people. So what is mandelic acid? How should it be used? What is the right concentration? How often do we use it? What are the side effects and how to avoid them? In this article, we have compiled a Q&A to answer the most common questions that people have about mandelic acid!

What is mandelic acid?

Mandelic acid is a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) derived from "bitter almond." It changes the acidity of the skin surface, which helps remove dead skin cells, reduce sebum secretion, clear pores, lighten acne scars, and bring glow back to the skin. Unlike other types of AHA, mandelic acid is lipophilic and has a larger molecular structure. It does not penetrate skin quickly when rubbed on face, but instead stays on the surface and gets absorbed slowly for less irritation. 

How does mandelic acid work to remove acnes and pimples and correct widened pores?

Before explaining how mandelic acid works, let's delve into what causes acnes and pimples. A pore is like a long tube that is wide at the root and narrow at the top. Inside them are sebaceous glands that are constantly secreting sebum to moisturize the skin surface. When people are under stress, in hot environment, or undergoing hormonal changes, the sebaceous gland secrets excess sebum, and if the person has poor cell turnover or dead skin buildups that clog up the pore, the excess sebum gets mixed up with the dead skin buildup, then oxidizes and hardens to form acne. This closed environment allows an anaerobic bacterium called propionibacterium acnes to grow in large numbers, causing inflammation and turning into pimples. 

As mentioned above, mandelic acid is lipophilic, which allows it to bind with sebum on the skin to not only promote renewal of the stratum corneum at the surface, but also travel along the path of sebum deep into the pores to promote renewal of the stratum corneum from within. Because of this lipophilic characteristic, mandelic acid has the ability to reach the follicle and dissolve clogs along the way, helping the skin restore its proper turnover. Not only does this process reduce excess sebum and cleanse and tighten pores, the use of mandelic acid also kills off bacteria and reduces inflammation to prevent acne. It is a gentle yet effective solution to early stage acne problems

How do I choose from the many acids that carry skin renewal properties?

Acids commonly used in skin renewal programs include AHA, salicylic acid, and mandelic acid introduced in this article. Before choosing the product that is right for you, let's compare the differences between them. AHA has the smallest molecule and is water-soluble; it works deep into the dermis and therefore causes stronger irritation. AHA is mostly used by specialists in a procedure called acid peel to treat severe pimples and acne scars. Salicylic acid, like mandelic acid, is fat-soluble and has larger molecule, but penetrates deeper than mandelic acid and is more irritative. Lastly, mandelic acid has high skin-affinity compared to other acids, and because it works only at a shallow depth of the epidermis, it is gentler and safer on the skin, and less likely to cause side effects such as redness and itchiness. It is the preferred solution used in skin renewal programs of many aesthetic clinics, and is highly recommended for skin renewal at home.

Does higher concentration of mandelic acid make a better product?

Many people fall into this trap, but in fact, the effect of mandelic acid does not always increase with concentration. Studies have proven that mandelic acid is best absorbed by the skin at 18% concentration and therefore delivers the best skin renewal effect. If you have oily/normal/combination skin, it is recommended to begin tackling acnes and pimples with DR.WU's most popular Intensive Renewal Serum with Mandelic Acid 18%!

If you are using mandelic acid product for the first time, or if you have dry/sensitive skin, we recommend that you start with a compound that has lower concentration of mandelic acid, especially one that combines acids of different molecular sizes such as salicylic acid and pyruvic acid, so that they can work at different depths of the skin to achieve more all-round results. Once the skin adapts to the acid, you may apply the solution on a larger area and consider increasing frequency of use depending on your skin condition. The purpose of this progression is to build up the skin's tolerance to foreign substances, otherwise you might bite off more than you can chew and cause discomfort to the skin that does more harm than good!


Backed by 50 years of medical experience! Renowned dermatologist Dr. Wu demystifies mandelic acid! 


Q1) Why do I see pimples and skin flaking after using mandelic acid? What should I do? 
This is a normal process, in which mandelic acid is actually working to assist with cell renewal, and it does not happen to everyone. People with oily/combination skin type may see pimples emerging when using for the first time, as the acid works to clear acne deep within pores and the sebaceous gland, causing temporary oil-water imbalance. Simply keep using the product and the condition will go away on its own. Pimples that emerge during this time are short-lived because of mandelic acid and recover faster than if mandelic acid was absent in the first place.

As for people with dry/sensitive skin, the oil-water imbalance may result in dryness and skin flaking; simply apply more active hydration and you should not be overly concerned with the condition. If flaking persists and worsens, then there is the likelihood that you might be using the product incorrectly or too frequently, or that the acid concentration is too high for you. 


Q2) Can I use mandelic acid on a daily basis? Will it make my skin thin and sensitive?   

The answer to the latter is no! As long as you apply mandelic acid correctly and within a tolerable level of concentration, mandelic acid will not make your skin thin or sensitive. Just make sure that you have no wound or allergy before proceeding with skin renewal. The product is perfectly safe for all skin qualities, including sensitive skin. 

For people who wish to use mandelic acid in daily skincare, it is recommendable to choose a product that has a lower concentration, and use 18% concentration only on spots where acne is particularly severe.


Q3) What are the things to pay attention to when using Intensive Renewal Serum with Mandalic Acid? What are the side effects?  

Many people see the word "serum" and mistakenly assume that the product is to be applied after toner. However, doing so would adversely affect absorption of mandelic acid, and the correct way is to apply the product right after cleaning! After washing, dry face thoroughly with a towel, then apply an appropriate amount of the serum onto the face, drawing circles along the away while avoiding dry areas around the eye. Wait until the serum has been fully absorbed before proceeding with the next step of your skincare program for maximum effect. 

There are rumors that mandelic acid would cause "darkening" of the skin, when in fact mandelic acid itself does not stimulate growth of dark pigments, and people are under the impression that their skins darken after use is mainly because of dead skin cell removal at shallow depth of the stratum corneum, which lowers the skin's defense against UV rays and external factors, causing slight tans. For this reason, you should pay particular attention to UV protection after using mandelic acid for skin renewal. You should also avoid using dead cell removers or other acid-based products on top of the serum, as they may over-irritate the skin and do more harm than good.


Lastly, a gentle reminder that, when using acid-based skincare solutions, you should adjust your skincare routine and frequency depending on how your skin adapts to the solution, and pay more attention to hydration and UV protection. If your skin does not adapt to the solution and exhibits severe symptoms such as dryness, flaking, redness, or pimples despite enhanced hydration efforts and frequency adjustments, you should seek help from a specialist.