What to Combine (and not) With Azelaic Acid for Radiant Skin

woman applying face product

Azelaic acid is a multi-tasking ingredient that is known for improving conditions like acne, hyperpigmentation and rosacea. It’s also considered a gentler acid (compared to AHAs and BHAs, for example).

Now, even though azelaic acid is a gentler acid, it’s still a good idea to know what to combine with azelaic acid.

This will help you maximize the results from this superstar ingredient and your skin care routine as a whole.

So, without further delay, let’s get right to it!

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WHAT TO MIX WITH AZELAIC ACID

overhead view of skin care products

1. Gentle Retinoids

Azelaic acid and gentle retinoids (like retinyl palmitate and retinaldehyde) have a similar action on the skin: they address issues like hyperpigmentation and acne (source).

In addition, since gentle retinoids are less irritating, they can be paired with azelaic acid with less worry of side effects.

How to use: 

  • When layering these products, follow the standard rules of layering: apply the thinnest (or water-based) product first, followed by heavier or oil-based products.
  • Most retinoids and azelaic acid products have a thicker consistency, making them suitable for the end of your skincare routine. 
  • Retinoids are sensitive to light, so they’re usually best for your evening routine. As for azelaic acid, it can be used both morning and night.

2. Niacinamide

Azelaic acid and niacinamide can be an excellent duo when you’re dealing with hyperpigmentation.

This is because azelaic acid is a tyrosinase inhibitor, which means it blocks the enzyme tyrosinase, which is responsible for melanin production.

As for niacinamide, it’s an efficient UV blocker and prevents UV micro damage (source). These UV protectant properties can help prevent further worsening of hyperpigmentation (side note: this is also why niacinamide is often included in some moisturizing sunscreens).

In addition, niacinamide helps to prevent moisture loss. As such, it’s a good complement to an acid like azelaic acid.

How to use: 

  • These two ingredients are so compatible you can use them together in your morning and nighttime routine. 
  • Layer them according to their thickness and consistency. If you’re using a moisturizing sunscreen with niacinamide, then apply that last.

3. Polyhydroxy Acids

Polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) have a large molecular size compared to BHAs and AHAs. This means they work on the skin’s surface and are less irritating (unlike BHAs and AHAs which penetrate the deeper layers of skin and are more irritating).

Overall, PHAs support the action of azelaic acid by helping to exfoliate and address pigmentation, with less irritation (source).

How to use:

  • PHAs are suitable for both morning and evening use. 
  • Some PHAs need to be rinsed off, while others are left on the skin. If you’re using a PHA that is left on the skin, then follow the basic rules of product layering: apply the thinner product first.

4. Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic acid balances out the action of azelaic acid because it helps hydrate the skin and increase moisture, while azelaic acid exfoliates. 

This is definitely a no-brainer combo!

How to use:

  • Hyaluronic acid products are usually water-based formulations so they should be used before azelaic acid. 
  • Avoid mixing pure hyaluronic acid and pure azelaic acid together in the palm of your hand. Instead, layer your products according to their consistency.

5. Moisturizer

Although it’s not as strong as other acids, azelaic acid still has comedolytic (unclogs pores) and keratolytic (breaks down outer skin layers) properties.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to always pair it with a rich, moisturizing cream or lotion. This will help remedy any dryness that may occur from using it.

How to use:

  • You can moisturize before or after applying azelaic acid (source). If your skin is especially dry you can experiment with applying moisturizer first, waiting a few minutes and then applying azelaic acid. This may improve dryness. If this approach doesn’t work, then simply adhere to the standard guidelines for product layering (based on consistency.)
  • If you choose to apply azelaic acid first, wait about 15 minutes (depending on how thick your azelaic product is) then apply your moisturizer.

6. Alpha Arbutin

If you’re using azelaic acid to combat pigmentation and other skin conditions that influence melanin production, then consider pairing it with alpha arbutin.

Also, combining azelaic acid with alpha arbutin can be especially useful for acne since azelaic acid prevents and treats acne, while alpha arbutin can fade left-over scarring.

How to use:

  • Azelaic acid and alpha arbutin can be used alongside each other in the morning and evening.
  • After cleansing, toning and using any exfoliating products, apply alpha arbutin, followed by azelaic acid.
  • Because alpha arbutin can limit melanin production, ensure you take precautions to protect your skin from the sun. Alpha arbutin is heat sensitive.

7. Sunscreen

If you’re using azelaic acid to address hyperpigmentation or sun spots, then sunscreen will provide added protection and help the skin discoloration from getting worse.

Sunscreen will also support azelaic acid’s exfoliating action and protect newly revealed skin cells from damaging UV rays.

How to use:

  • Sunscreen should always be the last step in your routine (before makeup).

WHAT YOU MAY NOT WANT TO COMBINE WITH AZELAIC ACID

1. BHAs (Beta Hydroxy Acids)

Experts have differing opinions about whether it’s good to combine azelaic acid and BHAs in the same skincare routine.

For some people this combination works really well but for others, it may be too much.

This is particularly relevant if you have sensitive skin. In this case, you’ll definitely want to avoid pairing azelaic acid with BHAs.

How to use:

  • If you don’t have sensitive skin, consider using azelaic acid with salicylic acid. It’s a gentler BHA that exfoliates and targets redness, with less irritation (source).
  • You can use azelaic acid and BHAs twice a day, but if your skin responds negatively, you could space them out to alternate days or different times of day.

2. AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acids)

Like BHAs, using AHAs – such as glycolic or lactic acid – with azelaic acid may cause over-exfoliation. This may be too harsh for certain skin types. 

How to use:

  • If you want to try an AHA with azelaic acid, mandelic acid is the gentlest form due to its larger molecular structure.
  • After you’ve used your AHA product, apply azelaic acid and follow with a nourishing moisturizer to seal in the active ingredients.

3. Vitamin C

Even though L-ascorbic acid is the most potent form of vitamin C, it can be irritating for some people (especially at high concentrations).

In addition, L-ascorbic acid and azelaic acid have a lower pH. This means they’re both acidic.

So, using them together may lead to irritation and also affect their efficacy.

How to use: 

  • Gentler vitamin C derivatives (such as sodium ascorbyl phosphate or tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate) may be a safer combination with azelaic acid (source).
  • In general, you’ll want to apply vitamin C first, then follow up with your azelaic acid product.

4. Retinol

Since retinol is a pretty potent exfoliant, combining it with azelaic acid could be too harsh for some people, especially those with sensitive skin.

How to use:

  • As always, consider whether you’re using a cream or serum. Because serums have a thinner consistency they can be used earlier in your skincare routine. This will help determine whether you apply retinol or azelaic acid first.
  • Use retinol once a day (nighttime is often preferable) and azelaic acid twice.
  • If your skin is struggling to adjust to retinol you may find the gentle retinoids mentioned at the beginning of this article less irritating. Experiment to find the best option for you.

BEST AZELAIC ACID PRODUCTS

1. Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster

Formulated with skin-brightening licorice and salicylic acid, this 10% azelaic acid cream is designed to improve texture, balance skin tone and soothe irritation.

Based on user feedback, this formula is a winner for anyone struggling with inflammatory conditions like rosacea or acne.

Get Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster.

2. The Ordinary 10% Azelaic Acid

At a 10% concentration – one of the highest concentrations of azelaic acid that you can get without a prescription – this gel is a popular choice among skin care enthusiasts.

Users report that although it has a very thick consistency, the product spreads well and leaves a matte finish.

Get The Ordinary’s 10% Azelaic Acid.

FAQs ABOUT WHAT TO MIX WITH AZELAIC ACID

Can I use azelaic acid in the morning and adapalene at night?

Since adapalene is a retinoid, combining it with azelaic acid may not be suitable for all skin types. There is a risk of over-exfoliation, even when they are used at different times of the day. So, it’s best to check with your doctor to make sure you can use them (and to get the appropriate strength).

Can you use azelaic acid with clindamycin, benzoyl peroxide or tretinoin?

Research indicates that the effects of azelaic acid can be boosted when it is used with 4% benzoyl peroxide, 1% clindamycin gel and 0.025% tretinoin cream (source). However, since everyone’s skin care needs are different, it is best to get a personalized recommendation from your doctor before attempting to combine these ingredients.

CONCLUSION

With anti-inflammatory, comedolytic, keratolytic, antioxidant and anti-microbial properties, azelaic acid is one of the most versatile skin care ingredients you can use (source).

While it does play well with most ingredients, it’s a good to consider your particular skin type before mixing with strong actives like retinoids and other acids.


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