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Should You Use Azelaic Acid and Glycolic Acid Together?

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When it comes to banishing dark spots and reducing breakouts, azelaic acid and glycolic acid are some of the most sought-after ingredients. They both target the leading causes of discoloration and acne and can promote clear and radiant skin when used regularly. So thinking of adding the two into your skincare routine couldn’t make more sense if you’re dealing with any of these conditions. Yet, since you’re here, you’re still hesitating on using azelaic acid and glycolic acid together. And you have all the right to question this duo, considering how potent both actives are. But let me shed some light on your concerns: glycolic acid and azelaic acid are two ingredients that pair incredibly well, working in tandem to reduce acne and hyperpigmentation. Research actually proves it, but more on that later. 

Now keep reading to learn how to use azelaic acid and glycolic acid together and the benefits this winning duo can bring to your skin.

Azelaic acid and glycolic acid together

If you look closely at the two actives, you can see from the very start that azelaic acid and glycolic acid have quite a few things in common:

  • Both are keratolytic agents, aka exfoliants, meaning they slough off dead cell buildup and unclog pores.[1]
  • Both inhibit melanin content and suppress tyrosinase activity, which in turn reduces hyperpigmentation and brightens dark spots.[2][3]
  • Both have antibacterial benefits and can inhibit acne-causing bacteria, though glycolic acid needs to be formulated at a pH of 3–4.5 to have this effect.[1][4]
  • Both are effective for inflammatory and noninflammatory acne.[5][6]
  • Both can improve post-acne blemishes and heal pimples.[3]

This means teaming up glycolic acid with azelaic acid gets you a more potent treatment for skin discoloration and acne. For reference, this study shows that the combination of a 20% azelaic acid cream and 15% glycolic acid lotion is as effective as a 4% hydroquinone cream for lightening hyperpigmentation.[7] Also, another study proved that the same combination provides similar effects as a 0.025% tretinoin cream in treating acne while causing less dryness, redness, and peeling.[8]

Given that both tretinoin and hydroquinone are prescription-strength treatments getting similar results by combining azelaic acid with glycolic acid is actually game-changing.

The even better news is that neither glycolic nor azelaic has been found to weaken the protective barrier or cause water loss, contrary to popular belief.[9][10] In other words, this duo should be fairly tolerated by most skin types.

However, although using azelaic acid and glycolic acid together can put acne and hyperpigmentation at bay, it can still cause sensitivities, especially in people with reactive skin. This is because both ingredients exfoliate, and using them in a high concentration can bother the skin. But that shouldn’t be a problem as long as you know how to use them together.

How to use azelaic acid and glycolic acid together

You can benefit from azelaic acid and glycolic acid either by applying a product containing the two or mixing them in your PM routine by applying a glycolic acid serum and an azelaic acid cream. Also, you can use them at alternate times, azelaic acid in the morning and glycolic acid at night since the latter makes skin photosensitive.

Using azelaic acid and glycolic acid in the same product is most recommended since most products have a pH-balanced formula and are made not to disrupt the skin’s natural pH. StriVectin Daily Reveal Exfoliating PadsJan Marini Bioclear Face Cream, and Dermadoctor Picture Porefect Pore Minimizer are some of the best products containing this duo. You can also use a glycolic acid serum and follow up with an azelaic acid cream, but only if your skin can tolerate it and you don’t experience irritation.

The takeaway

Ultimately, the secret to great results is knowing how to pair ingredients to get the most out of the efforts you put in. Our skincare dictionary and ingredients cheat list are great places to keep an eye on all skincare ingredients and learn how you can mix them for dramatic results.


Sources

Women’s Concepts uses reliable sources, including dermatologists’ insights, clinical trials, and scientific journals, to find accurate information and support all the facts shared in our articles. All statements and claims have clear and legit references. Read our editorial policy to learn more about our sources of information, our process of researching and fact-checking the content, and how our team strives to keep all articles updated, completed, and trustworthy.

References
  1. Sieber MA, Hegel JK. Azelaic acid: Properties and mode of action. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24280644/
  2. Shiau-Chuen Cheah, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, UCSI University, Depigmenting Effect of Azelaic Acid and Glycolic Acid in MNT-1 and B16-F10 Melanoma Cells, https://www.sciencerepository.org/depigmenting-effect-of-azelaic-acid-and-glycolic-acid
  3. Rede, Archana & Agrawal, Sanjay & Kulkarni, Yoganand. (2021). A Comparative Study Of The Efficacy And Safety Of 12 % Glycolic Acid Cream And 10% Azelaic Acid Cream In The Treatment Of Post Acne Hyperpigmentation. Paripex Indian Journal Of Research, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/353753388
  4. Valle-González, E.R., Jackman, J.A., Yoon, B.K. et al. pH-Dependent Antibacterial Activity of Glycolic Acid: Implications for Anti-Acne Formulations, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-64545-9
  5. Sarkar R, Ghunawat S, Garg VK. Comparative Study of 35% Glycolic Acid, 20% Salicylic-10% Mandelic Acid, and Phytic Acid Combination Peels in the Treatment of Active Acne and Postacne Pigmentation. J Cutan Aesthet Surg. 2019 Jul-Sep, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6785964/
  6. Webster G. Combination azelaic acid therapy for acne vulgaris. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2000 Aug, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10898830/
  7. Kakita LS, Lowe NJ. Azelaic acid and glycolic acid combination therapy for facial hyperpigmentation in darker-skinned patients: a clinical comparison with hydroquinone. Clin Ther. 1998 Sep-Oct, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9829447/
  8. Spellman MC, Pincus SH. Efficacy and safety of azelaic acid and glycolic acid combination therapy compared with tretinoin therapy for acne. Clin Ther. 1998 Jul-Aug, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9737831/
  9. Fartasch M, Teal J, Menon GK. Mode of action of glycolic acid on human stratum corneum: ultrastructural and functional evaluation of the epidermal barrier, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9248619/
  10. Draelos, Z.D.. (2008). Effects of azelaic acid 15% gel on skin barrier in rosacea. Cosmetic Dermatology, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/289605132
Who wrote this?
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu
Ana is a sociologist and feminist with a shared passion for literature, psychology, and skincare, the combo that made her determined to start Women's Concepts. With over five years of experience in dermatological research, she has now become a certified skincare consultant keen to convince others of the importance of a diligent routine. Her close relationships with dermatologists around the globe, along with years of researching, analyzing studies, and hand-testing products on a daily basis, made Ana one of the best persons you can get advice from.
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Women's Concepts relies on the latest scientific research to provide accurate, complete, and fact-based information in skincare, on which we're willing to stake our reputation. Our team includes skincare experts who are highly regarded in their fields and committed to upholding the best standards of research. We spend quality time vetting every single product we recommend and double-checking all the facts shared on Women's Concepts. We always stand on the side of inclusivity, and our mission is to help everyone fix their skin issues as they arise and leverage the products they buy to achieve their goals. You can view our expert review board and everything about our editorial guidelines here.
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