Azelaic vs Salicylic Acid: Which One Should You Choose?

Azelaic vs Salicylic Acid Which One Should You Choose

Certain skin types are more prone to acne and blemishes. Luckily, science has the solution to all these skin woes. There are ingredients in the beauty industry that work amazingly in combating acne and reducing the signs, marks, and spots. To name a few, azelaic and salicylic acids are effective in treating and preventing acne.

If you are not aware of these ingredients or know but confused on what to use, this article will help understand the science behind them. Also, we will compare azelaic vs salicylic acid for better understanding.

Azelaic Acid

Azelaic Acid

Azelaic acid (1) is plant-based and derived from wheat, rye, and barley. It exfoliates the skin gently and unclogs the pores. Moreover, azelaic acid has skin-soothing and calming properties. Therefore, the benefits of azelaic acid are not limited to acne but other skin conditions as well, such as rosacea.

Besides this, this acid also treats blemishes that occur due to melasma or sunburn. It doesn’t allow pigmented spots to form on the skin, giving clear skin. At the same time, it makes skin less sensitive and offers antioxidant benefits.


  • Blocks comedones; thus, helps reduce blackheads and whiteheads.
  • Exfoliates skin superficially and removes dead skin cells
  • Clams inflamed, irritated, and red skin
  • Fights off acne-causing bacteria
  • Even the skin tone
  • Fades the blemishes

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid (2) is one of the most effective skincare ingredients against acne. It is extracted from willow bark and also synthesized industrially. Salicylic acid is widely used in skincare products made specifically for oily and acne-prone skin.

The properties of salicylic acid help it deal with comedones, extra sebum, and clogged pores to prevent acne breakouts. At the same time, it improves dull complexion.


  • Exfoliates the skin by penetrating deep into the pores and removing excess sebum
  • Removes dirt from the pores and clears them
  • Targets acne and helps with blackheads and whiteheads
  • Lightens dark spots
  • Encourages cell turnover
  • Prevents dark spots due to anti-inflammatory properties

Below is the table differentiating azelaic and salicylic acid under different aspects for better understanding-

FeatureAzelaic AcidSalicylic Acid
Chemical StructureDicarboxylic acid derived from wheatBeta hydroxy acid derived from willow bark
FunctionAnti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and comedolytic (reduces the formation of comedones)Keratolytic (exfoliates dead skin cells), anti-inflammatory, and anti-bacterial
Targeted ConditionsAcne, rosacea, hyperpigmentationAcne, blackheads, whiteheads, psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis
Mode of ActionInhibits melanin production, reduces inflammation, and normalizes keratinizationPenetrates into pores to dissolve oil and exfoliate dead skin cells, thereby preventing clogged pores
Side EffectsMild irritation, itching, dryness, and peelingSkin irritation, dryness, stinging, and redness; can be more irritating for sensitive skin
Pregnancy/BreastfeedingGenerally considered safe with cautionGenerally considered safe with caution, but consult with healthcare provider

Azelaic Vs Salicylic Acid- How Do They Perform?

Azelaic acid reduces the production of keratin cells and thus prevents overactive sebaceous glands and clogged pores. This keeps acne at bay. On the other hand, salicylic acid exfoliates the skin and removes the dead skin cells, extra sebum and oil from the pores that cause acne breakouts. Also, it dissolves blackheads and whiteheads.

Azelaic Vs Salicylic Acid- How Do You Use It?

Azelaic Acid- It can be used twice daily; however, people with sensitive skin should use it cautiously (preferably only once a day or on alternate days). You can use it safely with other skincare products that have AHAs, BHA, and retinol. It can be used as a spot treatment for inflammation.

Salicylic Acid- You should always start with a low concentration of salicylic acid (preferably 0.5%). Allow the skin to adapt slowly and increase the concentration gradually. Do not use it excessively as it may dry the skin and cause irritation. Since it is a BHA that dries the skin, paring it with skin hydrating ingredients such as hyaluronic acid will help.

Irrespective of what skincare ingredients you use, make sure to apply a generous amount of sunscreen after them to protect the skin from sun damage.

Azelaic Vs Salicylic Acid- Side-Effects

Usually, azelaic acid is safe for all skin types and doesn’t show any adverse effects (3). However, some people may experience mild irritation and redness that resolve on their own.

Salicylic acid will make the skin dry, especially if you already have dry skin. In the case of sensitive skin, overuse may cause skin irritation (4). Therefore, you should always use it in low concentration.

Other adverse effects of salicylic acid include peeling, redness, and skin irritation.


People who look forward to skincare ingredients can try both azelaic acid and salicylic acid in their skincare routine but with caution. If your skin is prone to acne or has overactive sebaceous glands, salicylic acid will work wonders. Likewise, those who are looking to clear their blemishes and even out their skin tone can opt for azelaic acid.

Make sure you use these ingredients in a low concentration and from a reliable brand. In case of any adverse effects, stop using them immediately and consult a dermatologist.

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