Azelaic acid and vitamin C are two very popular ingredients for treating hyperpigmentation and dark marks. If you’re trying to simplify your skincare routine, you may be wondering which ingredient is better. Alternatively, can you use azelaic acid and vitamin C together?
The short answer is yes, you can use them together – as long as it’s not causing you skin irritation.
Here’s the longer answer…
Azelaic acid is a dicarboxylic acid found in grains like wheat and barley. It’s suitable for even the most sensitive, rosacea prone skin and offers a wide-variety of benefits.
- It reduces inflammation
- It improves redness and rosacea
- It removes dirt, bacteria, and oil from pores
- It’s antibacterial
- It can improve the appearance of acne and acne marks (post-inflammatory erythema/hyperpigmentation)
- It prevents melanin synthesis which helps brighten skin and reduce dark marks/hyperpigmentation
- It reduces skin sensitivity
- It improves skin texture
It also provides a gentle exfoliating effect that is well tolerated by sensitive skin but may cause an initial worsening of breakouts (purging).
Vitamin C is the most abundant antioxidant in your skin and is essential for the production of collagen.
More collagen = plumper, younger looking skin.
As well as it’s excellent anti-aging benefits, vitamin C also:
- Reduces dark marks and brightens skin by preventing the activity of the enzymes required for melanin production.
- Reduces inflammation
- Reduces blood vessel dilation and facial redness
- Prevents the growth of ‘bad’ bacteria (the type that cause skin infections and acne)
- Some derivatives of vitamin c can improve the appearance of acne
- Improves skin texture
- Prevents premature skin aging (when used with sunscreen) by neutralising free radicals (substances that damage DNA and break down collagen and elastin)
Azelaic Acid vs Vitamin C
Both azelaic acid and vitamin C prevent the activity of the enzyme required for melanin production (tyrosinase).
No tyrosinase = no melanin production.
While melanin helps protect your skin from the sun, your melanin producing cells (melanocytes) are easily triggered which can lead to the uneven distribution of melanin. This is visible on your skin as dark marks and uneven skin tone (hyperpigmentation, melasma, PIH, etc.)
If you’re looking to prevent and treat this then a tyrosinase inhibitor like azelaic acid or vitamin C is essential – but is one better than the other?
Some research suggested that azelaic acid was better than vitamin C when it came to treating melasma. However the study only used 2% vitamin C compared to 20% azelaic acid.
As vitamin C is usually considered to be most effective at concentrations of between 8-20% and most OTC azelaic acid products contain less than 20%, it’s probably not that representative of how you would be using either ingredient.
The main reason you might be better off choosing one ingredient over the other is if you have other skin concerns that you wish to treat.
For example, vitamin C helps boost collagen production which makes it a great anti-aging ingredient. Azelaic acid doesn’t have much (if any) research to suggest that it’s effective as an anti-aging ingredient but there is plenty of research to suggest that it’s effective at treating acne.
Both vitamin C and azelaic acid can improve redness and rosacea, although azelaic acid may have the upper hand as it helps to reduce skin sensitivity.
Overall, if you have acne-prone skin you’d probably be better off with azelaic acid vs vitamin C but if your concern is fine lines and wrinkles then you’d probably be better off with vitamin C vs azelaic acid.
Can You Use Azelaic Acid and Vitamin C Together?
If you really can’t decide between azelaic acid and vitamin C, there’s no reason that you couldn’t use both together – as long as you don’t find this combination irritating for your skin.
When it comes to hyperpigmentation, skincare ingredients usually work in one of three ways:
- Before melanin production
- During melanin production (tyrosinase inhibitors)
- After melanin production
The most effective way to treat it is by combining ingredients that work at each stage.
For example, retinoids (before), azelaic acid or vitamin C (during), and niacinamide (after).
As azelaic acid and vitamin C both work in the same way, you’d be better off choosing one of the two and combining it with the ingredients mentioned above – that’s not to say that azelaic acid and vitamin C wouldn’t boost each others tyrosinase-inhibiting effects though.
They’re also effective at similar pH levels, with azelaic acid being most effective at a pH of 4.0-5.0 and vitamin C most effective at a pH of less than 3.5.
However, Even if they were ideally used at different pH levels, your skin’s natural surface pH is around 5.0 – 6.0 so they would have to adjust to your skin’s natural pH anyway.
How To Use Azelaic Acid and Vitamin C Together
If you do want to use azelaic acid and vitamin C together, you could layer them together or use them at different times of the day.
Vitamin C is best used in your AM routine as it works synergistically with sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun. Azelaic acid also has antioxidant effects but because it also provides mild exfoliation it can be useful to use it at night when your skin’s natural exfoliation process is at its highest.
Although it helps to exfoliate your skin, azelaic acid, unlike AHAs/BHAs, can be used 1-2x daily with most clinical research studies using it twice-daily. However, other research has shown that azelaic acid is equally as effective when used only once a day.
Vitamin C can also be used 1-2x daily. However, at its maximum concentration (20%) it has a half-life of 4 days (it takes 4 days for the level of vitamin C in your skin to decrease by half) so once a day is more than enough to see results.
If you decide to use both azelaic acid and vitamin C, you should only introduce them one at a time. This will help identify if your skin reacts negatively to one of the ingredients as well as help prevent skin barrier damage.
Summary – Can You Use Azelaic Acid and Vitamin C Together?
Yes, you can absolutely use azelaic acid and vitamin C together! However, if you’re trying to treat hyperpigmentation, there are other ingredient combinations that may be more effective.
If you’re torn between azelaic acid vs vitamin C then azelaic acid may be the superior ingredient if you regularly experience breakouts but vitamin C would be better for improving the signs of aging.