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Azelaic Acid vs Mandelic Acid

Azelaic Acid vs Mandelic Acid

By Calum Torrington

You’ve heard of Niacinamide and Salicylic acid- but what about Azelaic acid and Mandelic acid?

These two underrated ingredients will change your skincare game for the better.

To anyone who has struggled introducing active ingredients into your routine because of sensitivity, these are ones for your must-try list.

Keep reading to uncover exactly what Azelaic acid and Mandelic acid are, how to use them, and what products we recommend!

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What is Azelaic Acid?

Azelaic acid is an underrated and under-the-radar skin care ingredient that packs a potent punch. For anyone who suffers from acne, you may already be familiar with this blemish-banishing ingredient.

A naturally occurring dicarboxylic acid, it can be found in grains such as wheat and rye or produced artificially in a lab.

Topical azelaic acid is a chemical exfoliant which can provide users with anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, anti-comedogenic, and anti-microbial benefits.

Here’s everything this underappreciated ingredient can help you with:

  • Treating acne
  • Reducing rosacea
  • Minimizing dark spots and fading pigmentation
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Improving cell turnover
  • Soothing irritation
  • Stimulating collagen production

You can find azelaic acid in gel, cream, or foam form with up to 20% concentration.

As a “skin balancing” ingredient, azelaic acid is a great choice for anyone with acne prone skin.

Having discovered this ingredient a few years ago, topical azelaic acid has become a staple in my skincare routine and I credit it with reducing my acne dramatically.

What is Mandelic Acid?

Another under-the-radar skin care ingredient, Mandelic acid is an alpha-hydroxy-acid (AHA).

A chemical exfoliant that will deep clean your pores and slough away dead skin- without causing redness or irritation? Sign me up!

AHAs are water soluble alpha-hydroxy-acids which work by dissolving the “glue” that keeps your top layer of skin cells together.

However, unlike other AHAs, Mandelic is attracted to oil and water. This means that it exfoliates the skin, and dissolves any oil and gunk currently present in your pores!

As an AHA, Mandelic acid’s most notable benefit is shedding away dead skin cells, penetrating into the pores, and getting rid of all the gunk that gets trapped there.

Consistent use can lead to your skin looking brighter, clearer and feeling smoother.

Mandelic acid is a great ingredient for anyone with acne prone skin. A 2015 study conducted over a two month period, found mandelic acid to gradually reduce active acne experienced by participants.

The benefits don’t stop there. Mandelic acid can also:

  • Reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
  • Support collagen production
  • Reduce the appearance of discoloration
  • Improve skin elasticity

Mandelic acid is much larger in molecular size than other AHAs- about twice the size of glycolic acid, for instance- and penetrates through the layers of the skin more slowly.

Due to its larger molecule size, Mandelic acid is great for those looking to introduce their skin to AHAs, or for anyone with sensitive skin since it is gentler than other available AHAs.

When I first introduced an AHA into my routine, I began with Mandelic acid as well because of its gentleness, and I still use it today for that same reason.

What's the difference between Azelaic Acid and Mandelic Acid?

The biggest differences between these two acids lie in their molecular structure.

If you’re interested in the science, here’s a basic breakdown:

Azelaic acid is a dicarboxylic acid, and Mandelic acid is an alpha-hydroxy-acid. This means azelaic acid does not have hydroxyl or OH groups along the carbon chain, but AHAs such as Mandelic acid do.

If that all went over your head, just know that both ingredients function as chemical exfoliants!

And while they are each considered relatively gentle ingredients, Azelaic acid takes the cake for being the mildest. Mandelic acid penetrates the skin more slowly by comparison and can cause more skin irritation.

Truthfully, these two ingredients have far more similarities than differences.

Can they be used together?

The short answer is: Yes, they can!

While Azelaic acid and Mandelic acid do offer similar skin care benefits, they also have their respective drawbacks.

By using the two acids alongside each other, you can actually help to combat some of the downsides of each.

For example, Azelaic acid can help to soothe the skin and reduce any redness that occurs from using a high concentration of Mandelic acid.

However, the best way to avoid irritation or adverse reactions is by using them on alternate days, or at alternate times during the day.

Layering these two acids on top of each other is definitely not recommended!

How to use them together

Like most things in life, skincare routines are not one size fits all (the term YMMV- your mileage may vary- springs to mind). The best way to figure out how to use Azelaic acid and Mandelic acid together is therefore through trial and error!

The routine you develop and the products you choose should be reflective of your skincare goals.

That being said, here a few tips to get your started:

  • If you’re new to both ingredients, introduce them into your routine individually. Spend time allowing your skin to get used to Azelaic acid, before you incorporate Mandelic acid as well.
  • Don’t use these products every day. When you’re just starting out, use each ingredient 2-3 times per week and increase from there.
  • Mandelic acid should be used at night. Licensed esthetician Simone Sydel says: “active ingredients such as mandelic acid should be used in your evening routine.” However, azelaic acid is gentle enough to be used day and night (but don’t layer mandelic acid with azelaic acid on the same mornings)
  • Listen to your skin. If you find Mandelic acid to be too harsh, don’t use it every day! If Azelaic acid works well and your skin tolerates it, start using that more often instead.

Our Product Recommendations

The Ordinary’s Azelaic Acid 10% Suspension comes highly recommended from professionals and skincare lovers alike. It’s a cream-like formula designed to target uneven skin tone and active acne.

Paula’s Choice also has a 10% Azelaic Acid Booster on offer. This unique formula will smooth and brighten skin for a more radiant complexion. It targets unwanted spots and soothes irritation.

For anyone after an effective, affordable spot treatment, look no further than the Inkey List’s Mandelic Acid Treatment. This fast-acting, targeting formula will treat breakouts, exfoliate the skin, and help to reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation.

Another affordable option is The Ordinary’s Mandelic Acid 10% + HA. This serum combines Mandelic acid with the hydrating Hyaluronic acid to target hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tone and fine lines.

Finally, Dr Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Pore Perfecting Cleanser is a must-have for those with dryer skin types.

This moisturizing cleanser is packed full of goodies (including Mandelic acid) and washes away all the grime and pollution from your skin- while still leaving it hydrated and smooth!

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