If you have been wondering about the difference between alpha arbutin vs azelaic acid, I have just the right information summed up for you.
Azelaic acid is a great all-rounder among skincare ingredients if you want to address hyperpigmentation, acne breakouts and scars, and uneven skin tone without irritating your sensitive skin.
On the other hand, if you want to add a brightening serum to your skincare routine which also helps in fading dark spots, hyperpigmentation, melasma, and blemishes, alpha arbutin is your go-to.
Read on as we discuss the key differences between alpha arbutin vs azelaic acid, and which one is good for your skin.
Is Alpha Arbutin And Azelaic Acid The Same?
No, alpha arbutin and azelaic acid are not the same.
Though alpha arbutin and azelaic acid are famous for their brightening properties, they are both quite different, in terms of origin, structure, functions, and skin suitability.
Azelaic acid is derived from plant sources (wheat, barley, rye) whereas alpha arbutin is synthetically derived from hydroquinone, a potent bleaching agent1.
Both azelaic acid and alpha arbutin work by inhibiting melanin production, but their mechanisms are different.
Other than that, azelaic acid helps prevent acne and fade scars, whereas alpha arbutin is great for fading scars and promoting wound healing, but does nothing against active acne breakouts2.
Let’s take a dive into these two ingredients that have been gaining a lot of popularity recently.
What Is Alpha Arbutin?
Alpha arbutin is derived from the naturally occurring hydroquinone, which is found in cranberries, bearberries, and blueberry plants.
Its parent compound, hydroquinone is a leading hypopigmenting agent among other skin-brightening ingredients, which means it is an excellent skin brightener3.
Alpha arbutin inhibits melanin production, which is the pigment responsible for dark spots, melasma, hyperpigmentation, etc. Alpha arbutin competitively inhibits tyrosinase, the enzyme that brings about melanin formation inside melanocytes (the cells that produce melanin).
This reduces melanin, which in turn leads to reduced dark spots and hyperpigmentation. Alpha arbutin is commonly used for evening out skin tone as well as brightening it up.
The best part? It works as a wonderful skin brightener without the toxic side effects of hydroquinone, which makes it great for sensitive skin.
Benefits Of Alpha Arbutin
- Skin brightening
Alpha arbutin is literally one of the best gentle skin-brightening skincare ingredients easily available as OTC beauty products. It adds a healthy glow to the skin, making the complexion more radiant.
- Fades hyperpigmentation
Since alpha arbutin works to inhibit melanin formation, it aids in lightening dark spots and hyperpigmentation.
- Reduces acne scars
It helps to reduce the appearance of acne scarring, making it a great option for acne-prone skin.
- Prevents new hyperpigmentation
Its competitive inhibition of the enzyme responsible for melanin production keeps hyperpigmentation at bay, while also reducing the old pigmentation.
- Balances the skin tone
Alpha arbutin works wonders when it comes to evening out skin tone, as it brightens the skin, and fades dark spots, hyperpigmentation, sun spots, and acne scarring.
- Wound healing
Owing to its ability to boost the growth factors, alpha arbutin promotes wound healing.
- Gentle on the skin
Despite its amazing benefits, alpha arbutin does not bring about toxic side effects like its parent compound, hydroquinone (post-inflammatory pigmentation, photosensitivity, etc.). Hence it is a great option for individuals with sensitive skin.
Also, it can be used easily in combination with other skin-brightening agents such as exfoliating acids and retinoids.
Possible Side Effects Of Alpha Arbutin
Though alpha arbutin is safe for all skin types when used in 1-3 percent concentrations, it can cause a few side effects.
- Paradoxical hyperpigmentation
If used in high concentrations, studies have shown that alpha arbutin can cause hyperpigmentation, paradoxical to its characteristic of treating hyperpigmentation.
However, this only happens when you use it in very high concentrations4.
- Sun sensitivity
It can cause sunburn as it increases the skin’s sensitivity to the sun. Hence, always use sunscreen to avoid sun damage.
- Irritation and redness
Though very rare, alpha arbutin can cause redness, itching, and skin irritation, especially for individuals with reactive skin type. If alpha arbutin irritates the skin, it might cause mild acne.
It is recommended to always perform a patch test before starting a new product.
What Is Azelaic Acid?
Azelaic acid is a dicarboxylic acid found in wheat, barley, and rye and is also produced by our skin’s flora (by a yeast called Melassezia furfur).
It’s important to note that azelaic acid is not AHA, nor BHA, despite some common believes.
With widespread use in the beauty industry as toners, serums, and moisturizers, azelaic acid is loved for its versatile benefits.
It has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, making it great for treating acne. It works to reduce redness while lightening dark spots, and improving skin tone5.
It works by inhibiting the tyrosinase enzyme, hence reducing melanin production and treating hyperpigmentation. It can even minimize the risk of skin cancer (melanoma).
Since azelaic acid is keratolytic, it removes dead skin cells, unclogs pores, and helps improve skin texture, courtesy of its exfoliating properties.
It is loved by dermatologists for its gentleness, making it a great choice for all skin types, especially sensitive skin that might get irritated by other strong agents like exfoliating acids, vitamin C, kojic acid, etc.
It is available in both OTC (<10%) and prescription formulations (20%).
Benefits Of Azelaic Acid
- Anti-inflammatory benefits
Azelaic acid is anti-inflammatory, hence it is great for reducing inflammation, redness, and swelling, often associated with skin conditions such as rosacea, keratosis pilaris, and eczema.
- Effective acne treatment
The antibacterial properties of azelaic acid make it a great option for treating acne and preventing future breakouts.
- Great for rosacea and eczema
As azelaic acid can reduce redness alongside reducing inflammation, it is one of the best products for eczema-prone skin and people with rosacea and sensitive skin.
- Treats hyperpigmentation
Azelaic acid helps treat hyperpigmentation by fading dark spots, skin discoloration, sun spots, melasma, and acne scarring.
If you’re struggling with lots of dark spots, it may be a good idea to incorporate azelaic acid together with niacinamide into your beauty routine.
- Enhances the skin texture
Due to its exfoliating properties, azelaic acid removes the dead skin cells and improves the texture, evening out any rough patches or dull skin.
- Improves skin tone
Azelaic acid improves uneven skin tone by lightening pigmentation, old acne marks, and wounds. Since it is a powerful antioxidant, azelaic acid adds a healthy glow and doubles up as a skin lightener.
Since azelaic acid boosts collagen production (keeping the skin plump), it helps to reduce the appearance of signs of aging such as fine lines, wrinkles, age spots, sun damage, and much more.
- Unclogs pores
Azelaic acid helps to unclog pores by removing dead cells debris, dirt, bacteria, and excess sebum. This also helps reduce the appearance of large pores.
Possible Side Effects Of Azelaic Acid
Though azelaic acid is safe and has minimal side effects, always perform a patch test and watch out for:
- Slight Tingling
- Peeling or Dryness
What Concentration Of Azelaic Acid Is Effective For Hyperpigmentation?
Studies have proven a significant reduction in hyperpigmentation after topical application of 20% azelaic acid, owing to its role in the inhibition of the production of melanin6.
Key Differences Between Alpha Arbutin Vs. Azelaic Acid
Though both ingredients have a lot of things in common, let’s compare the key differences between them.
- Alpha Arbutin: When used in higher concentrations, alpha arbutin can cause paradoxical hyperpigmentation. Rarely, it can cause allergic reactions (hypersensitivity like redness, and skin irritations).
- Azelaic Acid: It rarely causes side effects. It may make the skin more sensitive to the sun, so it is advised to use a good SPF in your morning routine.
- Alpha Arbutin: Aiming to treat hyperpigmentation and brighten the skin, alpha arbutin is great for all skin concerns, especially if you have skin conditions such as dullness, pigmentation, dark spots, etc.
- Azelaic Acid: Though beneficial for all skin types, it is great for rosacea, acne-prone skin, blemish-prone skin, and sensitive skin types as it is perfect to reduce inflammation and gently exfoliate without causing any skin irritation.
- Alpha Arbutin: It is usually present in 1-3% in various skincare products.
- Azelaic Acid: It is present in low-concentration (10%) OTC beauty products and prescription (>15%).
- Alpha Arbutin: It is a derivative of hydroxyquinone, a known skin brightener.
- Azelaic Acid: It is a dicarboxylic acid.
Mechanism of Action
- Alpha Arbutin: Alpha arbutin inhibits the formation of melanin by stopping the production of tyrosine, an amino acid necessary for melanin production.
- Azelaic Acid: It works by suppressing the tyrosinase enzyme, inhibiting melanin production.
- Alpha Arbutin: It fades acne scars but has no effect on active breakouts.
- Azelaic Acid: It helps treat acne as well as prevent future acne breakouts, owing to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Safe For The Skin
- Alpha Arbutin: It may cause darkened skin if used in higher concentrations.
- Azelaic Acid: It is considered more safe for all skin types, from sensitive to normal skin types.
Can I Use Alpha Arbutin And Azelaic Acid Together?
Yes! You can definitely use alpha arbutin and azelaic acid together.
This way, you will get added benefits of the two, working effectively against pigmentation, tone, and texture issues while also combating acne.
How To Use Alpha Arbutin And Azelaic Acid Together?
You can use alpha arbutin and azelaic acid safely together, even in the same routine.
Some skincare products include a combination of both products, along with other brightening agents like niacinamide, etc.
Since they can cause sun sensitivity, use them both in the evening skincare routine for the best results.
Always remember to follow the general rule of layering (thinnest to thickest), in case you are using separate products.
Should I Apply Alpha Arbutin Or Azelaic Acid First?
After cleansing and toning your skin, apply your alpha arbutin product, followed by the azelaic acid product after 2-3 minutes. Finish with a moisturizer.
Is Azelaic Acid Or Alpha Arbutin Better For Hyperpigmentation?
Recent clinical studies show that azelaic acid (20%) is better for hyperpigmentation7, factoring in the side effects and risks of hydroquinone-derived alpha arbutin.
Is Alpha Arbutin The Best For Hyperpigmentation?
If hyperpigmentation is your only concern, alpha arbutin is great for it8. If you’re additionally struggling with active acne and redness, then azelaic acid is your best shot.
Is Azelaic Acid Or Alpha Arbutin Better For Acne?
Since azelaic acid has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, it is better for acne (treatment and prevention both).
Azelaic Acid Vs. Alpha Arbutin For Acne Scars
Both products reveal a noticeable reduction in acne scars.
Alpha Arbutin Vs. Azelaic Acid For Rosacea
Since azelaic acid reduces redness and inflammation, it is a better treatment for rosacea.
Alpha Arbutin Vs. Azelaic Acid – FAQ
Here are a few more questions for you to decide if alpha arbutin or azelaic is better for you as per your skin concerns:
What Is Stronger Than Azelaic Acid?
- Salicylic acid
- Glycolic acid
- Benzoyl peroxide
What Works Better Than Azelaic Acid?
Since azelaic acid is a gentle exfoliant, other acids like AHAs and BHAs are better option to achieve better exfoliation, and fresh skin with decreased fine lines and wrinkles.
Niacinamide might be better for you if you have really dry skin, as it retains moisture in the skin.
What Works Better Than Alpha Arbutin?
- Azelaic acid
- Kojic acid
The purpose of this article is informative and entertaining. It’s not a substitute for medical consultation or medical care. The author of this article does not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here. Safety should be your priority.
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