Ingredients like Salicylic Acid are almost universally known to improve breakouts. Other blemish-fading ingredients, like Azelaic Acid, are just starting to make a big splash.
But what exactly are these acids, and can you use them together? Let’s break down how Azelaic Acid and Salicylic Acid can help your skin and figure out whether or not they go together.
What Is Salicylic Acid?
Salicylic Acid is a Beta Hydroxy Acid or BHA from willow tree bark. Unlike Alpha Hydroxy Acids or AHAs, BHAs belong to a relatively small family, with Benzoyl Peroxide being the only other widely-used BHA.
BHAs have one main advantage over AHAs — they are oil-soluble, which means they can go deeper into your pores than AHAs. Salicylic Acid especially absorbs into your pores to help remove oil buildup.
Salicylic Acid has some benefits that make it a great fit for oily or blemish-prone skin. Black Willow Bark is considered “Nature’s Salicylic Acid” and is known to drive similarly powerful results.
First, both of these ingredients are great at dissolving hard plugs of buildup that can hide in your pores. These plugs are often a concoction made of excess sebum, dead skin cells, dirt, and bacteria. While these plugs are harder to see in simple red pimples, they form the characteristic heads on blackheads and whiteheads.
Second, Black Willow Bark helps support healthy oil production in your skin. If you have oily skin, sometimes your sebaceous glands can get slightly overzealous with oil production. This overproduction of sebum is what causes oily skin’s characteristic sheen. However, healthy levels of sebum are essential for healthy skin — so Black Willow Bark is a great option to help tame oil production without stripping your skin.
Third, Black Willow Bark can also address breakouts with chemical exfoliation. Since dead surface skin cells can build up and contribute to blemishes, regular exfoliation is necessary to keep skin radiant and clear — especially for those with dry skin types. Black Willow Bark helps gently polish away those extra dead surface skin cells, leaving behind noticeably brighter and smoother skin texture.
BHAs like Black Willow Bark and Salicylic Acid are also gentler on your skin than AHAs. This means that if you’ve experienced irritation with AHAs like Lactic Acid or Glycolic Acid in the past, Black Willow Bark isn’t necessarily off-limits for you!
However, committing to your sunscreen while using Black Willow Bark/Salicylic Acid is important, as any chemical exfoliant exposes fresh skin that may be a little more sensitive to UV radiation. We recommend using at least SPF 30 for best results.
One of our favorite ways to use this ingredient is as a cleanser. Our Clear Nourishing Cleanser uses active ingredients like Black Willow Bark and Helichrysum to fight blemishes while hydrating the skin.
Our cleansing formula is non-drying and scented with Lavender, Helichrysum, and Carrot Seed to help you start and end your day in the best way possible. This cleanser is your new best friend if your skin concerns include sebum overload and breakouts.
What Is Azelaic Acid?
Azelaic Acid is a Dicarboxylic Acid that is naturally found in grains like barley, wheat, and rye. This skincare ingredient has been in the dermatology playbook for a while but has recently made its way into over-the-counter (OTC) skincare.
Azelaic Acid is a hero ingredient for those with blemish-prone skin. A few bacteria can cause pimples to form, but Azelaic Acid neutralizes one in particular — Propionibacterium Acnes.
This acid also helps clear out pores and soothe redness and skin irritation to help tackle existing blemishes. Azelaic Acid also has natural cleansing and soothing properties that can address red patches.
Aside from addressing blemishes, this acid gently exfoliates and smooths the texture of your skin. As a topical antioxidant, Azelaic Acid also protects your skin from oxidative stress.
This type of stress is caused by free radicals, unstable molecules that can cause damage if not neutralized. Free radicals are a part of life — they’re created by UV radiation, environmental stress, and even your own body.
Free radical damage contributes to signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles. Antioxidants like Azelaic Acid help neutralize free radicals and minimize oxidative stress.
Another one of the main benefits of Azelaic Acid is that it can help address dark spots.
Dark spots like freckles and age spots often occur when skin cells get damaged and overproduce melanin. Melanin is created by a hard-working enzyme within your surface skin cells called tyrosinase. Azelaic Acid works to brighten and even tone as a counter to this overproduction.
If you have sensitive skin, we recommend conducting a patch test before using Salicylic Acid or Azelaic Acid products. Select a small area of your skin and apply the product. If that area shows signs of irritation, we recommend contacting your dermatologist before fully applying the product. If it doesn’t show signs of skin sensitivity, then you’re good to go!
Can You Combine Azelaic Acid and Salicylic Acid?
Absolutely, you can! These two ingredients are highly effective on their own, but they can work wonders when used together.
Because Azelaic Acid works by lightening dark spots and Black Willow Bark/Salicylic Acid is best at unclogging pores, this duo is a blemish-fighting powerhouse. Read on for our tips on how you can combine these two ingredients for radiant, glowing skin — without the irritation.
1. Split Them Up
Azelaic Acid is gentler than even the gentlest of BHAs, which happens to be Salicylic Acid. This makes it a great option for sensitive skin. However, even these gentle acids can lead to irritation for sensitive skin.
You may need to rearrange your skincare routine if you see or feel signs of irritation such as redness, itchiness, dryness, or tightness. You can do this in one of three ways.
First, you can use these ingredients on alternate days. This is the best option for those with extremely sensitive skin, as it provides the greatest distance between these ingredients. If you choose to use this method, you may want to use serums or oils in your skincare routine.
Second, you can try using skincare products containing Azelaic Acid and Salicylic Acid in alternate routines. We recommend having both a morning and evening skincare routine since sebum and dirt can build up even while you sleep.
We recommend using Salicylic Acid in your evening routine since it’s a stronger exfoliant. On the other hand, Azelaic Acid will fit right into your morning routine to help brighten and tone your skin.
Third, you can try using lower concentrations of each ingredient within the same skincare routine. The order is completely up to you and will depend on your products.
For instance, our Ginger Turmeric Cleansing Balm is specially formulated with Azelaic Acid and Lactic Acid to gently exfoliate while nourishing your radiant glow. This cleanser is ideal for removing makeup, sunscreen, dirt, and impurities while leaving behind smooth, supple, hydrated skin.
Our formula also uses bio-compatible Yucca Extract, Turmeric, and Mango Butter to help remove makeup, not moisture. This heavenly-scented concoction results from obsessive testing and our refusal to compromise, because we just can’t help it — we’re committed to the best.
After allowing your face to dry, you can move on to your Salicylic Acid product.
We recommend our Clear Repair Nightly Treatment. Our nightly treatment is formulated with Black Willow Bark Extract as well as antioxidant-rich Helichrysum, biocompatible Niacinamide, and moisturizing Hyaluronic Acid. This ingredient combination helps reduce the look of blemishes, delivers hydration, and fights signs of skin aging, all while you sleep.
Unlike other skin-clearing products, our nightly serum is designed to work its magic while keeping your skin barrier intact. This all-in-one serum is perfect for anyone who wants silky smooth and perfectly soft skin.
2. Use Biocompatible Alternatives
If you’re worried about using both of these ingredients — or if you’ve had a bad reaction to one of them in the past — we recommend using alternative ingredients that provide similar benefits rather than risking irritating your skin.
Specifically, we recommend using Black Willow Bark Extract. We have fondly dubbed Black Willow Bark Extract “nature’s salicylic acid” because it similarly unclogs pores and fights blemishes. This bio-compatible version of Salicylic Acid is just like the real thing, but with one added benefit — it’s far less likely to cause irritation.
Our Clear Nutrient Toner is the perfect way to work this natural alternative to Salicylic Acid into your routine. Our Clear Nutrient Toner takes a unique approach to clear breakouts by ensuring that your skin is balanced and nourished, rather than stripping it of all of its necessary oils and moisture.
Sustainably sourced Sandalwood from Hawaii brightens uneven skin tone for a glow that lasts, while Olive Leaf provides the soothing properties that blemish-prone skin craves. The result is an ingredient cocktail so heavenly that your skin will thank you forever.
Finish off your routine with a nourishing cream moisturizer like our Chebula Extreme Cream. Our award-winning formula delivers extreme hydration, extreme antioxidant benefits, and extreme skin barrier optimization.
Not only is our Chebula cream moisturizer a powerhouse skincare product, but it’s also clinically proven to restore a strong skin barrier and glowing skin in less than a month*. This is the only moisturizer you’ll ever need, formulated with Chebula cascading antioxidants, Calendula Oil, and Wild Pansy Extract.
While Salicylic Acid and Azelaic Acid are great breakout-busting ingredients to have in your skincare lineup individually, they may cause irritation if used too closely together. However, by spreading out their placement in your skincare routine, or seeking out gentle plant-based alternatives like nature’s Salicylic Acid, Black Willow Bark,, you can get the results of both without any of the side effects!
Clinical Trial Disclaimers
*Based on a 4 week clinical and consumer third party study on 32 people.
Beta Hydroxy Acids | Food and Drug Administration
Azelaic Acid | National Library of Medicine
Azelaic Acid: Evidence-Based Update on Mechanism of Action and Clinical Application | National Library of Medicine