Can I Use Azelaic Acid and Retinol Together? Expert Answer - Dang! Lifestyle Nigeria

Can I Use Azelaic Acid and Retinol Together? Expert Answer

Black lady applying skincare product on her face to describe the use of azelaic acid and retinol to treat acne and hyperpigmentation

You're trying to get rid of acne and hyperpigmentation, and you’re wondering if you can use azelaic acid and retinol together to treat these skin concerns.

Now, I can imagine how frustrating it must be to wake up every morning and, with one look in the mirror, be greeted with acne and hyperpigmentation. It's like having an old friend who just won't leave your side, no matter what you do.

Well, you’re not alone in this; many adults struggle with these skincare concerns.

Azelaic acid and retinol are two skincare superheroes that tackle fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone. So, to answer your question, yes, you can use these two ingredients to treat acne and hyperpigmentation. 

However, because they are both powerful actives, using them together in the same skincare routine can be tricky. It may result in unpleasant side effects, like burns and skin irritation. 

Keep reading to find out how to use these ingredients in your skincare routine!

To help you understand better, let's dive deeper into the world of azelaic acid and retinol and how each ingredient elevates your skincare journey. 

General Overview; Can I Use Azelaic Acid and Retinol Together? Expert Answer

  • Yes, you can use azelaic acid and retinol together to tackle acne and hyperpigmentation, but not in the same routine. 
  • Azelaic acid soothes skin, fights acne, and fades hyperpigmentation, while retinol stimulates collagen production and reduces fine lines.
  • It's essential to introduce these ingredients gradually, considering your skin's sensitivity, and avoid layering them in the same routine.
  • Seeking advice from a skincare professional is crucial to ensure safe and effective use, especially if you have sensitive skin.
  • Azelaic acid can be used in the morning, while retinol is suitable for nighttime use. Ensure you include sunscreen during the day and follow expert guidelines for the best results.

Azelaic Acid: Definition, How it Works, Benefits & Side Effects

Azelaic acid is your skin’s ally. Consider azelaic acid as your trusted companion in your battle against skin imperfections. 

Derived from grains like wheat and barley, it soothes the skin and is effective in tackling issues like acne, rosaceahyperpigmentation, and other related issues. It belongs to a class of acids called dicarboxylic acids.  

Azelaic acid is a gentle exfoliant that fights acne, unclogs pores, and fades hyperpigmentation, leaving the skin smooth and radiant. To treat skincare concerns, you’ll find it in foam, gel, cream, or pill form. 

It is commonly used as a topical treatment (applied on top of the skin). However, the pill can only be used based on a doctor’s prescription, and the prescribed dosage is usually 10% to 15%. 

Over-the-counter versions (creams, gel, or foam) can have it at 10% or less, and you may find it incorporated into skincare products in regulated concentrations.

Benefits for the skin

  • Improving the appearance of hyperpigmentation and enhancing a clear skin tone
  • It unclogs the pores, thereby improving the appearance of the skin
  • The antioxidant properties help to protect the skin from environmental damage.
  • Reduces acne, skin irritation, and inflammation.
  • It also lightens pigmented areas since it stops melanin production.

Azelaic acid is a pretty cool ingredient for skincare. It's mild but effective, and it's great for sensitive skin. It's also lightweight and non-comedogenic, so it won't clog your pores or cause breakouts.

How it works

Here’s how azelaic acid helps your skin;

  • It serves as an antibacterial ingredient that eliminates acne-causing bacteria.
  • Likewise, it works as an antioxidant, fighting off free radicals (the troublemakers of the skincare world that cause inflammation and trigger acne).  In a nutshell, it lowers the risk of inflammation.
  • Acne occurs when dead skin cells clog your pores. Azelaic acid helps reduce dead skin cell buildup. As a result, it prevents acne.
  • Azelaic acid also reduces oil buildup in the skin, thereby reducing acne.
  • Exposure to the sun leads to the skin cells pigmenting, which appear as dark patches on the skin (hyperpigmentation). Azelaic acid can block the process and prevent hyperpigmentation.

Side effects of using azelaic acid 

Some common side effects you may experience after using azelaic acid in the first few days include;  

  • burning or tingling on your skin
  • peeling skin on the targeted areas
  • dryness or redness

Rare/severe side effects include:

  • irritation and swelling
  • tightness or pain in your joints
  • hives and itching
  • fever
  • difficulty breathing
  • Changes in skin colour

When you notice irritation or side effects, discontinue use immediately and consult a skincare professional.

Lady applying skincare product like azelaic acid serum or retinol to treat acne and hyperpigmentation

 Image Source: Freepik

Retinoid: Definition, How it Works, Benefits & Side Effects

Retinoid-  the superhero of the skincare world, is a chemical compound derived from vitamin A. This vitamin A derivative is famous for its anti-ageing prowess.

It stimulates collagen and elastin production, turning back the clock on your skin. This product not only minimises large pores, fine lines, and wrinkles but also transforms your skin texture.

Plus, its an effective topical treatment for acne and hyperpigmentation.

You’ll find retinoids in different forms, such as creams, gels, serums, ointments, and pills (recommended by a doctor).

Generally, there are six main types of vitamin A (retinoid).

  • Retinol is the purest and mildest form of vitamin A and is a gold standard in skincare. It reduces wrinkles and fine lines and improves skin texture. It's available over the counter.
  • Retin-A (Tretinoin): Tretinoin is a stronger form of retinoid and is only available on prescription. It's used to treat acne and is also effective against signs of ageing.
  • Retinyl Palmitate: This is a gentler version of retinoid that's often used in skincare products for people with sensitive skin. It takes longer to see results, but it's less likely to cause irritation.
  • Retinaldehyde: This is another form of vitamin A that's more powerful than retinol but less irritating than prescription retinoids. You can find it in a lot of skincare products.
  • Adapalene: This is a synthetic retinoid used primarily to treat acne. It's available in both over-the-counter and prescription-strength products.
  • Isotretinoin: This is a potent oral retinoid used to treat severe acne. It's taken as a prescription medication and can have significant side effects.

The types of retinoids you'll often come across are retinol and tretinoin.

Tretinoin is the type you’ll find in Dang products in cream form, with recommendations from our estheticians. So we’ll be answering your question: Can you use azelaic acid and retinol together with this type of retinoid in mind?

 Benefits of tretinoin for the skin

  • Promotes the growth of new and healthy skin cells
  • Promotes the production of collagen, which reduces the appearance of large pores, fine lines, and wrinkles.
  • Improves skin texture.
  • Helpful in treating severe skin concerns such as psoriasis.

How tretinoin works

Tretinoin improves the overall health and appearance of the skin in two major ways.

  • The first is speeding up the cell turnover rate. As a potent exfoliant, tretinoin speeds up the natural exfoliation process of the skin.

It makes old, damaged skin cells die faster so that newer and healthier cells can take over. This unclogs your pores and prevents the formation of clogged hair follicles that can lead to acne.

This is why many people complain about irritation and rapid breakouts upon first use of tretinoin. However, signs of irritation and reactions usually reduce once the skin adapts to the treatment.

  • Tretinoin also boosts elastin and collagen production underneath the skin (the dermis). 

This reduces the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and enlarged pores, making the skin look younger and plumper.

Side effects;

You may experience the following when you first introduce tretinoin into your skincare routine:

  • Redness or irritation due to excessive usage frequency
  • Dry or flaky skin
  • Increased breakouts at the initial stage
  • Temporary change in skin pigmentation

If irritation or reactions persist, discontinue use immediately and consult with the professional who recommended you use it.

Tretinoin vs Retinol: Differences Explained

Both tretinoin and retinol are like cousins in the skincare family; they come from the same source, vitamin A, and tackle similar skin concerns. But here's the juicy bit: they're as different as night and day!

The big deal is their strength. Tretinoin is super concentrated and fast-acting. That's great for results but can cause some intense reactions and irritation. 

On the other hand, retinol is subtle and doesn't necessarily need a prescription. It’s great for those easing into the world of retinoids.

Bottom line, tretinoin is super potent and needs to be used based on a prescription. Before you dive in, have a chat with a skincare professional. A professional will be your skincare coach, guiding you on how to use it and the right strength for your skin. With retinol, it's a bit easier—just remember to start slow and enjoy the journey to better skin!

Azelaic Acid and Retinol: Can You Use Azelaic Acid and Retinol Together? 

There’s a lot of information about the benefits of using azelaic acid and retinol together.

Research studies also justify the safe use and effectiveness of combining these two ingredients to treat hyperpigmentation.

Imagine azelaic acid and retinol as your skin's dynamic duo, like crime-fighting partners in a superhero movie. They're powerful on their own, but when combined, they're an unstoppable force against acne.

Here's how they team up to tackle your skincare concerns: azelaic acid steps in first, clearing pores and calming inflammation, setting the stage for retinol to work its magic. Retinol takes over, promoting healthy cell turnover, preventing pesky clogs, and reducing the chance of new breakouts.

The result? 

A powerful combo that not only fights existing acne but also prevents future breakouts. So, yes, you can use azelaic acid and retinol together, but there are a few things to keep in mind.

First, be aware of your skin's sensitivity. Retinol is a highly potent ingredient, so adding another active ingredient might intensify irritation, and if you have skin that's more sensitive, especially if you have lovely skin of colour, proceed with care.

Using azelaic acid and retinol together can seriously level up your skincare game. It can lead to brighter, more youthful-looking skin, with azelaic acid focusing on reducing hyperpigmentation and retinol giving your skin a rejuvenating boost.

But here's the golden rule: always, always seek guidance from a skincare professional or a dermatologist. They'll be your superhero sidekicks, showing you the best way to include these ingredients in your routine and when to use them. 

Your skin will thank you for it!

 Skincare quote -

Azelaic Acid and Tretinoin: Can You Use Azelaic Acid and Tretinoin Cream 

Picture this: azelaic acid and tretinoin are like the dream team in the battle against acne, each bringing its own superpower to the table.

Azelaic acid is your skin's new best friend. It fights acne-causing bacteria and calms the redness and inflammation they leave behind. Think of it as your skin's personal peacemaker.

Tretinoin, on the other hand, is like your skin's personal renovation crew. It works behind the scenes to speed up cell turnover, keeping your pores clear and ready to face the day. It's like a tiny construction crew that is constantly improving your skin's foundation.

Now, can you use tretinoin and azelaic acid together?

Yes, you can, but there’s a right and wrong way to combine these ingredients.

Expert Guidelines on How to Use Azelaic Acid and Retinol or Tretinoin to Treat Acne and Hyperpigmentation

Meet Sarah, a 35-year-old who’s had acne and hyperpigmentation for years. She tried many products without success. After reading about azelaic acid and retinol, she decided to try them. With patience and consistency, her skin improved.

If you’re like Sarah, struggling with acne and hyperpigmentation (dark spots), frustrated, and on the verge of giving up, don't! 

Get ready to level up in your skincare journey. Like your favourite music, your skincare routine should be a harmonious blend of the right notes and beats (in this case, products).

Here’s what our estheticians have to say about combining azelaic acid and retinol or tretinoin cream to treat acne and hyperpigmentation.

Azelaic acid, along with vitamin A powerhouses like retinol or tretinoin, are amazing for tackling acne and hyperpigmentation individually. 

Using azelaic acid together with one of these ingredients, retinol or tretinoin, takes their effectiveness to a whole new level. It's like having the dream team of skincare on your side!

However, we don’t recommend

  • People with extremely sensitive skin combining these two ingredients in the same routine.

This is because they may be prone to mild or severe irritation from either or both of these ingredients.

  • Layering these ingredients one after the other in the same routine. 

Instead, you could use one of these in your morning routine and the other at night (especially the retinol or tretinoin). Alternatively, you could alternate between these two ingredients, using one every other day.

  • Using retinol or tretinoin without a prescription or guidelines from a skincare professional

Using retinol or tretinoin without professional guidance can lead to skin irritation, incorrect usage, and overuse. A skincare professional can give you custom advice depending on your skin type to ensure safe usage and optimal results. 

So seek professional guidance for the best outcomes and healthy skin.

Esthetician/Dermatologist-Approved Ways to Use Azelaic Acid and Retinol/Tretinoin In Your Skincare Routine

It’s important to reiterate that it’s not ideal for people with hypersensitive skin (e.g. skin of colour) to combine these ingredients in the same routine.

By the same routine, we mean the morning or night routine. 

So here’s the right way to incorporate these ingredients into any of your skincare routines:

Morning Routine: Azelaic acid gel/cream/Serum with other skincare products.

  • Start your routine with a hydrating or moisturizing face wash.
  • Pat your face with a clean towel to remove the remaining moisture from your face.
  • Apply your azelaic acid serum/gel or cream (a pea-sized amount of cream will be enough to apply all over your face).
  • Give your skin a few minutes, like 10-15, before layering on your other products, like vitamin C, niacinamide, or moisturizer (except retinol). Wait a few minutes after each layer before adding the next.
  • After a few minutes, finish off your routine with sunscreen with at least SPF 50.

With this simple routine, you can reap the benefits of azelaic acid while protecting your skin from damage from the sun's rays.

This can be your daily routine if your skin has a high tolerance for this ingredient. However, for sensitive skin, you can skip some days.

Night Routine: Azelaic acid gel/cream/Serum with other skincare products.

  • Start again with a non-exfoliating, hydrating, or moisturizing cleanser.
  • Pat dry your face with a clean face towel.
  • Apply your retinoid (retinol or tretinoin cream, gel, or serum; a pea-sized amount of cream will be enough to apply all over your face).
  • Give your skin a few minutes (10–15) to absorb your sunscreen before layering on other products, like a hydrating hyaluronic acid serum or moisturizing cream. And don't forget to wait a few minutes between each product so they can all sink in properly.
  • You can also finish off your nighttime routine with sunscreen because this ingredient increases your skin’s sensitivity to the sun.

When you first start using retinol, it's best to start slowly and use it 2-3 times a day. This will help your skin get used to the ingredients and reduce the risk of irritation.

You can gradually increase how often you do it over time, depending on how well your skin handles it.

In a nutshell, the more sensitive your skin is, the less frequently you should use retinol or tretinoin.


Azelaic acid and retinol can be a powerful duo in your skincare routine, addressing various concerns from acne to hyperpigmentation. While both offer remarkable benefits individually, combining them can work wonders. 

To use these products the right way and reap the benefits, follow the guidelines provided in this article as you include them in your routine.

Remember that individual skin reactions may vary, and what works for one person might not work for another. Therefore, when in doubt or if you experience persistent side effects, consult a skincare professional.


  • Which is better for acne scars (hyperpigmentation): retinol or azelaic acid?

Azelaic acid and retinol are both excellent ingredients for reducing acne scars. Retinol helps your skin produce collagen, which plumps up your skin and makes scars less visible.

Azelaic acid helps reduce inflammation and hyperpigmentation, which can also make scars less noticeable. In addition, retinol can be too harsh for sensitive skin, while azelaic acid is a milder option. 

The bottom line is that both ingredients treat acne, but the best one for you depends on your skin type and specific skin concerns.

  • What percentage of azelaic acid is effective for dark spots?

Azelaic acid with concentrations ranging from 10% to 20% provides significant benefits for hyperpigmentation (dark spots) and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). 

However, higher concentrations of 15% may be considered for stubborn or severe dark spots, but this should be under the guidance of a skincare professional.  

  • What exactly is acne, and how does it form?

Acne is the appearance of skin blemishes in the form of pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, reddish spots, and, in severe cases, nodules and cysts. 

It occurs when your hair follicles become clogged with oil, resulting in excess sebum production, bacterial growth, and inflammation.

  • How can I get rid of leftover acne scars?

Getting rid of leftover acne scars (hyperpigmentation) is a gradual process. It requires patience and consistently using the right skincare products. 

Using products like retinol and azelaic acid together in separate routines has been proven to help combat acne and fade off the residual scars gradually.

Got more questions? Check out these skincare FAQs.

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