If you’ve found yourself in need of a skin lightener to solve hyperpigmentation troubles, you may have come across alpha arbutin and azelaic acid as two of the most popular choices.

Both ingredients get a lot of attention from skincare enthusiasts trying to tackle different skin conditions, from traditional acne and scarring to rosacea and eczema.

In this article, I’ll shed some light on the alpha arbutin vs azelaic acid debate, explain how each can be used, and recommend some tested products that contain these amazing ingredients.

What is alpha arbutin?

Alpha-arbutin benefits for skin

Arbutin is a naturally derived ingredient that contains tyrosinase enzymes in melanocytes (the skin cells that are responsible for the production of melanin).

In a nutshell, melanocytes reduce the production of melanin, which is the pigment that colors the skin. As a result of this, alpha arbutin is extremely useful for reducing existing hyperpigmentation. It’s basically a golden standard for an evening out of the skin tone.

Benefits for the skin:
Alpha arbutin is safe to use and is not classified as an aggressive substance. Some of its core benefits include:

  • Eliminates pigmentation and dark spots;
  • Brightens the skin;
  • Can help treat melasma and sunburns;
  • Provides similar lightening effects as hydroquinone but is considered superior as it’s non-irritating;
  • Can be used on all skin types;
  • It’s safe to combine with ingredients like retinoids and exfoliating acids.

Potential side effects:
Generally speaking, Alpha arbutin is not likely to cause any severe side effects. However, it’s important to note that it can transform into hydroquinone when put in an alkaline environment.

As such, it can dramatically lighten darkened skin. On rare occasions, alpha arbutin can cause:

  • Sun sensitivity;
  • Irritation;
  • Redness;
  • Allergic reactions;
  • Mild acne.

What is azelaic acid?

Azelaic acid benefits for skin

Another naturally occurring substance is on the other side of the azelaic acid vs. alpha arbutin debate.

Azelaic acid is a natural dicarboxylic acid that can be found in barley, wheat, and rye. It plays the role of a tyrosinase inhibitor and reduces the production of melanin in the skin.

It has a partial influence on over-pigmented parts of the skin and is not as efficient for normal skin, freckles, or senile lentigines (age spots).

Azelaic acid is actively used for the prevention of acne as it can regulate dead skin cell shedding and can minimize inflammation.

Benefits for the skin:
Azelaic acid is a popular substance used by different people not only as a skin-brightening agent. Some of its additional benefits include:

  • Reduces acne by eliminating the bacteria that trigger acne breakouts;
  • Has anti-inflammatory properties;
  • Fades dark spots;
  • Evens out the skin tone;
  • Helps with anti-aging as it can reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines;
  • Mildly exfoliates the skin;
  • It’s safe for all skin types as it’s non-irritating.

Potential side effects:
Although extremely useful in some cases, azelaic acid can lead to negative consequences or side effects. Records of negative side effects from azelaic acid are very rare, but still possible for some people.

Some of the possible side effects of azelaic acid include:

  • Skin sensitivity;
  • Irritation and itching;
  • Skin dryness;
  • Peeling skin;
  • Stinging or burning;
  • Redness.

Can I use azelaic acid with alpha arbutin?

A lot of people who come across these two ingredients have concerns about the way they should be used, especially together. So, is it okay to mix azelaic acid with alpha arbutin or is it better to keep them in separate routines?

Yes, you can use azelaic acid and alpha arbutin in the same skincare routine without worrying about side effects.

Should you apply alpha arbutin or azelaic acid first?

It depends on the texture of the products with alpha arbutin and azelaic acid. Always start with the thinnest, water-based products and gradually move to the thickest, oil-based ones.

For example, if you’re using the two products by The Ordinary, it’s best to apply alpha arbutin first and follow up with azelaic acid and finish off the routine with a moisturizer.

I’d also like to note that it’s best to use these ingredients in the evening rather than in your morning routine. This is because azelaic acid and alpha arbutin can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun.

Alpha arbutin vs azelaic acid for hyperpigmentation

Before we assess azelaic acid vs alpha arbutin for hyperpigmentation, let me note that hyperpigmentation includes post-acne pigmentation problems like PIH and PIE and melasma.

While PIE, or the red spots you get after acne breakouts, tend to improve over time even without much external help, PIH, or the dark spots after acne, tends to be a bigger problem. They take longer to disappear and are more common for people with darker skin tones.

Both alpha arbutin and azelaic acid are successful in tackling hyperpigmentation, but they do differ in recorded results. For example, alpha arbutin is considered the better option for reducing dark spots and evening out the skin tone. On the other hand, azelaic acid is more powerful when it comes to preventing acne breakouts, calming down skin irritations, and even minimizing the risks of skin cancer.

In a nutshell, if you’re looking for a solution for hyperpigmentation, alpha arbutin is the superior choice.

Alpha arbutin vs azelaic acid for acne scars

By acne scars, I mean the noticeable changes in skin texture after a period of acne. These are also referred to as “true scars” or atrophic acne scars.

If you’re looking for an actual treatment for acne scars, I’ll probably disappoint you by saying that neither azelaic acid nor alpha arbutin is a reliable solution.

However, alpha arbutin does have an effect on fading the color of acne scars. On the other hand, azelaic acid can help prevent acne in the first place thanks to its antimicrobial properties.

We all know that prevention is the best solution to a problem.

Azelaic acid vs alpha arbutin for rosacea

Rosacea is an inflammatory skin condition that can be treated with anti-inflammatory products. Considering this, we can quickly conclude that azelaic acid is an efficient treatment for rosacea thanks to its powerful anti-inflammatory characteristics. It helps soothe and calm the skin, reducing inflammation from rosacea.

Alpha arbutin, on the other hand, isn’t very effective as a rosacea treatment as it doesn’t work as an anti-inflammatory agent.

So, azelaic acid is better for rosacea than alpha arbutin.

Azelaic acid vs alpha arbutin for eczema

Eczema is a skin condition associated with extremely sensitive skin. Having this in mind, both alpha arbutin and azelaic acid are not considered very effective for eczema-prone skin. Although they’re not classified as aggressive and irritating ingredients, they can hurt skin that is oversensitive, leading to irritations.

It’s important to mention that not all eczemas are the same. For example, in perioral dermatitis, azelaic acid could have some positive effects.

However, it’s always recommended to approach eczema treatment with caution and to speak to a medical professional or dermatologist before using azelaic acid or alpha arbutin.

What is the difference between azelaic acid and alpha arbutin?

Now that we’ve gone over both azelaic acid and alpha arbutin in more detail, we can conclude the main differences between the two: While alpha arbutin is mainly used to clear out dark spots, azelaic acid is also helpful for the treatment of acne and the prevention of breakouts.

In terms of research and official study findings, there is a ton of evidence proving the benefits of azelaic acid. On the contrary, there isn’t much legitimate documentation of the results of alpha arbutin. Because of this, a lot of people approach azelaic acid with more confidence, while alpha-arbutin can take more time to experiment with.

Best products with both alpha arbutin and azelaic acid

So let’s imagine you’ve decided that it’s time to try azelaic acid or alpha arbutin. Where should you start? What brands should you look at?

Here are a few of my favorite products that I’d like to introduce you to.

Topicals Faded Serum for Dark Spots & Discoloration

Topicals - serum with azelaic acid and alpha arbutin

This serum is perfectly safe to use if you have hyperpigmentation and it’s great for instantly minimizing skin discoloration, post-blemish or post-acne scars, and spots.

It’s designed for all skin colors and all skin types.

The formula is amazing and the product comes in the form of a lightweight, easily absorbed cream.

The serum contains not only azelaic acid but niacinamide and tranexamic acid, too.

I love that it also gives a nice level of hydration and it’s also vegan, which is always a plus for skincare products.

Favorite azelaic acid treatments

The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%

The Ordinary Azelaic Acid

If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve mentioned The Ordinary plenty of times. I truly love some of their products, their Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% included.

The product is ideal for uneven and blemish-prone skin. It eliminates skin dullness, textural imperfections, and redness, and evens the skin tone.

It’s appropriate for all skin types and is free from oil, water, alcohol, silicon, nuts, and gluten.

The azelaic acid suspension instantly brightens the skin tone and you can visibly see changes in your skin texture.

In a previous article, I discussed how to use The Ordinary’s Azelaic Acid to get the best results.

The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% is Available at Amazon, FeelUnique, SkinStore, Stylevana and YesStyle

Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster

Paula's Choice Azelaic Acid

Next up on my list of favorites is Paula’s Choice 10% azelaic acid booster. It’s infused with salicylic acid and licorice.

The product comes in the form of a white paste that’s easy to apply and rub in. As a booster, it’s suitable for mixing with other products from your skincare routine, which only makes it so much better. For example, you can blend it in with your moisturizer to make it even more pleasant for application.

Be careful if you’re mixing it with serums, toners, or sunscreen. The consistency might become a bit too heavy and it can ball up.

Favorite alpha arbutin products

The Inkey List Alpha Arbutin

The Inkey List alpha arbutin

The Inkey List brightening serum contains 2% alpha arbutin and reduces hyperpigmentation and dark spots.

It’s designed for normal skin and is great for solving problems like skin dullness and uneven texture.

In addition to alpha arbutin, it also contains 0.5% squalane, which is a powerful skin moisturizer and a completely natural ingredient.

It’s cruelty-free and completely vegan if that’s an important factor to you.

The Inkey List Alpha Arbutin is Available at FeelUnique

Paula’s Choice Radiance Renewal Mask

Paula's Choice alpha arbutin

Finally, I’d like to share with you another Paula’s Choice product that I absolutely adore. Their alpha arbutin renewal night mask is enriched with niacinamide and makes the skin look radiant, softens out the skin texture, and hydrates.

As a result, you’ll instantly feel the skin becoming plumper, young-looking, and revived.

I’d say there’s a luxurious feeling to using this mask and the best part is that it works while you sleep. It doesn’t contain any strong fragrance and it’s free from parabens.

I hope that this information on alpha arbutin and azelaic acid will help you structure your skincare routine and discover the right products if you’re trying to treat hyperpigmentation and brighten the skin.

Do you have any experience using any of these two ingredients? Or perhaps you’ve tried some of the products I’ve recommended? I’d love to hear your feedback and thoughts!