Azelaic Acid vs Mandelic Acid

girl doing her facial skin care

Azelaic acid vs mandelic acid, it’s time we delved into this comparison because they tend to be aimed at the same audience. Those suffering with sensitive skin.

So, if they’re for the same people how do you differentiate between them?

Today we are going to tackle just that. First, I’m going to break down what each acid is and how they work.

Then we can find the difference and similarities in them, so you know which is right for you.

Azelaic Acid

Azelaic acid has actually been studied for a long time and that can’t be said for all the skincare ingredients out there.

It’s usually a topical treatment that is known to be effective in treating comedonal acne and inflammatory (papulopustular, nodular and nodulocystic) acne.

In addition to acne, it can treat hyperpigmentation disorders. The reason for this? Well, this 2012 study suggests that azelaic acid has the ability to be ‘toxic’ to select cells. One of those cells being malignant melanocyte’s.

This effect is called cytotoxicity and refers to the ability of certain chemicals or mediator cells to destroy living cells.

The same 2012 study suggests that topical azelaic acid works just as well as topical hydroquinone. It also has an added advantage by having very limited adverse effects as it pertains to skin irritation.

Hence, The Zoe Report says’ there’s no need to be scared of azelaic acid’.

Mandelic Acid

This acid tends to be compared with glycolic and salicylic because it is also and AHA. If you don’t know what that is I urge you to stop reading and click here, before you resume (trust me this will help your overall understanding of skincare).

As is this case with many acids, mandelic acid is used to break chemical bonds in skin cells in order to treat: hyperpigmentation, scarring and acne.

The ingredients that are commonly used to treat these skin conditions are usually very exfoliative because the idea is that you’re are trying to get new skin cells to the upper levels of the epidermis.

However, these ingredients tend to be very irritating on the skin too. Mandelic acid is thought to be the most gentle out of all the AHA’s, that’s why it’s so popular. The risk of over exfoliating, and therefore irritating your skin, is reduced.

This study from 2009, experimented to determine whether this was true.

In the study, forty‐four patients with facial acne and post‐acne scarring and hyperpigmentation were divided into two groups, with one receiving glycolic acid peels and the other SMPs (a combination of salicylic and mandelic acid peels).

The results showed SMPs had a higher efficacy for most active acne lesions and hyperpigmentation. SMPs also has less side effects.

Now granted, the mandelic acid was combined with salicylic acid but this shows two of these acids mixed together has fewer side effects than just one, much stronger one.

So, which one should you use?

They both treat acne’s and hyperpigmentation and they are both known as the ‘gentler’ of the acids. The one’s you shouldn’t be scared of.

It’s hard to choose right?

If you’ve come to the conclusion that the only way to see which one works for you is by doing a patch test. Well, you would be right.

When it comes to Azelaic Acid vs Mandelic Acid, the only way to determine which will work for you best it to try them.

Ask for a sample, when you’re at a store (or shop depending on where you live) and try it on the back of your neck. The one that causes the least irritation (redness, stinging, sensitivity) is the one that belongs in your skincare kit.


Fitton, A., Goa, K.L. Azelaic Acid. Drugs 41, 780–798 (1991).

Garg, V. K., Sinha, S., & Sarkar, R. (2009). Glycolic acid peels versus salicylic–mandelic acid peels in active acne vulgaris and post‐acne scarring and hyperpigmentation: a comparative study. Dermatologic surgery35(1), 59-65.