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Azelaic acid vs niacinamide: Which should I use?

Azelaic acid vs niacinamide? Both are popular skincare ingredients that are effective for treating oiliness, acne, dark spots and uneven skin tone, as well as other skin issues, like rosacea. 

They work in different ways, each one has unique benefits for the skin, and is better for some skins than others. 

Find out which one is right for you. Who knows, you might be surprised!

Serum drop. Camp

Image: Camp

Azelaic acid

Azelaic acid is a very versatile natural ingredient. It’s effective and popular for tackling skin concerns like rosacea and redness, acne and hyperpigmentation (dark spots).

It has a long-term skin strengthening effect. After using it for some time, skins that have been irritated by other active ingredients, like retinol, are often able to tolerate it much more. 

Where is azelaic acid found?

It is found naturally in grains like wheat, rye and barley. It’s also found naturally as part of the skin microbiome.
In skincare formulations, you’ll find concentrations from 5% (starter strength) and 10% in over-the-counter creams, while 15% to 20% are prescription-strength. It usually comes in cream or gel form.

Azelaic-acid benefits

  • Reduces inflammation and calms skin reactivity, which makes it helpful in treating rosacea and redness
  • Effective against acne due to its antibacterial properties
  • Helps to unclog pores and refine the skin's surface
  • Reduces hyperpigmentation and evens out skin tone by inhibiting production of excess melanin (skin pigment)
  • Powerful antioxidant properties helps prevent free radical damage, important for maintaining our skin's long-term health

Which skin types can use it?

It is particularly beneficial for acne-prone, oily, rosacea and sensitive skin.

How long until you start seeing results?

You should start seeing an improvement after a few weeks, and things will continue to get better for in the next 3 to 6 months. 

Can azelaic acid cause any side effects? 

Most people don’t have problems using azelaic acid, and it is the recommended treatment for rosacea, which is an inflammatory skin condition. However, it can cause skin irritation and sensitivity, especially in higher concentrations.

How do I use it?

If you’re prone to sensitivity or irritation, your skin may need to build up a tolerance, because it can cause irritation initially. So start using a 5% concentration product a few times a week. After a few weeks, you can step up to 10% as your skin’s tolerance increases, or a higher concentration under the guidance of your dermatologist.
Azelaic acid can be used twice a day, morning and night. 

It's generally best smoothed onto dry skin after cleansing. However, if you have very sensitive skin, first apply moisturiser, then the azelaic acid, until your skin becomes more tolerant and less reactive.

Things to avoid with azelaic acid

  • Avoid anything that’s potentially harsh or irritating, such as:
  • Physical exfoliators or facial scrubs
  • AHAs (like glycolic acid) or BHAs (like salicylic acid)
  • Retinol
  • Benzoyl peroxide
  • Vitamin C
  • Facial brushes


Niacinamide, aka vitamin B3, is an important vitamin used in the body for many essential functions. It is one of the most important vitamins for healthy, balanced skin, as well.

Where do we get vitamin B3?

We get our niacinamide from foods like whole grains, legumes, nuts, dairy and meat, and it is a popular nutritional supplement and skincare ingredient. 

Niacinamide-rich foods legumes, nuts, whole grains Photo by Vie Studio:
Image: Studio

Skin benefits with niacinamide

  • Anti-inflammatory properties soothe irritation, making it good for treating acne, eczema and rosacea
  • Helps to regulate oil production, so it is beneficial for oily skin and to manage excessive shine
  • Oil-balancing helps to prevent blocked pores, blackheads and whiteheads
  • Reduces the appearance of pores and fine lines
  • Boosts collagen production, helping skin firmness, elasticity and smoothness
  • Strengthens the skin’s barrier function, reducing moisture loss and preventing dehydration
  • Its melanin-controlling action helps to lighten hyperpigmentation (dark spots) and it evens out skin tone
  • Antioxidant properties help it to reduce skin-damaging free radicals and protect skin from environmental stressors

How do I use it?

You will find niacinamide in serums, moisturizers, and various skincare products, typically in concentrations of 2% to 13%. 

Because it is so well tolerated, niacinamide is compatible with a wide range of skincare ingredients, including vitamin B5, AHAs, BHAs, hyaluronic acid and peptides. With retinol and vitamin C, it may be best to use them at different times of day or on alternating days to niacinamide. 

If you find the higher concentrations mildly irritating, mix it with your moisturizer and apply. 

Which skin types can use niacinamide?

Suitable for all skin types, and especially beneficial for blemish-prone and oily skin, and skin with dark spots.

How long to start seeing results?

13% niacinamide is proven to help reduce hyperpigmentation and even skin tone after four-weeks of use. 

It balances the skin’s natural sebum production within 2 to 4 weeks. 

Can niacinamide cause any side effects? 

Generally well-tolerated, but can cause mild irritation, rarely.

How do niacinamide and azelaic acid compare to each other?


Both are used for acne, sensitivity and hyperpigmentation, but they work in different ways.

Skin suitability and potential for irritation 

Niacinamide is well tolerated, which makes it versatile for most skin types, including normal, combination, oily, acne-prone, dry and sensitive, and aging skin.

Azelaic acid can be more irritating, especially in higher concentrations. It is preferred for rosacea and acne-prone skin. 

Happy skin with Cerm Skin. Young Asian woman smiling and covering half face with leaf. Photo: Ann

Image: An

The good news 

They can be used together in a skincare routine, as niacinamide can help lessen the irritation potential of azelaic acid.

Need to know

Our skins are all unique, even if we have similar skin types and conditions. So it's always advisable to do a patch test or consult with a dermatologist before introducing new skincare ingredients into your routine, especially if you’re prone to irritation or sensitivity.

Here's to healthy, happy skin!