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Much like hyaluronic acid, azelaic acid is also a naturally occurring acid found in your skin. Your own body produces it. This alone gives you 2 ideas about azelaic acid (AA). First, your skin loves it as it’s already familiar with it. And second, your skin is pretty good at tolerating it and probably won’t be irritated by it. Both of them are true! Moreover, azelaic acid skincare products are genuine multi-taskers. They help with acne, rosacea, and hyperpigmentation, to name a few. Read on to find out what azelaic acid is, its numerous benefits for your skin, and the best azelaic acid skincare products to use.
What is Azelaic Acid?
Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring acid that’s already present in your skin. It’s produced by the yeast found on your skin (1). Additionally, it can be derived from whole grains.
Azelaic acid is commonly found in skincare products to treat hyperpigmentation, brighten skin, and reduce acne and redness.
Azelaic acid is available through prescription in concentrations between 15%-20%. But luckily, azelaic acid is also found in several skincare products in lower concentrations ranging from 5%-10%.
The numbers may look scary. But don’t confuse it with other active ingredients like glycolic acid or retinol or benzoyl peroxide. Azelaic acid is way gentler on the skin. So it requires higher concentrations to work well.
Because of its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, azelaic acid is recommended for people with acne and rosacea. It does have several benefits for the skin. But almost all of them can be boiled down to these two main properties.
Benefits of Azelaic Acid For Your Skin
1. It’s anti-inflammatory.
Remember that both acne and rosacea are inflammatory (2) skin conditions. That’s why anti-inflammation is the name of the game when you’re dealing with acne or rosacea.
And AA is majorly anti-inflammatory. It reduces the formation of red bumps, and redness related to acne as well as rosacea.
2. It reduces acne.
Azelaic acid helps with acne by eliminating bacteria. Because of its antibacterial properties, it reduces the formation of acne.
Additionally, AA reduces the excessive production and accumulation of dead skin cells. Remember that those cells are responsible for clogging your pores, and as a result, causing breakouts.
By preventing the over-production of these cells, AA prevents congestion and acne. In summary, it combats acne by targeting its root causes; inflammation, congestion, and bacteria.
3. It treats hyperpigmentation.
Several factors can contribute to hyperpigmentation, which is basically dark spots and patches on the skin giving you an uneven skin tone. UV exposure can cause the formation of dark spots. You can get hyperpigmentation from post-breakouts.
You can also experience hyperpigmentation from melasma (3), which is a bit different because it can be triggered by hormones or pregnancy.
And azelaic acid helps with all! Because it inhibits melanin production. Melanin is what makes your skin go dark in patches. By discouraging melanin production, AA reduces hyperpigmentation and also prevents it.
As a result, it helps even out your skin tone. Azelaic acid is actually one of the best ingredients for hyperpigmentation right next to vitamin C, arbutin, and kojic acid.
Side Effects of Azelaic Acid For Your Skin
The most common side effects of azelaic acid are dryness, irritation, and a burning sensation. However, these are not side effects that tend to get worse as you continue to use AA. All of these minor effects usually disappear after a few weeks.
In general, azelaic acid is surprisingly safe for your skin. It’s also pregnancy-safe, that’s how gentle it is. And as usual, the side effects can be eliminated simply by adjusting the frequency of use.
Your skin can tolerate it as much as twice a day. Depending on your skin sensitivity, you can use your product once a day every other day. If it’s prescribed by your doctor, remember to follow their instructions.
How To Choose Azelaic Acid Products
When you’re dealing with a multi-tasker, it’s always better to modify it to suit your skin issue. Here’s how to choose azelaic acid products to add to your skincare routine.
Get a Targeted Product
If you have a prominent issue, you should always use products consciously and choose an azelaic acid product that contains additional active ingredients. For example, if you’re using azelaic acid for acne, choose a product that also contains mainstream anti-acne active ingredients such as salicylic acid. Similarly, if you’re using it for hyperpigmentation, get products that contain kojic acid, vitamin C, or niacinamide in addition to azelaic acid.
Keep Your Skin Type in Mind
As always, keep your skin type in mind when choosing treatment products such as azelaic acid serums and creams. Make sure the formula is non-comedogenic, and oil-free if you have oily, blemish-prone skin. Avoid highly fragrant products if you have sensitive skin. Additionally, look for skin-restoring ingredients like hyaluronic acid, or soothing green tea to avoid dryness and irritation.
The Best Azelaic Acid Skincare Products
If a trip to your dermatologist sounds too daunting, you’re in luck. From creams to serums, below are some of the best azelaic acid skincare products to get started on the trend.
This is a great example of combining different active ingredients to better target an issue. Azelaic acid on its own is not enough to give you major exfoliation. By utilizing glycolic acid, the serum clears out clogged pores and treats acne through exfoliation.
And both of these have brightening effects on the skin, which will improve the tone of your complexion. Additionally, the serum has vitamin E for its antioxidant benefits, which helps with UV-induced damage. You can use this azelaic acid serum every other night and top it off with a gentle moisturizer.
With a 10% concentration and an affordable price, this azelaic acid cream goes well with any anti-pigmentation and anti-acne routine. You can use it as a stand-alone treatment for any of the associated issues.
Or you can alternate it with a poly-hydroxy acid product for rosacea or with a hydroquinone-infused product for hyperpigmentation. And of course, pair it with a salicylic acid treatment to improve acne and scarring. If your rosacea is acting up, use it alone in your routine to calm redness and manage flare-ups.
This is an acne spot treatment to zap blemishes with all that is anti-acne. The treatment contains azelaic acid and salicylic acid for their anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial effects.
Additionally, it has niacinamide to soothe redness and inflammation. This is a great way to utilize AA for gently fading pimples without having to use AA all over the face.
For the ultimate treatment for hyperpigmentation, this one has all the goodies; azelaic acid, kojic acid, and resorcinol. Also, the serum has lactic acid for its gentle exfoliation benefits.
Whether it’s related to scarring from acne or hyperpigmentation from free radical damage, the serum is perfect for lightening the skin and evening out the skin tone for a more uniform complexion. And it’s even suitable to use on sensitive skin that’s prone to dryness and irritation.
This one is a daily toner for brightening the skin. In addition to azelaic acid, it has niacinamide, vitamin C, and kojic acid, which makes it a super-focused treatment for pigmented spots and dark spots from acne.
But the way it works is by exfoliating the skin with glycolic and lactic acids, both of which encourage cell turnover. The revealing skin, thanks to all that is brightening, is smoother and brighter. It’s the easiest way to incorporate azelaic acid into your daily skincare routine.
The best thing about skin boosters is knowing the exact amount of the active ingredient. If you’re not sure which azelaic acid product to start with, get a booster and try it in different ways. Add it to your serum, or your daily moisturizer, and instantly charge up your whole routine.
The 10% azelaic acid is paired with salicylic acid to target congestion, acne, and uneven skin tone. The booster also has botanical extracts for soothing the skin and managing inflammation.
This is an amazing azelaic acid serum (2.5%) you can use both for acne and hyperpigmentation. The oil-free azelaic acid treatment contains 1% salicylic acid topped with niacinamide. These alone are enough to keep excess oil, blemishes, textured skin, and enlarged pores in check. But the gentle serum also has amazing antioxidants like green tea and chamomile to help repair free radical damage.
And it has hyaluronic acid to boost hydration as well. If you have acne rosacea, you can try this serum to hit two birds with one stone. Even though salicylic acid is usually irritating and an ingredient to avoid if you have rosacea, the low concentration, and the added anti-inflammatory goodies are more than tolerable for sensitive skin.
So these are some of the best azelaic acid skincare products. And hopefully, by now, you pretty much know how azelaic acid works in skincare and its major benefits for acne, hyperpigmentation, and rosacea. You can comfortably use it in your morning routine as well as in your evening routine. AA is good for any time of the day. And it goes without saying that you need to be careful and avoid overdrying your skin. So, say goodbye to toners that contain astringents and cleansers that contain drying alcohol. And remember to slather on some sunscreen!
- Del Rosso J. Q. (2017). Azelaic Acid Topical Formulations: Differentiation of 15% Gel and 15% Foam. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 10(3), 37–40.
- Jones D. A. (2009). Rosacea, reactive oxygen species, and azelaic Acid. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 2(1), 26–30.
- Shankar, K., Godse, K., Aurangabadkar, S. et al. Evidence-Based Treatment for Melasma: Expert Opinion and a Review. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb) 4, 165–186 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13555-014-0064-z