Azelaic acid is like that new kid at school who you sort of notice at first, and you guess they seem nice, but the next thing you know they’re the most popular kid in the class. This skincare ingredient popped up seemingly out nowhere, when it was recently approved for use in over-the-counter products in the US, and suddenly any skincare addict worth their salt was using it in their skincare routine.
So don’t get left behind – learn what all the fuss is about, and maybe you’ll find yourself ordering a bottle of this stuff as well. In this post, I explain exactly what azelaic acid is, how it works, how to use azelaic acid, any potential side-effects, as well as a few recommendations for excellent azelaic acid skincare products.
What Is Azelaic Acid?
Azelaic acid is a dicarboxylic acid that occurs naturally in barley, rye, and wheat. This ingredient is becoming increasingly popular in skin care, especially for those with sensitive and acne-prone skin, thanks to its ability to improve the look of most skin types, with very little irritation and side effects.
Azelaic acid is normally a prescription-only product, but there are a few over-the-counter azelaic acid options that are starting to pop up.
What Is Azelaic Acid Good For?
• Reducing acne and breakouts;
• Reducing and mitigating redness, sensitivity, and inflammation;
• Reducing the symptoms of rosacea;
• Fading hyperpigmentation, dark marks, and dull skin;
• Brightening the skin and improving its overall coloration.
How Does Azelaic Acid Work?
Azelaic acid works on multiple fronts. First, as an antibacterial agent, it prevents the proliferation of the acne bacteria. This means that it helps keep the acne bacteria away, which helps prevent acne breakouts from occurring in the first place.
These same antibacterial properties are very likely effective for dealing with rosacea, which is thought to be caused by bacteria. Unlike other antibacterial agents, azelaic acid is much milder so it won’t aggravate or irritate skin that is already sensitive due to rosacea.
Second, as an anti-inflammatory ingredient, azelaic acid is able to reduce the redness, pain, and swelling that are associated with acne, rosacea, and overall sensitivity. It immediately calms breakouts, while also working to keep new pimples from popping up.
Third, as a keratolytic agent, azelaic acid helps prevent pore-clogging build-up. Keratin is one of the protein components in our skin, and when it gets built up in the pore, it is one of the elements contributing to acne. Azelaic acid helps keep it from clogging the pore, making the skin overall clearer and helping to prevent both breakouts and closed comedones.
Fourth, azelaic acid is an effective tyrosinase inhibitor. Tyrosinase is an enzyme that is responsible for the production of melanin in the skin. One of the most effective ways skin care can improve hyperpigmentation, and brighten the skin in general, is by disrupting the action of this enzyme. Since azelaic acid is excellent at doing that, it is a great addition to a skincare routine meant to target dark spots and pigmentation.
How Should I Use Azelaic Acid?
The way you use azelaic acid partially depends on what your desired results are. You may choose to combine it with different actives, in order to achieve various results. However, no matter what your desired effect is, you should generally stick to the following order when putting azelaic acid into your skincare routine:
• In the evening begin by cleansing your skin with a gentle facial cleanser (if you wear makeup, you can double cleanse with an oil cleanser, followed by a second cleanser).
• Apply any serious active ingredients to your skin. If you choose to use an azelaic acid that is combined with actives like vitamin C, glycolic acid, or salicylic acid, apply it immediately after cleansing. Wait 15-20 minutes.
• If you have any humectant serums in your routine, now is the time to pat them onto your skin!
• Next apply your azelaic acid treatment, assuming it isn’t paired with other actives. If it is in a moisturizing-enough solution, this can be the end of your routine! If it is not nourishing enough, layer a moisturizer on top of it.
Are There Any Side Effects to Using Azelaic Acid?
For the most part there aren’t any side effects to using azelaic acid. Very few people do report some mild stinging or burning, which tends to fade away quickly.
However, as with anything, an allergic reaction is possible! Stop using azelaic acid (and maybe find a doctor) if you react to it with a rash, severe burning or itching, extreme peeling or dryness, or if it gives you trouble breathing.
Best Azelaic Acid Serums and Creams
If you have decided to give it a try and enjoy the magical effects azelaic acid produces, here are the best azelaic acid products to add to your skincare routine!
1. The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%
Known for their formulation of affordable serums and emulsions, with actives that are proven to be effective and at exactly the right acidity level, it is no surprise that The Ordinary’s 10% azelaic acid is on the list of the best azelaic acid products. It comes in the form of a silky cream that is easy to use.
Just make sure to give this silicone-based formula a few moments to settle into the skin before applying anything else, since pilling can occur if it is mixed with other products. It is available for sale through Cult Beauty.
2. DermaDoctor PhotoDynamic Therapy Age Spot Eraser & Skin Brightener
The focus with this azelaic acid cream was on brightening the skin, so it was paired with other phenomenal skin-brightening ingredients like licorice root extract and bearberry extract. It is a creamy formula that is ideal for dry skin, although for oily skin types, it could replace an evening moisturizer. You can purchase it from Sephora.
3. PCA Skin Acne Gel
This is a perfect azelaic acid formulation for acne-prone skin. It combines the antibacterial effects of azelaic acid with the exfoliating and pore-clarifying effects of salicylic acid to quickly and effectively eliminate and prevent breakouts. This gentle formula will also help lighten hyperpigmentation, and is great for most skin types (although those with sensitive skin should be cautious). It retails on Dermstore.
4. Murad Redness Therapy Recovery Gel
This gel treatment from Murad is specifically formulated for sensitive skin. It can be worn alone as a moisturizer (especially if you have oily skin) or layered under one. This product uses a gentler version of azelaic acid that is perfect for sensitive skin, and it is paired here with other skin-soothing ingredients like zinc oxide, pomegranate extract, and peppermint extract. It is available for sale at Ulta.
This is not so much a product as it is a very cool skincare service. Curology connects you with a dermatologist that, based on your skin type and needs, prescribes a custom blend of extremely active ingredients that very often include azelaic acid, exactly at the percentage that it’ll most help your skin. They might add other active ingredients like tretinoin, niacinamide, vitamin C, and more.
6. Jan Marini BioGlycolic Bioclear Lotion
This is a glycolic acid peel with azelaic acid and salicylic acid – a pretty cool way of exfoliating while also dealing with acne and redness. It is a heavy-duty product that is perfect for those with thicker skin, hyperpigmentation, and acne-prone skin. This lotion should be introduced into the skincare routine slowly, because it is powerful. You can pick up a bottle through Dermstore.
Have you tried azelaic acid? What were the results? Share your experiences!
Photos via Instagram