Azelaic Acid for Skin – Benefits and Everything You Need to Know

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Azelaic acid is an FDA-approved skincare ingredient that receives far less attention than it deserves. One of the reasons why it is a wonderfully effective ingredient is its versatility, it has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-bacterial, exfoliating, and anti-comedonal properties.

Azelaic acid is mostly used to treat mild to moderate acne, rosacea, and hyperpigmentation. It has also been shown to be effective at unclogging pores, dissolving dead skin cells, and preventing non-inflammatory comedones, such as whiteheads and blackheads, from forming. Azelaic acid also fades acne scars and mild melasma.

It is considered gentle and safe for all skin types, even people with sensitive skin can use it.

Continue reading to learn what azelaic acid can do for your skin, what makes it so effective, how to use it, as well as everything you need to know about it.

Table of Contents

Quick Overview

  • Ingredient Type: Carboxylic acid (comedolytic, exfoliant, antioxidant)
  • Key Benefits: Treats mild acne, calms rosacea and redness, exfoliates dead skin, and lightens acne scars and mild melasma
  • Who Should Use it: Anyone can use it to treat the above conditions. It is safe for all skin types. It is also safe to use during pregnancy.
  • Can Be Mixed with: Hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, alpha-hydroxy acids (aha), salicylic acid, retinol, other lightening agents (such as kojic acid)
  • Can’t be Mixed with: It is safe to use with most ingredients
  • Safety: It is safe to use for most skin types

What Is Azelaic Acid?

Azelaic acid is a dicarboxylic acid that helps exfoliate your skin deep inside of the pores. In addition to having antioxidant properties, it is also keratolytic (reduces keratin), comedolytic (prevents comedones), and anti-inflammatory (the same properties as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid).

You can find it in prescription strength (15% to 20% concentrate) or at 10% over the counter. It comes in cream, foam, or gel, and it can help you with a number of different skin conditions.

Azelaic acid can gently exfoliate your skin, fight acne, and reduce inflammation. It can even out your skin tone by inhibiting the enzyme tyrosinase, which leads to hyperpigmentation. It also treats rosacea by reducing redness, and it is safe for pregnant women.

How Does It Work?

Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring acid that helps the skin renew itself quickly. It acts as a tyrosinase inhibitor, so it can prevent hyperpigmentation by reducing melanin production. Over time, it will help you reduce acne scars and melasma (dark spots).

It also helps to treat acne by killing the bacteria that is responsible for the infection and inflammation, as well as inhibiting the creation of keratin, a natural component that can contribute to acne formation.

Azelaic acid also has anti-inflammatory properties, which allow it to reduce redness and rosacea.

However, you need to use sunscreen. In the process of treating your skin, it may thin out the outer layer, leaving your skin more sensitive to the sun’s UV rays.

Which Skin Type Is Azelaic Acid Suitable for?

It is great for all skin types, but it can cause irritation in people who have very sensitive skin.

What Are the Benefits of Azelaic Acid?

  • Treats acne and blemishes: It fights acne by eliminating acne-causing bacteria, gently exfoliating and unclogging pores, decreasing inflammation, redness, and irritation, and gently boosting cell turnover so that your skin heals faster.
  • Reduces rosacea and redness: It has anti-inflammatory properties that soothe irritation and improve redness and red bumps from rosacea. It’s also gentler than many other antibacterial, anti-inflammatory treatments, making it an excellent option for gently exfoliating pores without further aggravating rosacea-prone skin.
  • Clears up mild hyperpigmentation and dark marks: It has the ability to block tyrosinase, an enzyme required for melanin formation in the skin. By doing this, it can help with uneven skin tone, dark marks from acne, and even melasma.
  • Unclogs pores and gently exfoliates: Azelaic acid not only helps to eliminate dead skin cells, but it also has keratolytic properties, which means it can break down keratin (a protein that may build up and clog pores). This helps to brighten the skin and prevent future acne from forming on the face.
  • It is safe for pregnancy: Unlike many other acne treatments, azelaic acid is typically safe to use by pregnant women. However, you should talk to your doctor to see if it is the right option for you.
  • Reduces skin inflammation: It has anti-inflammatory properties that help soothe acne breakouts and rosacea. It also helps prevent new pimples from forming.
  • Has comedolytic properties: This means it aids in the breakdown of existing non-inflammatory comedones (such as whiteheads and blackheads), and the prevention of new ones from forming.
What Are the Benefits of Azelaic Acid?

How to Incorporate Azelaic Acid Into Your Skincare Routine?

Azelaic acid is available as a prescription or over the counter, and you can apply it to clean, dry skin once or twice a day.

Start your skincare routine with your cleanser, and then use your exfoliant (optional). Follow it with your toner. Then, you can apply your azelaic acid treatment. Apply it to your entire face, but stay away from your eyes, mouth, and lips.

Follow it up with your moisturizer, and make sure that you use plenty of sunscreen. Azelaic acid will cause the outer layer of your skin to thin out over time, so you need to make sure that it is protected from the sun’s UV rays.

If you are satisfied with the results, you can increase the frequency of use. Start out every other day, then move to once a day. If it is still working fine, you can use it as frequently as twice a day. Just make sure that you always apply it to your face when it is clean and dry.

How to Apply It?

You should start out with a test patch on your arm. Make sure that it doesn’t irritate your skin. Then, you can move to your face and try it in a spot on your forehead. If it doesn’t irritate your skin or cause redness or burning, you can go ahead and use it on your face.
Azelaic acid comes in creams, gels, cleansing bars, and serums. When you use the gel or cream, you should wash your face with a mild cleanser and pat it dry using a soft towel. You can also exfoliate and use your toner before you apply it.
Apply a thin layer of azelaic acid gel or cream to your skin. Massage it into your skin all over your face. Wait for your skin to absorb it, and follow it up with a moisturizer and sunscreen (during daytime).

If you are using another type of product with azelaic acid in it, you need to follow the instructions. You can get it as an ingredient in a cleansing bar, where you will rub it to a light lather, allow the lather to sit on your skin for around 2 minutes, and then rinse with warm water and pat dry.

If it is in a serum, you will gently rub it in and leave it on.

If you have sensitive skin, you should consider using it every other day.

Azelaic Acid in Products

  • Creams and Gels: It is commonly packaged as a cream or gel. You will gently massage it into your skin after you clean it. Normally, you will leave it on once you apply it.
  • Cleansing Bars: Sometimes, it is added to a cleansing bar. You will rub the bar to a lather, and then you can apply it to your face. Rinse it with warm water when you finish.
  • Serums: As a serum, you will apply it after your face is clean. Dab small dots of it on your face and gently rub them in.

What Can I Mix with Azelaic Acid?

You can use this ingredient on its own, or you can pair it with quite a few other ingredients. It is a stable molecule, which allows it to pair with other acids, antioxidants, or niacinamide.

AHA exfoliants

Alpha hydroxy acids are more effective for exfoliating, so you can use them along with azelaic acid. You will get the exfoliating powers along with acne control and treatment for hyperpigmentation and rosacea.
You can also use them together to treat hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tone, or fine lines and wrinkles. But you might consider using them on alternating days to make sure you don’t irritate your skin.

Salicylic acid (BHA)

When you want to treat acne, you can combine azelaic acid with salicylic acid. You can alternate days when using these two ingredients to reduce the risk of irritation as well. Don’t forget to use SPF regularly to prevent skin from UV damage.

Retinol

As long as you are careful, you can use it with retinol, in fact, a recent study found that it works better when combined with retinol. But make sure that you use them on alternating days so that your skin doesn’t become irritated. You can also use azelaic acid in the morning (with sunscreen) and retinol at night.

Vitamin C

It works well with your azelaic acid. However, in order to reduce the risk of your skin being irritated, it’s advisable to use vitamin C along with your sunscreen in the morning in order to protect your skin while it is exposed to the sun, and azelaic acid at night.

If you are looking to add moisture to your skin, add hyaluronic acid, and mix it with niacinamide if you are trying to brighten and lighten your skin. Just pay attention to how your skin reacts and split up the treatments if your skin becomes irritated.

What Not to Mix with Azelaic Acid

It works well with many other skincare products, and there is no research that indicates that you should avoid anything. The best thing to do is to consult your doctor if you are taking a prescription version.

Side Effects

Azelaic acid has been approved by the FDA and is safe for topical use. But you may experience some side effects when you start using it, including the following:
  • Dry skin
  • Itchiness
  • Peeling
  • Burning
  • Tingling
  • Redness

Safety Tips

  • Always follow the instructions when using a product with azelaic acid
  • Use sunscreen with high SPF
  • Use it before bed
  • Make sure you don’t get any azelaic acid near the eyes or the mouth
  • Consult a dermatologist to find the right concentration
  • If you notice a change in your skin color, or if you observe any serious side effects, contact your doctor

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What does azelaic acid do to the skin?

A: When you use azelaic acid, it will remove dead skin cells, prevent future acne, fight acne bacteria, and lighten melasma and acne scars. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that calm redness and rosacea.

Q: Does azelaic acid lighten skin?

It doesn’t permanently lighten your skin because it doesn’t destroy melanin. It can lighten hyperpigmentation (dark spots), mild melasma, and acne scars because it inhibits an enzyme used in the production of melanin, tyrosinase.

Q: How often to use it?

It can be up to 20% of your product, and you can use it daily for six to eight weeks to see good results. However, some people use it two to three times a week when they start out to build up a tolerance.

Q: Can you use it every day?

You can use it every day as part of your nighttime routine.

Q: Is azelaic acid a chemical exfoliant?

Although it does have an exfoliating effect, it doesn’t exfoliate as effectively as AHAs and BHAs. You can use these chemical exfoliants in addition to your azelaic acid products if you need a chemical exfoliant.

Q: Is azelaic acid safe for sensitive skin?

It is safe for all skin types, including sensitive skin. It is recommended that people with sensitive skin use it two or three times a week rather than every day. The most common symptoms for people with sensitive skin are stinging, burning, and redness. If you have sensitive skin, it is best to try a test patch first, starting on the back of your arm, and then ease your way into using it on your face.

Q: Is it safe during pregnancy?

It is considered safe to use during pregnancy. Research on animals has not shown any harmful effects.

Q: Does azelaic acid irritate skin?

Azelaic acid has few side effects, but people with sensitive skin have found stinging, peeling, and redness. Other possible irritations include itching or burning. You should always start with a test patch and ease your way in slowly to make sure that it doesn’t irritate your skin.

Q: Does azelaic acid damage the skin barrier?

It may reduce the thickness of the outer layer of your skin, which can cause irritation and dry skin. It can make your skin more sensitive and susceptible to sun damage. That is why you should not use it more frequently than recommended or for a longer period than your doctor has prescribed.

Q: How long does azelaic acid cream take to work?

Most people notice results or improvements after six to eight weeks of consistent use.

Q: How to use The Ordinary azelaic acid?

You can use The Ordinary azelaic acid in the evening every day. You need to make sure that you are wearing sunscreen with a high SPF during the day. Apply it after your toner and water-based products, and before applying moisturizer. Some people apply it in the morning as well.

Q: Can I use azelaic acid with retinol?

You can use it with retinol, but you need to take extra precautions so that your skin doesn’t become irritated. You can use azelaic acid in the morning and retinol in the evening, or use each one on alternating days to decrease the odds of irritating your skin.

Q: Can I use azelaic acid with vitamin C?

You can use it with vitamin C. If you plan to use both products, you can use vitamin C in the morning and azelaic acid in the evening. Vitamin C should be used in the morning because it will neutralize free radicals that are formed by UV radiation.

Q: Can I use azelaic acid with benzoyl peroxide?

You can use it with benzoyl peroxide, but you should use them at different times of the day or on alternating days. One study shows that when both are used, they help fight inflammatory lesions from acne effectively.

Q: Can I use azelaic acid with niacinamide?

You can use it with niacinamide. Both can help treat acne, rosacea, and hyperpigmentation. There are cases when they may work better together, especially when you want to treat hyperpigmentation. They both work to brighten your skin, and you will find both in some skincare products.

Q: Can I use azelaic acid with salicylic acid?

You can use it with salicylic acid, especially when you want to treat acne and blemishes. You can find products that combine them together at lower percentages of each, or if you are using them separately, you might use them on alternating days to prevent skin irritation.

Q: Can I use azelaic acid with hyaluronic acid?

You can use it with hyaluronic acid. The hyaluronic acid will add moisture to your skin. Most of the time, you will use hyaluronic acid after you cleanse your face so that it locks in the moisture, then, you can use azelaic acid.

Q: What percentage of azelaic acid is effective?

The most effective azelaic products are prescription strength gels. They have a concentration of 15% to 20%. These solutions can be too much for people with sensitive skin. You can also get products with 10% azelaic acid, which is better if you have experienced irritation.

Q: Does it make skin photosensitive?

While it does not make the skin photosensitive, it does cause your skin to thin, which can make it more sensitive. You should protect yourself with sunscreen with a high SPF when you use it.

Q: Does azelaic acid help with dark spots?

Azelaic acid does help with dark spots. It lightens skin with hyperpigmentation by reducing the production of melanin. It inhibits the enzyme that your skin needs so that it can produce melanin. Then, the dark spots fade, especially those caused by acne scars and melasma.

Q: Does azelaic acid reduce pore size?

This ingredient kills skin bacteria and prevents your pores from being blocked. It gently exfoliates your skin by rubbing off dead skin cells, thus reducing the size of your pores.

Q: Is azelaic acid better than salicylic acid?

Azelaic acid will help treat acne, whiteheads, and blackheads, as well as redness, rosacea, oily skin, and hyperpigmentation. Salicylic acid has strong exfoliating powers, and it is used to treat mild acne, blackheads, and whiteheads. Azelaic is great for lightening and brightening your skin, while salicylic acid helps reduce inflammation and decrease oil secretion. Both are great products and can be used together. You should choose the one that will benefit your skin the best.

Q: Is niacinamide or azelaic acid better?

Niacinamide is vitamin B3 in water-soluble form, and it works as an antioxidant. It can reduce enlarged pores, control oil production, reduce dark spots, brighten your skin, and improve acne. Azelaic acid helps with similar skin conditions, and these two can complement each other. The acid has the added benefit of acting as a mild exfoliant, but niacinamide is better for dry skin because it strengthens the skin barrier. You can use them together, or choose the one that is best for your skin type.

Q: Is azelaic acid better than retinol?

Retinol is a form of vitamin A, and it can alter your skin on the cellular level. It’s an antioxidant, and it helps your skin increase the number of new cells it makes. It boosts collagen production, reduces inflammation, treats acne, and more. Azelaic acid treats similar skin conditions, and they can enhance each other’s effects. Azelaic acid is usually less of a skin irritant, and it can also exfoliate pores. You can use both or choose the one that is best for your skin condition.

Q: Can I use azelaic acid long-term?

Studies have shown that long-term use of azelaic acid does not cause toxic or allergic reactions. However, if you are using a prescription, you should take it as long as your doctor recommends it. Many products come with a label that says to use them for up to six months. They are designed to treat your acne or other condition, and you should follow the advice of your doctor.

Q: Does azelaic acid cause purging?

Yes, it increases the rate of your skin cell turnover, so microcomedones turn into acne more quickly. This causes breakouts, but it means that the product is working. The purge period should last up to a month. Check this article out for further reading on azelaic acid and purging.

Q: Does azelaic acid expire?

Yes. All skincare products expire. You should look for the POA (prescribed after opening) date. It will let you know how long the products last once you have opened them. Don’t use expired products because it can lead to bacterial infections, breakouts, or skin irritation.

The Takeaway

If you use azelaic acid responsibly, there are many potential benefits. In the right dose, it helps reduce inflammation, fights bacteria, and has antioxidant properties. You can use it to reduce redness and rosacea, and it helps fight hyperpigmentation from melasma and acne scars. It will leave your skin clearer, healthier, and smoother.

You can get azelaic acid in prescription-strength or over-the-counter, and you can use it with other products. The important thing is to ease into it to make sure that it doesn’t irritate your skin. You may need to alternate products to make sure that you don’t overdo it, but you can use many other products alongside azelaic acid.

Judy Rose

Hi, it’s Judy!

I’m a passionate skincare specialist and writer. I have more than 7 years of experience as a beauty, fashion, and lifestyle writer and editor, and I’m extremely passionate about what I do.