Azelaic Acid for Skin: What You Need to Know Before Adding it to Your Routine
You’ve heard of salicylic acid for treating acne and acne-prone skin. But there’s another skin care superstar worth mentioning: azelaic acid.
Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring acid that’s found in grains (yes, as in wheat and barley). So how did a saturated dicarboxylic acid found in the grass family become a topical treatment for one of the most common skin conditions?
First, a synthetic form of azelaic acid is present in most skin care products for better stability and quality control. And as it turns out, azelaic acid is great at fighting off the bacteria that causes acne. Azelaic acid has also been shown to effectively remove dead skin cells, reduce dark spots, and have anti-inflammatory properties helpful for those who struggle with rosacea.
You’ll find prescription-strength azelaic acid as well as over-the-counter treatments. This is because the drug can be drying when used incorrectly and on overly sensitive skin.
Before adding it to your skin care routine, it’s best to consult with your doctor and do some research. To help, here’s what you need to know about using azelaic acid, how to incorporate it into your regimen, and side effects to look out for.
What does azelaic acid do for skin?
Azelaic acid works in multiple ways, which is why it’s a favorite among many skin-care enthusiasts. Azelaic acid is primarily used for treating acne due to its potent antibacterial and anti-inflammatory powers. But did you know it has plenty of other benefits for the skin?
For starters, azelaic acid helps treat hyperpigmentation. Because many doctors have found it to be a tyrosinase inhibitor, which is what kick starts the production of melanin in the body, azelaic acid removes uneven skin tone and can treat dark skin spots and acne scars.
In short, it helps remove post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) by inhibiting melanin production. This means if you’re someone who gets dark spots after a pimple, this would be an ideal solution. In terms of skin lightening function, azelaic acid can be compared with tranexamic acid and kojic acid.
We all know azelaic acid has antibacterial properties that fight acne-causing bacteria, but did you know it also has antioxidant properties that can combat free radicals? Or that it also gently exfoliates the skin to clear clogged pores? Since it removes dead skin cells effectively, it also reduces acne breakouts and acne lesions as a result.
Finally, azelaic acid contains anti-inflammatory properties that help with skin irritation and reduce inflammation from acne. This is why using azelaic acid is highly recommended not just as an acne treatment, but for those with skin conditions like rosacea. Azelaic acid products are a favorite among many for its anti-inflammatory properties, and it also reduces the appearance of visible blood vessels. Often, it is paired with the moisturizing ingredient hyaluronic acid.
Does azelaic acid lighten skin?
Azelaic acid, as we mentioned above, has a pretty extensive list of benefits to its name: clearing dark spots, removing dead skin cell buildup, and fighting acne breakouts. Since azelaic acid does inhibit melanin production, it is able to lighten hyperpigmented areas or dark patches of skin. The drug may or may not be well-tolerated depending on your skin type.
Can I use azelaic acid cream to treat acne?
Yes, topical azelaic acid gel, cream, and other forms are used for the treatment of inflammatory acne.
Is azelaic acid better than salicylic acid?
You might be wondering, if azelaic acid is so great for treating acne, how come it’s not as commonly recommended as salicylic acid or even benzoyl peroxide?
Both azelaic acid and salicylic acid are great anti-acne treatments. Azelaic acid is actually a lot milder since it works by inhibiting the buildup of bacteria that causes acne, while salicylic breaks down sebum and speeds up skin cell turnover.
But the reason azelaic acid isn’t at the frontline of acne treatment might be due to its slower results. Compared to SA, azelaic acid takes a much milder approach, which could mean results that take longer to appear.
How do you apply azelaic acid?
Azelaic acid can be taken in a prescription formula or over-the-counter. It’s relatively well-tolerated by all skin types barring a specific allergy to the ingredient. Before incorporating azelaic acid in your everyday skin care routine, it’s best to perform a patch test to avoid any harmful reactions.
To use azelaic acid, take a pea sized amount and apply a thin layer on a clean face and neck, then pat dry. Apply sunscreen with at least 30 SPF daily.
Some doctors recommend using exfoliants, such as alpha hydroxy acids (glycolic acid, lactic acid) or beta hydroxy acids, to boost the effects of azelaic acid. However, those with sensitive skin should consult their doctor first to see if this is a viable solution, as they could recommend you stop using other medications.
Can you use azelaic acid everyday?
Azelaic acid can be used twice a day, once a day, or every other day depending on how well your skin takes it. If you’re using azelaic acid along with exfoliants or peeling agents, make sure to wear sunscreen daily.
The side effects of azelaic acid include tingling, peeling, and dryness on the affected area.
Tips When Using Azelaic Acid
To maximize your treatment, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Don’t skip the moisturizer. Azelaic acid encourages the growth of new skin, especially in acne cases. This means there’s a chance it can dry out your skin.
- Keep wearing sunscreen. Unlike BHAs, azelaic acid actually doesn’t make your skin more sensitive to the sun. But that doesn’t mean you stop wearing sunscreen. You don’t want those harmful UV rays to undo all the skin lightening your azelaic acid has been doing for your dark spots.
- When applying azelaic acid, stay away from flames and do not smoke. This is because azelaic acid foam is flammable.
- Use a mild soap for cleaning your face, whether you have naturally dry skin or struggle with excess oil.
- If you experience unusual amounts of redness, peeling, or stinging, talk to your doctor immediately.
To recap: azelaic acid is a naturally occurring compound with anti-acne, anti-inflammatory, and anti-pigment properties. In short, it can get rid of pimples and even out skin tone. It’s available in milder concentrations over-the-counter or in stronger formulas at your doctor’s clinic.
Have you tried azelaic acid? If not, what’s your favorite skincare ingredient? Share it with us in the comments below!
Joey is an AB Psychology graduate of the University of St. La Salle – Bacolod. Her life’s passions include writing, film, and spending hours on end binge-watching fashion vloggers on Youtube.