While it sounds really scary to be applying Azelaic Acid to your face, we’ve already discussed on numerous occasions the benefits of some of the acids commonly used in skincare. Glycolic acid, salicylic acid, alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids, and others can have huge benefits when it comes to the care of your skin.
Azelaic acid is no different and deserves its moment in the spotlight!
Jack of Many Trades
Azelaic acid is one of those ingredients that just keep on surprising us. It can be used for multiple applications, from lightening dark spots to treating rosacea. It was initially first used to treat hyperpigmentation, but it was discovered later that it made for an effective treatment of acne, purely by accident! It’s now been used for over two decades for that job. Not much later, a study proved it to be a great addition to a rosacea treatment regimen, too. It can even reduce skin sensitivity and refine the skin’s surface.
On top of all that, it’s compatible with just about any skin type.
Azelaic Acid As a Bleaching Agent
While hydroquinone is a commonly used ingredient for treatment of hyperpigmentation and age spots, it can have its drawbacks. Currently, products that contain up to 2% hydroquinone may be sold in the U.S. without a prescription, and prescription skin-lightening products may contain up to four percent (source). It’s generally well-tolerated, though there are some exceptions. People with dry or sensitive skin could find that hydroquinone can cause further dryness or irritation, though that usually tends to taper off as their skin adjusts to it. One of the biggest complaints with hydroquinone, though is that it has a tendency to actually make hyperpigmentation worse in those with a darker skin tones, leaving it a better alternative for those with lighter skin.
In addition, several countries like France and South Africa have banned hydroquinone, concerned of an increased cancer risk, though many dermatologists in the U.S. are doubtful that it’s implicated in contributing to cancer.
But don’t worry. People have found an alternative in azelaic acid. This natural ingredient, discovered in wheat, rye, and barley, shows to be almost as effective as hydroquinone. Once combined with tretinoin or alpha hydroxy acids, the results are noticeably improved and rival that of hydroquinone.
Azelaic Acid For Acne
Soon after azelaic acid started being used as a skin lightening agent, it was discovered that it was quite an effective acne treatment. As an acid, it works to help to exfoliate the skin. This powerhouse actually also has antibacterial properties, making it a useful acne treatment. It can also help to calm and prevent inflammation. Since Propionibacterium acne is the acne-causing bacteria that leads to inflammation, also triggers the production of inflammatory cytokines – part of your immune system’s response to pathogens – it’s effective at helping to calm and prevent inflammation. Unlike Accutane, it doesn’t change how much sebum your skin produces, but decreases the free fatty acid content in skin, making it an inhospitable environment for bacterial and fungal overgrowth.
Because of that, it’s now being used as an effective treatment for “fungal acne,” the skin conditions associated with malassezia like seborrheic dermatitis, pityrosporum folliculitis, dandruff, eczema, and psoriasis.
It also is anti-keratinizing, so it works to prevent a build-up of dead skin which could, in turn, prevent clogged pores that cause breakouts.
While many common acne medications like retinoids and benzoyl peroxide are contraindicated for use during pregnancy, azelaic acid is generally considered to be safe to use. While research hasn’t been done on humans, the American Academy of Dermatology explains that researchers have not seen any birth defects produced in animals when used during pregnancy.
Azelaic Acid For Rosacea
While many acids have a tendency to cause redness, azelaic acid has been shown to reduce the appearance of redness and rosacea. Part of that is due to that antibacterial and anti-inflammatory action, working to calm inflamed skin.
Rosacea, a chronic skin condition that results in erythema, or dilated capillaries, gives an overall appearance of redness. Even though it’s incredibly effective at treating acne, azelaic acid has been approved by the FDA as a treatment for rosacea. At 15%, prescription strength azelaic acid is shown to control papulopustular rosacea over a period of six months by significantly decreasing erythema and inflamed lesions. When you add antibiotics to the mix, it becomes even more effective.
How Does Azelaic Acid Work?
“Azelaic acid is a dicarboxylic acid that’s synthesized by yeast naturally; now it’s made from products like barley and wheat,” Temitayo Ogunleye, M.D., assistant professor of clinical dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine told SELF. Azelaic acid is normally found within grains, though the commercially-produced versions are just as effective and more stable, so is more commonly found in your skincare products.
Researchers suspect that azelaic acid works to inhibit problematic invaders and parts of the skin within the upper layers. It has the ability to put a stop to what is causing the skin to act up, allowing the skin to then respond on its own. It starts accumulating in the follicle after just one application to concentrations high enough to inhibit protein synthesis by Propionibacterium acnes and Staphylococcus epidermidis.
Azelaic acid isn’t commonly associated with side effects. When there are reactions, they tend to be very mild in nature and include stinging or burning on application, and skin dryness. Though that may be the case for some people, it doesn’t actually damage the skin barrier or cause transepidermal water loss (TEWL).
What Are the Best Products With Azelaic Acid?
You can easily find products with azelaic acid wherever you purchase your favorite skin care products. As people are catching on to its effectiveness, it’s becoming more and more accessible. Here are a few of our favorites:
The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%
We always love to see quality skincare products with truly effective ingredients offered at a price point where the general population doesn’t have to forego lunch to fund the purchase. The Ordinary rarely lets us down. Not only is this one on our favorites list, but over and over, this one seems to be the winner of everyone’s popularity contest.
Priced around $8, The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%is awesome for oily to combination skin types. This thick, silicone-based cream-gel works to tone down oily, acne-prone skin. It touts a high concentration of azelaic acid at 10%, which just so happens to be the ideal effective concentration. Apply over your moisturizer (yes, that’s opposite of what you usually do), as it’s very thick! The texture is similar to a primer and very velvety.
Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster
Here’s another popular product that we’ve found to have the ability to deliver just what it promises. That’s no surprise because this one, as well, offers a 10% concentration of azelaic acid. Giving hyper-pigmentation a kick to the curb, Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster also includes salicylic acid and licorice root to give it a boost.
Unlike The Ordinary’s, the texture is easily spreadable.
DermaDoctor PhotoDynamic Therapy Age Spot Eraser & Skin Brightener
This one doesn’t just tone down age spots, but it also works to brighten your skin, in general. To do that, azelaic acid is paired with other brightening actives like licorice root, mulberry, and bearberry extracts. Beta-carotene adds an additional anti-aging component.
A little on the creamy side, you may be able to skip your evening moisturizer in lieu of using DermaDoctor PhotoDynamic Therapy Age Spot Eraser & Skin Brightener, but your skin will be illuminated with a healthy glow. This multi-action cream also visibly reduces fine lines, as well.