Is this the first time you're hearing the term azelaic acid? We wouldn't be surprised. As you might have noticed by reading our blog - or just browsing skincare and beauty journals in general - some substances are more popular than others.
For example, when treating signs of aging such as pigmentation, wrinkles, or scars, and acne breakouts, the consensus is that four "miracle" acids are all you need: glycolic acid, salicylic acid, lactic acid, and hyaluronic acid.
Glycolic acid (which is an AHA - alpha hydroxy acid) is a very efficient exfoliator, masterfully sweeping away all the dead skin cells cluttering our skin. For something similar to glycolic acid but milder, you are often recommended lactic acid (also an AHA).
For a deeper and more thorough cleaning regimen, we (and others) have recommended introducing salicylic acid into your skin care routine. Salicylic acid (a BHA, or beta hydroxy acid) "melts down" the oily links between dead cells. And, being oil-soluble, it cleans pores from the inside.
Finally, there is the gentle, amazing, and natural hyaluronic acid, which fights acne and offers all sorts of subtle but noticeable benefits for younger-looking skin.
And now for something different. What is azelaic acid, and why should you care? Let's see.
What if there's a dermatologically approved acid that combines all the benefits of the acids mentioned above? Sounds incredible, doesn't it? But it's true - azelaic acid is exactly that. Dermatologists put azelaic acid up there with the best treatments for acne breakouts.
But don't let the word "acid" throw you off. Azelaic acid is pretty natural and occurs in many plants, particularly in grains such as rye, wheat, barley, and so on.
Azelaic acid has found use in skincare and dermatology because it possesses several anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Those properties make azelaic acid a very good treatment for skin conditions such as rosacea, acne, and various other forms of topical or atopical dermatitis. Additionally, azelaic acid is a pretty efficient cleansing agent and removes dead skin cells, unclogging your pores from all the random dust, sebum (skin oil), and bacteria.
However, azelaic acid takes its time, which is why you rarely hear about it. People want more immediate results, which makes skincare companies promote harsher substances like beta hydroxy acids. But azelaic acid isn't entirely gentle, and, like other acids, its side effects include dryness, skin irritation, flaking, peeling, and burning sensations.
In skin care, azelaic acid usually comes in the shape of creams, gels, foams, and more. Sometimes, azelaic acid is used in prescribed medications or in tandem with stronger acne treatments. Those options usually contain a greater concentration of the acid. But rest assured, azelaic acid can be found in many over-the-counter products (such as azelaic acid cream or gel), albeit with smaller concentrations.
Okay, now we know what azelaic acid is and where to find it, but… why? What makes azelaic acid suitable for treating acne and its aftermath, such as damaged skin and scars?
Well, azelaic acid has many benefits. Trials and studies have "established that topical azelaic acid (a 20% cream) is an effective treatment for all types of acne".
Azelaic acid works by cleaning your skin and unclogging your pores. This topical treatment can prevent moderate acne since clogged pores are the first link in the chain of processes that cause it.
In addition to cleaning your skin, azelaic acid has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. This acid defuses your body's inflammatory and auto-immune responses, calming it down and soothing your skin. In turn, the soreness, sensitivity, pain, and redness subside.
All right, maybe you have acne, but you don't have to suffer so much from it, right? When it comes to this skin condition, Azelaic acid is your friend.
Another subtle but gradually powerful property of azelaic acid is that it boosts several skin processes, promoting cell turnover.
In case you didn't know, our skin has a natural, spontaneous way of exfoliating itself. That process is called desquamation. During it, old skin cells die, then get broken up and cleared out, while new cells replace them. Azelaic acid optimizes this process, making your skin renew itself faster, which means a quicker reduction of wrinkles and a lesser likelihood of scar formation.
You can also try alpha hydroxy acid chemical peels for the same effect.
The synthesis of melanin, also known as melanosynthesis, is in charge of regulating our skin color. By producing more melanin, or less, this process causes uneven skin tone, making our skin darker or lighter. This is especially important if you struggle with blemishes, hyperpigmentation, dark spots, or discoloration.
Since azelaic acid slows down (and sometimes freezes) the production of melanin, it's well-suited for people who want to combat dark spots, dark patches, and hyperpigmentation, preventing discoloration and long-term scarring.
This miracle worker has skin-lightening effects, acting as a skin bleacher or whitener, which can also help dull skin tone. Azelaic acid stops the multiplication of discolored cells, keeping our skin close to its natural color. This property, along with azelaic acid's anti-inflammatory properties, makes it very effective at preventing the appearance of scars or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation on both lighter and darker skin tones.
Since it's a powerful anti-inflammatory agent with antibacterial properties, topical azelaic acid can be an effective treatment for alleviating rosacea symptoms. Since rosacea is complicated and exacerbated by the inflammatory processes that drive it, azelaic acid can reduce redness, visible blood vessels, and other unpleasant symptoms by reducing inflammation. Additionally, azelaic acid can reduce the occasional swelling that rosacea causes.
Azelaic acid comes in many skincare products. Most companies include this ingredient in foams, gels, and cream forms. Regardless of the product, the basic instructions for using azelaic acid are roughly the same.
First, wash your face. You can use warm water or mild soap, but the area you want to treat with the azelaic acid product must be as clean as possible. After washing, pat dry with a clean towel. Then take the product and apply a small amount of the azelaic acid gel or cream over the desired area. You should rub it gently, ensuring it seeps into the skin.
If you use azelaic acid to treat acne, leave the area alone and let this ingredient absorb into the skin and work its magic. You'll reap azelaic acid's benefits in no time.
A word of caution, though: never use deep cleansing cleansers or astringent products when using azelaic acid to treat acne. This can damage your skin and cause pain, and you don't want that. Follow it up with a hydrating moisturizer, such as the Wrinkle-Free All Day Moisturizer.
As for the frequency of using azelaic acid, it varies from person to person. While some people use it twice a day, using it once should be enough. Your best bet is to follow the instructions that come with the product.
If you experience any side effects, stop using the product right away. To avoid injury, perform a patch test before using a product.
Most people won't experience any side effects when using an over-the-counter product that contains azelaic acid due to its small concentration. However, if you use too much of the product, regardless of its instructions, or alternatively, if you have sensitive skin, you may experience the following side effects:
While most of these, especially dry skin can be managed, in rare cases, azelaic acid can cause more serious side effects in rare cases:
You're more likely to experience milder side effects. But, if you experience serious side effects or other adverse reactions, stop using azelaic acid immediately and seek medical advice from your doctor and dermatologist. Provided you didn't use azelaic acid to shower yourself, those reactions may be a symptom of an underlying, serious medical condition.
In general, the benefits of azelaic acid generally outweigh the risks.
All skin types should do a patch test before trying azelaic acid products.
Additionally, you should wear sunscreen when using products containing this skin care ingredient. Azelaic can make your skin slightly thinner, making it more sensitive to sunlight, sunburns, and hyperpigmentation.
Azelaic acid is gluten-free.
Azelaic acid is milder than alpha hydroxy or salicylic acid. It's a natural substance produced naturally in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley. It's generally safe to use, and it cleans your skin and pores thoroughly.
Azelaic acid is often used with other treatments, like Accutane or Retin-A medications or benzoyl peroxide. It is effective at treating acne, acne scars, rosacea, uneven skin tone, and other skin conditions. If you're wary about trying azelaic acid as an acne treatment or have sensitive skin, discuss the issue with your doctor or a board-certified dermatologist. They can recommend a product or determine the best prescription strength for your skin.
This information is meant to supplement, not replace advice from your doctor or healthcare provider and is not meant to cover all possible uses, precautions, interactions or adverse effects. This information may not fit your specific health circumstances, and its goal is to offer a general view of the subject. In case you are suffering from a severe case of acne, you should consult with a dermatologist or a certified medical professional.