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Azelaic Acid – Skincare’s Best-Kept Acne-Fighting Secret

azelaic acid

A name like azelaic acid may make it sound like a substance that Batman is suspended above by the Joker in a comic or movie before making it out alive at the last minute. 

It’s not as intimidating or as menacing as it might seem, and it won’t strip you down to your bones!

Instead, azelaic acid is a beauty ingredient that has likely slipped under your radar. More prominent competitors such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide and glycolic acid often take centre stage as the go-to solutions for acne and penetrating to unclog your pores.  

However, while it may not be the first thing that comes to mind, azelaic acid is a fantastic natural exfoliant that can work wonders as a multifunctional skincare ingredient to combat numerous skin woes.

Are you curious? We thought you might be. Are you confused? Almost certainly. But don’t sweat it!

We’re here to tell you all there is to know about azelaic acid, including what it is, its various benefits, and how to use it.

So, without further delay, let’s get started!

What is Azelaic Acid?

what is azelaic acid

Azelaic acid is a naturally-occurring dicarboxylic acid that has shown positive results in treating comedonal acne and inflammation.

For those who may not know, comedones are a type of acne lesion spread across an area, causing raised, skin-coloured, small bumps, also known as papules. Papules are the small, solid, elevated bumps you sometimes see on your skin that don’t contain visible fluid.

Comedones range in type and severity, making them slightly more challenging to treat than an “average” pimple. They come up when excess sebum in your skin mixes with dead skin cells and becomes trapped in the hair follicle, creating a plug.  

This variation of acne is commonly seen among those with oilier skin types.

Unlike other acne forms, comedonal acne is non-inflammatory and does not present with the redness, inflammation, puss or bacteria commonly associated with “regular” pimples.

We place quotes around “average” and “regular” when discussing pimples because everyone’s skin is different, and there are multiple ways that acne presents.

That said, azelaic acid can help treat most types of acne.

Azelaic acid works as a natural exfoliant for the skin, and it’s naturally-produced on our bodies by the yeast it creates. 

For those who may be concerned, the type of yeast present on our skin, which falls under the Candida classification, is entirely unproblematic at normal levels. In increased amounts, an infection can occur.

Azelaic acid also occurs naturally in other things, including grains such as barley, wheat and rye.

In terms of skincare, azelaic acid is available in multiple forms, including gels, foaming cleansers, topical treatments and creams. There are over-the-counter options that contain smaller amounts, such as 10% or less. If you need something higher, you’ll need a prescription from a physician or dermatologist.

What are the Benefits of Azelaic Acid?

As we said initially, the beauty of azelaic acid is it can help with multiple skincare concerns. Due to its multifaceted healing properties, it is an overachiever when it comes to skincare ingredients.

Examples of areas where azelaic acid can prove useful include:

As a Gentle Exfoliant

Azelaic acid is a natural exfoliant that is fantastic for removing dead skin cells that may cause your skin to appear dull or, in worse cases, clog your pores and cause breakouts.

Without being too harsh, it can penetrate deep into your pores and remove potential toxins or buildup that could cause these issues. However, it is still gentle enough to be safe to use directly on your skin.

As an Acne Treatment

Using azelaic acid for acne is an incredibly effective method as it possesses anti-inflammatory properties. These elements help acne appear less visible, red and irritated.

Azelaic acid has also been proven to be effective in combatting non-inflammatory lesions, such as comedonal acne, which we discussed previously.

Additionally, it is able to clear your pores of bacteria, dead skin buildup, and other potential toxins that could cause irritation or breakouts.

For Evening Out Skin Tone

Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, using azelaic acid has proven to be useful for adjusting hyperpigmentation from acne breakouts and discoloured cells.

These properties also make it a promising treatment for symptoms of rosacea. In clinical studies, a topical azelaic acid gel used continuously has been shown to improve the appearance of visible blood vessels and swelling caused by rosacea.

Azelaic acid can do this because it inhibits the enzyme tyrosinase, which causes pigmentation.

Is it Safe?

While adverse reactions to using azelaic acid are minimal, it is possible to experience slight irritation.

Compared to other acne-fighting products, such as salicylic acid, glycolic acid or benzoyl peroxide, it is a more mild acid type. It is important to note here, however, that since it is milder, it may be considered less effective than these counterparts for combatting conditions such as acne.

That said, its gentler nature also makes it friendlier for sensitive skin types who may be more prone to adverse reactions from harsher treatments. Whichever skin type you have, as with any new product that you wish to incorporate into your routine, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Perform a patch test on the skin on the inside of your arm, wait for it to dry, and see if any stinging, tingling, redness or irritation occurs. If it doesn’t, you’re all good to go!

Additionally, as we said earlier, there are over the counter options for products that contain 10% azelaic acid or less. If you’re looking for something stronger, consult your dermatologist or doctor to receive a prescription.

How to Use Azelaic Acid

how to use azelaic acid

While azelaic acid products come in various forms, the most popular by far are topical treatments.

If you have normal or combination skin, you can apply a thin layer of it on clean, dry skin twice a day, in the morning and at night. If you have more sensitive skin, we would recommend using it every other day.

Apply a small, pea-sized amount on your hand and spread it evenly over your face and neck. To help it absorb more readily, we recommend applying either glycolic acid or salicylic acid first to open up your skin and pores, making it easier for the azelaic acid to penetrate deeper.

After that, follow up with a hydrating moisturizer, either day cream or night cream, and sunscreen with at least 30 SPF, if you’re using it in the morning.

It’s that simple!

Azelaic Acid – A Suitable Acne Treatment for Sensitive Skin

Acne and other flare-up skin conditions can be a real drag, especially if you have sensitive skin. You want them to go away, but using harsh treatments can have the opposite effect and only serve to make matters worse.

Luckily, azelaic acid is a gentle exfoliant suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin, to alleviate the look of breakouts, spots and hyperpigmentation. So, all there is to do is bask in the glory of gorgeous, gleaming skin.

Whether you choose a spot treatment or an all-over topical solution, this product is an excellent item to add to your regimen. However, as always, be sure to perform a patch test to see how your skin reacts.

Enjoy your healthy, clear skin!