Azelaic Acid

The underrated multitasking ingredient!

Azelaic Acid before and after pictures taken 1 month apart

Last month my friend had a sudden acne breakout on her left cheek. It was this one big spot — dark in color and large enough to be visible from a distance. Given her sensitive skin, she needed something that would be gentle yet effective. But more importantly an ingredient that would treat and prevent the associated stubborn hyperpigmentation. Let me remind you that skin of color is naturally predisposed to discoloration in case of any inflammation to the skin.

So, drumroll for Azelaic Acid! The ingredient worked like magic — her before and after pictures are proof enough. The acne has gone, discoloration has faded (almost vanished), but the best part is that the overall skin texture and brightness have improved drastically. And this is just after 1 month of use — with continued use her skin is only going to get better.

What is Azelaic Acid and what are its benefits?

Azelaic acid is naturally produced in our skin by yeast i.e., the good bacteria. But it can also be derived from grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. You won’t see it in a ton of skincare products as it can be tricky to formulate. But if done correctly can-do wonders for the skin -

  1. Fights acne — It’s a must have ingredient if you are dealing with any sort of acne (e.g., cystic, bacterial, fungal). It’s -
  • Anti-bacterial — kills P.Acne (acne causing bacteria), and unlike traditional treatments it doesn’t grow resistant to P.Acne.
  • Anti-inflammatory — reduces the redness and irritation that comes with inflammation.
  • Anti-keratinizingresearch shows it prevents the buildup of dead skin cells, so they won’t fall into your pores and cause breakouts.

Azelaic acid is as effective as traditional acne treatments, but without the harsh and often irritating side effects. Research shows that azelaic acid 15% is as effective as 5% benzoyl peroxide (most common ingredient for acne treatment). Another study shows that azelaic acid 20% is as effective as 0.05% tretinoin (i.e., retinoid) without the side effects. So, if you are looking at a gentler alternative to treat acne, go for azelaic acid.

2. Lightens hyperpigmentation (dark spots, acne marks, melasma) — Hydroquinone is often considered the gold standard when it comes to treating hyperpigmentation. However, it’s use has been associated with adverse side effects such as skin irritation and permanent discoloration in skin of color. No wonder it’s banned in many countries with many others requiring prescriptions; in the US you can buy it over the counter but only for a lower strength (up to 4%). So why fret when there is a better alternative! Research shows that azelaic acid is as effective as hydroquinone in treating hyperpigmentation.

3. Heals rosaceaResearch indicates that azelaic acid 15% can significantly decrease papulopustular rosacea (characterized by whiteheads — generally pus-filled, red and swollen bumps) in 6 months. Rosacea as we all know is a chronic skin condition and can be very difficult to treat. But azelaic acid does a very good job of keeping it in check.

4. Exfoliates dead skin — Azelaic acid does act as a mild exfoliant but don’t compare it to the exfoliating powerhouses such as glycolic, lactic, or salicylic acid. Instead, use them together in your routine to improve skin texture and brightness.

How to use Azelaic Acid?

  • If you are dealing with acne, hyperpigmentation, or rosacea azelaic acid is a must have in your skincare regimen.
  • As with any skincare product do a patch test before applying on the face. After cleansing apply only a pea-sized amount to affected skin and follow with a moisturizer (can be used 1–2 times a day). Azelaic acid is generally well tolerated even by sensitive skin types and has no side effects, but in rare cases it may cause dryness on application. This can be countered by applying it on top of your moisturizer.
  • Since azelaic acid is naturally produced in the skin, it is safe to use when pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Most of the research has been done on 15–20% concentrations of azelaic acid, but lower doses work perfectly well too. If you have mild acne or discoloration stick to 10%, it’ll be enough to get you results. If you are suffering from severe acne and hyperpigmentation, get a higher strength prescription from your dermatologist.
  • Products

The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%

Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster

The bottom line….

Azelaic acid has long existed under the radar, but truly deserves all the recognition and a coveted spot in our vanities. It works for all skin types and is especially great for sensitive skin.

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Science-based Skin Coach + Educator + Writer. Acne Warrior, Melanin guru and Overall Skin Nerd. Follow me on Instagram @nishthasinghofficial.

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Simplifying Skincare

Simplifying Skincare

Science-based Skin Coach + Educator + Writer. Acne Warrior, Melanin guru and Overall Skin Nerd. Follow me on Instagram @nishthasinghofficial.

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