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Here’s Why Azelaic Acid Is So Good for Battling Acne and Dark Spots

Your complete guide to azelaic acid in skincare.
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In the not-so-distant past, speaking about the use of acids for skincare sounded pretty odd. But nowadays, we all know about the whole package of benefits that acids like glycoliclactic, and salicylic can deliver to the skin. This makes us constantly hunting for new acids that can bring out a resilient, bouncy, and even complexion. And rumors have it that azelaic can help with that. Hence, today we set out to reveal all about the benefits of azelaic acid, what it does and what skin concerns it can address. Now let’s check if this acid is worthy of your skincare collection.

What is azelaic acid?

Lovers of natural skincare will be glad to hear that azelaic is a naturally-derived compound found in barley, rye, and grain but can also be lab-made. It has potent antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, and it’s often used to treat acne and lighten skin discoloration such as melasma.[1][4] Although azelaic acid doesn’t belong to either AHA or BHA family, it still has an exfoliant effect that boosts cell turnover. Actually, this is not the only perk azelaic acid comes with — more on that later.

How is it different from other acids?

Think of azelaic as a milder member of the acid family. It acts similar to other skincare acids, but with minimal irritation. Thus, your skin is less sun-sensitive with azelaic acid use, but that doesn’t mean you should skip sunscreen!

What does it do to your skin?

Here’s how azelaic acid can improve your skin appearance:

Tackles acne

First, since azelaic acid is an anti-keratinizing agent, it helps prevent the buildup of dead cells and congestion. That, in addition to the antibacterial and anti-inflammatory activities, makes azelaic acid a great candidate to battle acne, working to lessen pimples and reduce further breakouts.

And if you wonder about its effectiveness, studies found that the results obtained with a 20% azelaic acid-containing cream in the treatment of mild to moderate acne are comparable to that of 0.05% tretinoin and 5% benzoyl peroxide — two of the most powerful acne-fighters.[2] But the catch here is that, unlike its counterparts, azelaic acid is more tolerable with a favorable safety profile, getting the job done without severe adverse effects.

Calms rosacea and improves skin clarity

A lesser-known fact about azelaic acid is that it possesses antioxidant power, too, neutralizing free radicals and reducing environmental damage.[3] This makes azelaic acid effective in soothing rosacea as well as for relieving inflammations and redness — studies prove it.

Reduces skin discolorations

If dark spots, like those left by sun damage or acne scars, concern you, azelaic acid could be your ticket to a smooth and even complexion. This is because azelaic acid can lighten skin discolorations by inhibiting tyrosinase activity — the enzyme responsible for melanin production (skin-darkening pigment). For reference, the twice-daily application of 20% azelaic acid was shown to be as effective as 4% hydroquinone, which is the gold standard treatment for hyperpigmentation.[5]

Who should use it?

Azelaic acid can tackle a wide array of skin concerns, and as you may have guessed, it’s especially good for acne, uneven skin tone (think dark spots, melasma), rosacea, and rough patches. Besides, due to its minimal side effects, azelaic acid is suitable for all skin types, including oily, breakout-prone, and sensitive skins. Also, it’s one of the few acids suitable for pregnant women with problematic complexions. But, of course, in the case of pregnancy and breastfeeding, you should seek medical advice before adding azelaic acid into your skincare routine.

How to use azelaic acid

If you are new to this acid, I suggest you start applying your azelaic acid product every other day to see how your skin reacts to it. But generally, it’s safe to use in the morning and evening. 

Besides, azelaic aid works well in combination with almost any product. But for instance, if you use retinol in your beauty routine, apply azelaic acid on alternatives days or just in the morning and leave the retinol for PM. And never skip SPF the following day!

Side effects

Side effects when using azelaic acid are rare and can include skin dryness, itching, peeling, or redness.

Is there something azelaic can’t do?

As good as it is, azelaic acid is not magical. It can lighten the skin up to two tones and has no depigmenting activity on normal skin, but on dark patches only. Azelaic acid is also effective for mild to moderate acne, but for severe conditions, it should be used in conjunction with other treatments such as AHAs, BHAs, or retinoids. Plus, it’s not useful for age spots either.


References

  1. Fitton A, Goa KL. Azelaic acid. A review of its pharmacological properties and therapeutic efficacy in acne and hyperpigmentary skin disorders. Drugs. 1991 May;41(5):780-98. doi: 10.2165/00003495-199141050-00007. PMID: 1712709.
  2. Graupe K, Cunliffe WJ, Gollnick HP, Zaumseil RP. Efficacy and safety of topical azelaic acid (20 percent cream): an overview of results from European clinical trials and experimental reports. Cutis. 1996 Jan;57(1 Suppl):20-35. PMID: 8654128.
  3. Jones DA. Rosacea, reactive oxygen species, and azelaic AcidJ Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2009;2(1):26-30.
  4. Sieber MA, Hegel JK. Azelaic acid: Properties and mode of action. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014;27 Suppl 1:9-17. doi: 10.1159/000354888. Epub 2013 Nov 13. PMID: 24280644.
  5. Farshi S. Comparative study of therapeutic effects of 20% azelaic acid and hydroquinone 4% cream in the treatment of melasma. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2011 Dec;10(4):282-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1473-2165.2011.00580.x. PMID: 22151936.
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