Is Azelaic Acid Actually Good For Acne?



What Is Azelaic Acid?

Azelaic acid is a skincare ingredient that has been making the rounds in skincare blogs and product reviews. However, in the mainstream it is not an ingredient that is particularly well known. 

Derived from wheat and barley, azelaic acid has been used in a variety of skincare applications, including products marketed for the treatment of acne, brightening of hyperpigmentation, and promoting skin healing, among others. Azelaic acid is a dicarboxylic acid that helps to exfoliate the skin, removing dead skin cells and promoting skin cell turnover. It may also have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that may boost its ability to improve the appearance of the skin.

Azelaic Acid

the good:Helps to improve skin cell turnover, improving the appearance of acne, and reducing skin cell build-up that is associated with acne.

the not so good:Azelaic acid can be irritating to some skin types.

Who is it for?All skin types except those that have an identified allergy to it.

Synergetic ingredients:Works well with most ingredients but works well with AHAs, BHAs and retinol to produce quicker results.

Keep an eye on:Speak to your doctor or dermatologist about using this ingredient.

What Are The Benefits of Azelaic Acid?

Azelaic acid is usually used in high concentrations in prescription acne and rosacea products such as Finacea and Azelex. Its main mechanism of action is considered to be its ability to exfoliate and increase skin cell turnover, helping reduce skin cell build up that is often associated with breakouts and give your skin that even appearance. 



Azelaic acid may help to exfoliate the dead skin cells that are often linked with dull skin tone and clogged pores. Some research has suggested that exfoliation may help the skin to improve its own ability to hydrate effectively and function properly. 



Azelaic acid is thought to reduce inflammation, which can be very helpful for individuals with severe acne or rosacea. Azelaic acid is often used by dermatologists to soothe irritated or angry skin. However, it is not a one size fits all and you should speak with your dermatologist to determine if it may help you. 



Another use for azelaic acid is to brighten dark spots on the face, neck, hands, and other parts of the body that have hyperpigmentation. These issues typically occur due to sun damage, which causes melanin pigment to cluster into spots of various sizes. Azelaic acid has been shown to help post-inflammatory pigmentation, think of the pigmentation that is left behind after you have a breakout. 

However, if you are looking to treat hyperpigmentation alone, there are probably better options out there. Azelaic acid is primarily used for exfoliation and the reduction in visible pigmentation is a secondary effect. 


Skin Damage

Azelaic acid is also thought to address general skin damage due to its antioxidant properties. As an antioxidant, azelaic acid helps to reduce the number of free radicals. Free radicals are caused by factors such as the sun, smoking and diet, damaging the skin cells and collagen. It is thought that free radicals are a major driver behind some of the aging processes. Antioxidants like azelaic acid may help to reduce the free radicals and minimise the damage caused by these factors. Besides azelaic acid, other antioxidants include ingredients like vitamins C and E, green tea, lycopene, and niacinamide.



Research has suggested that azelaic acid may also be beneficial in helping improve the appearance of rosacea. Through exfoliation there are fewer dead skin cells that are present to clog pores and cause inflammation. It is also considered a good option for rosacea as it is gentle and less irritating than other options such as BHAs. 

Why is Azelaic Acid Under the Radar?

So if azelaic acid can be so effective for a variety of skin concerns, why don’t more people know about it? Why are salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and benzoyl peroxide household names, while this ingredient is so obscure?

One of the reasons why azelaic acid isn’t discussed more often can be attributed to effective concentrations. For example, although prescription azelaic acid can show meaningful results due to high concentrations of this chemical, skincare products may not be potent enough to produce visible results quickly. And because the average consumer does not have the time (or sometimes money) to visit a doctor for a prescription, azelaic acid remains obscure.

Another reason why this chemical doesn’t receive more attention can be attributed to its image as a jack of all trades. When a chemical shows promise in addressing a variety of skin concerns, it can sometimes be viewed by skincare experts as being too broad. Hence, instead of suggesting azelaic acid cream, many clinicians and professionals may default to more targeted ingredients, like retinol or hydroquinone.

What Are The Side Effects of Azelaic Acid?

The potential side effects of azelaic acid cream will depend on the concentration of the cream. Over the counter, products are less likely to cause an adverse reaction, as opposed to the stronger prescription creams.

Some of the side effects of azelaic acid include a sensation of burning and stinging on the skin. Redness and skin-drying are also possible side effects that should be monitored closely. Allergic reaction, like difficulty breathing or hives, is also a possibility with this ingredient.

Those who are planning to use creams with this ingredient on a long term basis should be especially vigilant about side effects like irritation, inflammation and dryness.

To reduce the chances of serious side effects, it’s advisable to use azelaic acid products under the guidance of a dermatologist or primary care physician.

Is Azelaic Acid Vegan? 

Azelaic acid is a naturally occuring acid that is derived from wheat, barley and rye. Azelaic acid is not derived from any animal or animal byproduct ingredients. 

If you are looking for a vegan product make sure to double check the other ingredients and ensure the brand is cruelty-free.

Is Azelaic Acid Gluten Free?

While azelaic acid is produced from non-gluten free based ingredients, the amount of gluten that may be present is not likely to cause any issues for those who are gluten sensitive or celiac. 

Studies suggest that gluten containing body products only pose an issue to those with celiac disease when large quantities of the product are ingested. As celiac disease and gluten intolerance, both are gut-based conditions the gluten-containing product would need to be ingested for it to cause any harm. 

There is no evidence to suggest that gluten can be absorbed through the skin, causing a reaction or increasing inflammatory markers in your blood. Some people with celiac disease may experience a type of dermatitis which is caused by the ingestion of gluten rather than topical exposure.

Jones D, 2009. ‘Rosacea, Reactive Oxygen Species, and Azelaic Acid. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, vol. 2, is. 1, pp. 26-30.
Del Rosso J, 2017. ‘Azelaic Acid Topical Formulations: Differentiation of 15% Gel and 15% Foam’, The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, vol. 10, is. 3, pp. 37-40.
Nazzarro-Porro, M, 1987. ‘Azelaic Acid’, Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology’, vol. 17, is. 6, pp. 921-1112.



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