What Is Azelaic Acid And What Are Its Skincare Benefits?

What Is Azelaic Acid And What Are Its Skincare Benefits?

Now I know some of you may be groaning at the thought of having to learn about yet another facial acid. But this particular acid is really something special. If you have a skin that is prone to breakouts or other concerns, such as rosacea then azelaic is the acid for you.

What is azelaic acid?

Azelaic acid is derived from grains such as barley, wheat and rye which is used in skincare as a potent chemical exfoliant with antioxidant properties to aid the skin in calming and reducing any factors that contribute to it becoming inflamed,  breakouts, irritation or suffering from redness.

It is one of the lesser-known acids with constant ongoing medical studies about its effects of the skin which also means you’ll find it hard to find it in a lot of skincare products, though, in a way, that makes it far more interesting and somewhat of a holy grail ingredient.

High percentages of azelaic are found through prescription products, concentrates as high as 20% can be found in these formulas whilst over the counter products contain significantly less but are still considered to be highly effective and a great starting off point for anyone wanting to add azelaic acid into their everyday skincare routine. As always, we suggest you seek advice from your dermatologist before using azelaic acid.

What does azelaic acid do for the skin?

As previously mentioned azelaic acid is a lesser-known and can be quite difficult to find in over the counter products, it is also notoriously hard to formulate into skincare serums and moisturisers. For the brands that have found the winning blend and you will find you have a number of results after using azelaic enriched products and signs of common skin concerns will be reduced, such as:

  • Frequent blemishes and spots
  • Pigmentation spots and uneven skin tone
  • Scars and uneven texture of the skin
  • Dull and lack lustre complexions
  • Increased sensitivity and redness

Azelaic acid is able to benefit the skin by ensuring skin cells are behaving themselves and helping the upper layer of the skin to remain at its healthiest state and smoothest appearance. Though azelaic acid is sometimes mistaken as a member of the extensive AHA and BHA family, it is, in fact, a stand-alone skincare ingredient that is less potent than other well-known acids, such as salicylic or lactic. This doesn’t mean it is not as effective and can be easily added into a routine where AHAs and BHAs already exist allowing your routine to gain an extra skin reviving boost. By using a mixture of these skin ingredients together you will combat blemish breakouts, uneven skin tone and minimise signs of ageing.

You can find out more about Alpha Hydroxy Acids and Beta Hydroxy Acids in our complete guide to AHAs and BHAs to gather a better understanding of which acid will work best for your skin type and concerns.

Can you use azelaic acid every day?

Yes, you can! Azelaic acid has had a majority of medical research performed on prescription level products which have shown the ingredient to be stable enough to be used every day, morning and evening. Bear in mind that azelaic acid can be quite drying to the skin and in some cases can cause peeling. To prevent this introduce the acid slowly into your routine at first, only using it in the evenings followed with hydrating and nourishing oils or moisturisers. Once your skin has built it’s tolerance you can then use it every day, but always ensure you use a daily SPF of 30 or above to protect the skin from harmful UV rays and sun damage.

When should azelaic acid be used in your routine?

For an ingredient as active as azelaic acid, using products that remain on the skin for longer amounts of time will be the most beneficial. Face washes and cleansers are a very important part of any skincare routine but have less time to work on the skin as they are rinsed off the skin. Opting for serums and moisturiser will allow the acid to get to work at buffing away dead skin cells, lightening pigmentation spots and signs of ageing. Once you have used an azelaic acid-enriched serum or moisturiser I would recommend following that with a hydrating, gel-like formula with high concentrates of hyaluronic acid to help prevent any drying and restore the balance back into the skin.

What are the side effects of using azelaic acid?

The most common side effect you can experience when using azelaic acid are:

  • Burning
  • Tingling on the skin
  • Peeling skin on areas after application
  • Dryness
  • Redness

To combat these concerns you can follow some simple steps, such as applying hydrating moisturisers and ensuring you always use SPF during the day, even when it’s overcast. There are also less common side effects that can occur if you find you are suffering from any of the following stop using azelaic acid and consult your doctor for further advice.

Less common reactions

  • Blistering skin
  • Irritation
  • Swelling
  • Hives and itching
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tightness and painful joints
  • Fever

Performing a patch test for 24 hours when you first try introducing azelaic acid into your routine is highly recommended. Should there be any signs of skin reaction do not apply the doctor to the skin and ask for help from your doctor.   

Well, at least now you can tick azelaic acid off your list of “potent skin ingredients I need to know about” Although it still has a slight cloud of mystery surrounding it due to the fact it is not as well studied as other facial acids it is certainly building in popularity throughout the skincare gurus and other experts who are in the know. With its capability to treat the skin of any persistent concerns, like blemishes and rosacea who knows how many skin rejuvenating tricks it has up its sleeve!


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