What Does Azelaic Acid Do? (Apparently a Lot)
Hyaluronic, glycolic and salicylic acid: Most of us have heard of these skincare ingredients before, but there’s another ingredient you may want to familiarize yourself with (especially if you deal with acne, hyperpigmentation or rosacea) and that’s azelaic acid.
While “must try” skincare ingredients are a dime a dozen these days thanks to TikTok, azelaic acid has some solid research (and no shortage of glowing testimonials) behind it. A big part of its appeal lies in its versatility, as it can be used to treat several skin concerns at once and is compatible with most other active ingredients, so you can easily add it to your existing routine. We tapped two experts to break down the many benefits of using azelaic acid on your skin.
Meet the Experts
- Dr. Michele Farber is a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group.
- Dr. Azadeh Shirazi is a board-certified dermatologist at La Jolla Laser Dermatology.
What exactly does azelaic acid do for your skin?
Azelaic acid has been shown to block tyrosinase (aka the enzyme that’s responsible for producing melanin or pigment in your skin), which makes it an effective fighter against hyperpigmentation.
But overall, it’s a Jack (or Jill) of all trades. “Azelaic acid is a great multitasking ingredient that helps with acne and uneven pigment. It also has antibacterial properties to treat acne, unclogs pores and acts as a keratolytic and an exfoliant to help brighten skin,” says Dr. Farber. Like glycolic acid, it helps to loosen the connective glue that holds the top layer of skin cells together, so they don’t clog pores and it clears the way for fresh cells to come to the surface.
So, perhaps a better question is what doesn’t it do for your skin?
Who could benefit from using azelaic acid?
If you’re dealing with breakouts, brown spots or rosacea, azelaic acid could be worth looking into. It is particularly well-suited for people with combination or oily skin and it’s also worth noting that azelaic acid is one of the very few ingredients that’s considered safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women (which is welcome news considering the acne and melasma that sometimes comes with hormonal changes).
On the other hand, if you’re not experiencing any of the aforementioned concerns and are just enticed by the buzz, we’d share what our derm friends always say to us whenever we ask for skincare advice: Less is more (meaning don’t overcomplicate your routine if you don’t need to).
Who should stay away from azelaic acid?
In general, azelaic acid is well tolerated by most people. However, as always is the case when testing new skincare ingredients out, we’d recommend speaking with your dermatologist beforehand (especially if you have very sensitive skin that tends to burn or sting easily, or you’re on a prescribed regimen already).
How to use azelaic acid
This is one ingredient that’s safe to use during the day or at night (or both day and night depending on your skin type and individual needs). Whether you decide to go with an over-the-counter formula or a prescription strength version, Dr. Farber recommends applying a thin layer over clean, dry skin after cleansing or toning. Then top it off with a moisturizer or an SPF in the morning.
What to avoid while using azelaic acid
Luckily, this is one ingredient that plays well with many other commonly used actives like AHAs or niacinamide. One pairing to maybe skip is BHAs and azelaic acid, as the combo can be too harsh for some. “You want to avoid using azelaic acid over other exfoliating ingredients such as glycolic or salicylic acid, as it may compound the effects and disrupt the skin barrier leading to irritation,” says Dr. Shirazi.
But if you want to use both ingredients, we’d suggest using them on alternate days or applying one in the morning and one at nighttime.“It is best, particularly in sensitive skin, to get used to azelaic acid before adding in other potentially drying ingredients like retinols, AHAs or BHAs. Once your skin tolerates azelaic acid, using these ingredients together can help to enhance overall results,” adds Dr. Farber. (And because it bears repeating: Always wear sunscreen before you head outside.)
OK, ready to shop some over-the-counter options ahead?