Azelaic acid is made by a naturally occurring yeast ( Malassezia furfur ) that lives harmlessly on our skin. The azelaic acid found in skincare products is made in a lab from wheat, rye and barley. This ensures consistency in dose, stability in formulas and effectiveness when applied to your skin.
This acid has been flying under the radar and is ready for its moment in the spotlight. It’s a very impressive compound that does great things for your skin with minimal irritation.
It kills bacteria, which is beneficial when treating some types of acne. It doesn’t cause antibiotic resistance and studies have shown that it is as effective as benzoyl peroxide with fewer side effects.
Azelaic acid is also effective in treating hyperpigmentation, rosacea, acne vulgaris, comedonal acne and melasma. It has mild exfoliating properties(keratolytic) which mean that is sloughs off dead skin cells and prevents microcomedones (baby pimples) from forming. It is also suitable for all skin types and can be used during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
7 Reasons To Love Azelaic Acid
Kills Acne Causing Bacteria
Azelaic acid has been used to treat acne rosacea, acne vulgaris, comedonal acne, and cystic acne since the mid-1990s.
The FDA approved azelaic acid as safe for cosmetic products in 1995. The first FDA approved product is Azelex it has a 20% concentration of azelaic acid. In 2002 Finacea a 15% azelaic acid gel was also approved.
Azelaic acid is antibacterial meaning that it can kill the bacteria (P.acnes) that causes acne. It does this by penetrating the stratum corneum and reducing the amount of free fatty acid that the bacteria live in. It also slices into the DNA of the bacteria and killing it.
Azelaic acid is not an antibiotic (which also kill bacteria), so you will not develop antibiotic resistance, which means it will always work at killing P.acnes. You will also not get the nasty side effects of constant antibiotic use.
Prevents Acne From Developing
Keeps pores clean and clear that’s good news for stopping pimples.
Acne develops in hair follicles when they become blocked with dead skin cells, sebum and bacteria. Blocked follicles or pores are the precursors to acne. As the debris in the blocked follicle occurs, the comedone/acne grows.
Azelaic acid is comedolytic, which means it stops the formation of comedones. It does this by normalising the number of cells the follicle makes. By stopping the cells from overproducing it greatly reduces the chances of new comedones forming.
AHA’s and BHA’s are also comedolytic.
Removes Dead Skin Cells.
Keratin is the main protein in skin cells. Keralotic properties in a compound like azelaic acid mean that it is capable of dissolving keratin. Azelaic acid is keratolytic, and this process speeds up the rate that dead skin cells get sloughed off the top of the skin’s surface. As the dead skin cells are removed, the fresh newer cells are relieved, making skin smoother and looking more radiant.
Lightens Melasma and Acne Scars
Treats hyperpigmentation and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH).
Azelaic acid lightens hyperpigmentation by reducing melanin production in overactive areas (dark spots on the skin). Azelaic acid limits melanin creation by inviting the enzyme tyrosinase. If less melanin is made, then the hyperpigmentation will fade.It is particularly good at fading dark patches that have not been caused by the sun, for example, melasma and acne scars. Azelaic acid is not as good at treating hyperpigmentation caused by the sun such as age spots/solar lentigines/sun spots and freckles. These are much better treated with products that contain kojic acid, hydroquinone and arbutin.
Azelaic Has Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Effective treatment for rosacea and inflamed acne Azelaic acid is anti-inflammatory, meaning it reduces redness, pain and swelling from rosacea, and inflamed acne. Rosacea is typically red and angry, and azelaic acid can calm this redness by soothing the underlying inflammation. Azelaic acid is gentle on sensitive and inflamed skin, making it one of the best ingredients to gently exfoliate and clear out pores without causing more irritation to rosacea or inflamed acne.
Pregnancy and Breast Feeding Safe
One of the few ingredients you can use while pregnant
Topical azelaic acid is safe to take if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. This is because only 4% of the dose is absorbed and azelaic acid is in foods, our bloodstream and breastmilk normally.
Don’t apply azelaic acid to the breast or nipple while breastfeeding as you don’t want your baby to come into direct contact with it.
Melasma is common during pregnancy, and as azelaic acid is one of the best treatments for acne, rosacea and melasma, it’s reassuring to know it won’t harm your baby.
You should always consult your OBGYN or dermatologist before starting any new treatment while pregnant or breastfeeding.
How To Use Azelaic Acid
Build up to it!
It would be best if you started by applying azelaic acid to the affected area once a day. Cleanse your skin first. Azelaic acid is a mild exfoliator, so you use it as your second step after cleansing.
If you tolerate azelaic acid well then work up to a using a generous amount twice a day. You can use it on your entire face (avoid eyes and lips) it breakdown dead skin cells and cleans out pore. This helps prevent micro comedones – think of these as baby pimples just waiting for any excuse to grow – and reduces bumpy textured skin.
Azelaic acid doesn’t increase your sun sensitivity risk, but you should always finish your morning skincare routine with a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
Does Azelaic Acid Have Side Effects?
Azelaic acid is not toxic, and because it occurs naturally in our bodies, it is normally well tolerated. However, you should stop using it and seek medical help if you develop:
Note: Slight tingling and redness are normal when applying azelaic acid.
FAQ’s About Azelaic Acid
Q. What is azelaic acid
Azelaic acid is a natural yeast that is found on healthy skin. In skincare products, a synthetic form of azelaic acid made from wheat or rye is used because of its effectiveness and dosage consistency.
Q. What is azelaic acid used for in skincare?
Azelaic is effective at treating:
- Many types of acne
- Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation
Q. What is azelaic acid skin benefits?
The top 7 benefits of azelaic acid are:
- It’s antibacterial – it kills and reduces the growth of bacteria that causes some types of acne (P.acnes).
- It’s Keraolytic – it dissolves the keratin a protein present in your skin. This has an exfoliating effect because the dead skin cells are more quickly sloughed off.
- It’s comedolytic – which means stops overproduction of skin cells growing in the lining of the follicles. An overgrowth of cells in a hair follicle is the start of acne forming.
- It’s an antioxidant – This means it ‘scavenges free radicals’. By neutralising free radicals, it reduces inflammation and redness.
- It is tyrosinase inhibitor – by stopping tyrosinase from trigger melanin (the pigment that causes darkening of the skin), it treats melasma, hyperpigmentation and acne scars.
- It is safe for all skin types/tones and textures.
- It occurs naturally in our bloodstream and is only absorbed in small amounts, so it is safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Q. What are normal side effects of applying azelaic acid topically?
- Mild tingling
- Mild Stinging
These are normal side effects. You should always patch test any new product in your skincare routine.
This means putting a small amount of azelaic acid on the inside of your wrist in the morning. If you don’t notice any redness, itching or reaction, then you should be good to apply it to your face.
Q. How long does azelaic acid take to work topically?
It can take up to 6 weeks of twice-daily application to notice improvements. The maximum effect is at around 6 months. You need to be consistent and always wear broad protection sunscreen with an SPF of 30 every day.
Q. Can azelaic acid be used as a face peel?
Azelaic acid is gentle, and its effectiveness builds up over time and with consistent use. If you want a ‘peel’, you should consult your dermatologist. High strength facial peels should never be done at home. Especially not on sensitive skin.
Q. Is azelaic acid effective on dark spots or freckles?
Azelaic acid can lighten dark spots, but it is not as effective at removing freckles. It works better on dark patches of skin that are not caused by sun damage, such as melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Azelaic acid does have some similarities with these ingredients because it has an exfoliating action in the skin. It doesn’t exfoliate in the same way. AHA’s, think glycolic acid are better at exfoliation for hyperpigmentation and BHA work by breaking down keratin; however, they can be very irritating.
Q. Can I use azelaic acid with alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA)?
This can be a great combination, especially if you’re treating dark patches or fine lines. It would be best to use caution because both of these acids have an exfoliating and potentially irritating effect on the skin.
Either use a product that has a low percentage of each ingredient or use AHA one day and azelaic acid the next.
Q. Can I use azelaic acid with salicylic acid?
This combination is a good choice if you want to treat acne vulgaris and comedonal acne. Look for a formulation that has a low percentage of each ingredient or use salicylic acid one day and azelaic acid the next.
Q. Can I use azelaic acid with retinol?
It is not recommended to use retinol with azelaic acid at the same time. This is because retinol can be very irritating and adding in azelaic acid will only increase the chance of irritatation.
You can try using azelaic acid in the morning and retinol at night if you want to get the benefits of both. Stop if your skin becomes irritated by using both of these ingredients.
Q. Can I use azelaic acid with vitamin C?
The strength of vitamin C will affect if you can use azelaic acid at the same time. Use vitamin C in the morning under your sunscreen. Vitamin C is a potent free radical warrior and also boosts the effectiveness of sunscreen. Use azelaic acid at night.
Q. Can azelaic acid remove acne scars?
Azelaic acid has been proven to be an effective way of reducing scarring so defiantly put it on your acne scars.
Q. Can azelaic acid permanently lighten skin?
Azelaic acid cannot permanently lighten or bleach skin – it doesn’t destroy melanin- it slows down its production. It can lighten melasma and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (dark spots and acne scars) due to its ability to stop tyrosinase – the enzyme needed to trigger melanin production.
Q. Does azelaic acid cause skin purging?
Any product that speeds up cell turn over can cause the skin to purge. Azelaic acid does speed up dead cell removal, and this can result in purging. Purging doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If you have acne or hyperpigmentation, you want your skin to ‘purge’ to remove the blemishes and dark spots.
Q. How long does azelaic acid purge last?
Purging can last 4 – 6 weeks if your skin becomes inflamed, itchy or is burning as well as flaking stop using azelaic acid and seek medical advice. Purging can look bad, but when it comes to azelaic aid, it should be super irritating.
Q. Does azelaic acid bleach hair and clothes?
Azelaic acid is not a peroxide-based chemical like benzoyl peroxide. It will not bleach your hair, clothes or towels.
Q. Do azelaic acid skincare product expire?
All skincare product expires, and you mustn’t use them if they have expired. Expired products can cause skin irritation, infections and breakout. Look for the expiration date and throw the product out if it has passed it expiry date.
Azelaic acid is a true all-rounder whatever your skin type and skin tone.
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