Why Azelaic Acid Should Be Part Of Your Skincare Routine

The dermatologist-approved ingredient is a powerhouse for acne, anti-aging, and more.
Written by Beth Shapouri
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Why Azelaic Acid Should Be Part Of Your Skincare RoutineTyrell James/Unsplash

If you’ve never come across azelaic acid in your quest for a perfect complexion, you’re probably going to want to start memorizing how to spell it now for search purposes. The soothing, anti-aging, and acne-busting ingredient is getting a lot of buzz at the moment, but it’s got a long, rich history of helping skin look good. Here’s what you need to know.

The Benefits of Azelaic Acid for Skin

Azelaic Acid Skincare Benefits Infographic

Azelaic acid can be derived naturally from wheat, barley, and rye, or it can also be created synthetically — it’s just as effective either way. So, what does it do? “It has anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties, helps with gentle exfoliation, and is a tyrosinase inhibitor, which means it inhibits the enzyme involved in hyperpigmentation,” explains Nassain O. Wesley, MD, a board certified aesthetic and surgical dermatologist at Skin Care and Laser Physicians of Beverly Hills. “We’ve been using azelaic acid in dermatology for years, both as a prescription and non-prescription ingredient.”

Indeed, it’s been a go-to for doctors for several conditions. “I prescribe azelaic acid for patients that have acne or rosacea, particularly those with sensitive skin that can't tolerate retinoids,” says Samer Jaber, MD, a board certified dermatologist at Washington Square Dermatology in NYC. Another reason it gets love? It’s generally considered safe for pregnant women. “It’s a pregnancy category B ingredient, meaning it may be used, if needed, in pregnant and lactating women,” Dr. Wesley, shares. Even so, “I always recommend [women] consult with their doctor first,” she adds.

If you really want to see what azelaic acid can do, head to your dermatologist, who can prescribe it in higher concentrations (up to 20 percent versus the 5 to 10 percent you typically see in stores). But even over-the-counter products will give you results.

Before you jump in, some quick notes: Although it’s considered quite gentle, azelaic acid “can definitely be irritating when you start using it,” Dr. Jaber notes. His advice? “Start gradually, using it every other day initially, and then increase it to daily use as your skin tolerates it,” he says. From there, give it a little time to work it’s magic. “Because it doesn’t tend to cause over drying or irritation like some acids, people may tend to think it’s not strong enough,” Dr. Wesley cautions. “A product does not have to always cause drying or irritation for it to be effective.”

If you’re ready to welcome azelaic acid into your routine, here are a few products to consider:

The Freak-Out Whisperer: Arbonne SuperCalm Skin Relief Serum


Like a meditation session for your skin, this potion features azelaic acid alongside probiotic lysate and tiger grass extract to calm irritation and neutralize the impact of external and internal stressors. $50, arbonne.com

The Blemish Buster: Skinceuticals Custom D.O.S.E. Serum


Offered as an optional additive to the brand’s Custom D.O.S.E. serum, the azelaic acid booster comes in formulations of 5 and 12 percent and gets high marks for improving clarity, uneven skin tone, and reducing the appearance of imperfections. $195, skinceuticals.com

The Radiance Booster: REN Clean Skincare Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic


Inside this little bottle is your ticket to brighter skin. The formula pairs alpha hydroxy acids (in the form of lactic acid) and beta hydroxy acids (i.e. salicylic acid) with azelaic acid to reveal a more luminous complexion. $38, sephora.com

The Shine Buster: Naturium Azelaic Topical Acid 10%


A great choice for oily skin types, not only does this 10-percent azelaic acid solution offer skin-barrier-boosting niacinamide and brightening vitamin C, but it helps keep sebum production in check with coffee seed extract. $20, naturium.com

The Time Stopper: VI Derm Beauty Retinol Age-Defying Moisturizer


This age defier combines the power of azelaic acid with retinol and glycolic acid to help resurface skin, boost cell turnover, and make for an overall younger, plumper, smoother complexion. $104, dermstore.com

The Multi-Tasker: Alpyn Beauty Wild Huckleberry 8 Acid Polishing Peel


This multitasking, five-minute mask and peel combo sloughs off dead skin cells to blast away dullness before nourishing the skin with antioxidants (the azelaic acid helps it do both). $56, alpynbeauty.com

The Hyperpigmentation Eraser: Dr. Brandt Skincare Dark Spots No More


In this little wonder, azelaic acid is joined by tranexamic and phytic acids, niacinamide, and plankton and turmeric extracts to lighten dark spots and discoloration for more even tone and texture. $68, sephora.com

The Texture Corrector: Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster


This gel-cream can be used alone or added to your moisturizer to give it smoothing and toning superpowers (by way of azelaic and salicylic acids). Bonus: It also comes in a $10 travel size for those you want to try it out without the commitment. $36, paulaschoice.com

The Redness Eraser: APTO Skincare Turmeric Mask


Dealing with mask-related irritation? You’re going to want to stock up on this calming and purifying soother that is packed with azelaic acid and anti-inflammatory turmeric for both immediate and long-term benefits. $16, aptoskincare.com

All products featured are independently selected by our editors, however, AEDIT may receive a commission on items purchased through our links.

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BETH SHAPOURIis a contributing writer for AEDIT.

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