Everything You Need to Know About the Skincare Hero Azelaic Acid


credit @isabellecoheen

Allow us to introduce you to the skincare ingredient of the moment: azelaic acid.

Thanks to its abilities to fade hyperpigmentation, create a smoother appearance, and basically do all the heavy lifting that retinol does without all the potential irritation, azelaic acid has become a trending ingredient that promises to do the absolute most. Still, a few questions remain—namely, the ones surrounding how often one should use azelaic acid and how to tell whether or not it’s right for your skin type.

That’s why we enlisted the help of New York City–based dermatologist Jessie Cheung to answer all of our FAQs once and for all. From how azelaic acid benefits the skin to exactly what azelaic acid is, keep reading to get your crash course on the ingredient and find out if it’s right for you.

WHAT IS AZELAIC ACID?

Azelaic acid is a type of acid that is naturally produced by yeast. It has become a popular skincare ingredient, particularly in the clean beauty sector, as it is derived from natural origins. “It has multiple mechanisms of action in that it’s anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, helps to inhibit melanin production in sun or age spots, and helps to normalize skin cell growth,” explains Cheung.

HOW DOES AZELAIC ACID BENEFIT SKIN?

If you have acne, rosacea, melasma, or hyperpigmentation, Cheung notes that azelaic acid could be helpful in treating each of the respective issues thanks to its regenerative and melanin-inhibiting properties. “It’s a popular ingredient in over-the-counter skincare to help smooth the texture of the skin and fade hyperpigmentation,” she explains. “You can also use it in place of a retinoid if you have sensitive or mature skin, as most skin types can tolerate twice-daily use in conjunction with sunscreen during the day.”

 

HOW OFTEN SHOULD AZELAIC ACID BE USED IN YOUR SKINCARE ROUTINE?

Azelaic acid is gentle enough to be used twice a day, but keep in mind that it is an acid, and sensitive skin types may experience dryness and peeling during the first few applications. “Start by applying it every other day or pairing it with a moisturizer if your skin is on the sensitive side,” Cheung says. Additionally, you’ll want to ensure you wear sunscreen during daylight hours, as azelaic acid helps to regenerate new skin, which could be more sun-sensitive.

WHICH INGREDIENTS SHOULD NOT BE PAIRED WITH AZELAIC ACID?

No need to adjust your existing skincare lineup if you want to use azelaic acid. It plays well with most ingredients. “Azelaic acid is most commonly paired with niacinamide for additional brightening, but it’s very stable and can be paired with other actives,” Cheung says. “It works with AHAs, BHAs, benzoyl peroxide, and even vitamin C, though combining all of the above could be irritating to sensitive skin.” Keep the “less is more” mantra in mind, and start by introducing the ingredient slowly, ideally every other day, to see if your skin can tolerate the combination.

WHICH SKIN TYPES DOES AZELAIC ACID BENEFIT MOST?

Most skin types can tolerate azelaic acid, but those who deal with hyperpigmentation, acne, and, of course, post-acne marks will see the most dramatic results thanks to its ability to inhibit melanin production and break up any pigment in existing sun, age, or acne marks. Cheung also notes that azelaic acid is a pregnancy class B ingredient, meaning it’s one of the few topicals that can be used to treat acne and melasma while pregnant or breastfeeding. Definitely check with your doctor before incorporating the ingredient, but it could serve as an effective substitute for retinol during that time period.

ARE THERE ANY SKIN TYPES THAT SHOULD NOT USE AZELAIC ACID?

While azelaic acid works with most skin types, sensitive skin may have more of a reaction to the ingredient. If your skin is particularly sensitive, Cheung advises always pairing azelaic acid with a moisturizer to help counteract any potential dryness or irritation. “If azelaic acid is too much for your skin, you could also try bakuchiol as an alternative,” she says. “It’s another versatile, non-irritating, plant-based alternative to retinol that has antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties.”

CAN YOU RECOMMEND SOME PRODUCTS THAT USE AZELAIC ACID?

We’ve got you! Whether you’re looking to treat acne or boost your radiance levels, we’ve put together a few azelaic acid–infused options that could work for your skincare routine.

“I love this azelaic acid formula because it’s effective, easy to find, and very affordable,” says Cheung. This lightweight cream formula is packed with 10% azelaic acid and helps to even out both tone and texture while boosting brightness.

Consider this potent elixir the one-two punch you need to reduce redness, soothe inflammation, and tackle both uneven tone and texture. Naturium’s formula is packed with azelaic acid, niacinamide, and bio-retinol, but because of its balanced pH level, it won’t irritate even the most sensitive skin types.

Talk about kicking your beauty sleep into high gear. This azelaic acid–infused serum plays a balancing act on sebum production while you get your eight hours in, helping to fight acne-causing bacteria and reducing the formation of blackheads.

Turn your radiance up to 11 with this powerhouse serum, infused with both niacinamide and azelaic acid. In addition to imparting a more even skin tone, the dynamic duo also works overtime to soothe breakouts while a side of salicylic acid provides some gentle exfoliation.

“This is a prescription foam that is gentle enough for daily use when treating rosacea,” Cheung says. The formula can be applied topically to treat any of the raised spots or acne-like pustules associated with rosacea and should be used twice a day immediately after cleansing.

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