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azelaic acid for skin

Azelaic Acid in Skincare

Azelaic acid, a naturally occurring acid, is a powerhouse skincare ingredient known for its ability to address a variety of topical concerns. From reducing inflammation and hyperpigmentation to addressing congestion and redness associated with rosacea, azelaic acid is a versatile ingredient that can significantly enhance your skincare routine.

What is Azelaic Acid?

Azelaic acid is a dicarboxylic acid that naturally occurs in grains like wheat, rye, and barley. Due to its high molecular weight, it’s considered a more gentle exfoliant than other AHA/BHAs and doesn’t increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun. It addresses bioprocesses in the skin that are overreacting and helps bring them back to a more normal state, acting as a “skin balancing” ingredient. It reduces topical hyperpigmentation without impacting normal skin pigment and addresses congestion without negatively affecting the skin’s microbiome. It can also address symptoms of rosacea when formulated as an OTC or prescription product. Azelaic acid is generally safe for all skin types and can be used during pregnancy and breastfeeding with physician approval.

What Does Azelaic Acid Do to the Skin?

Azelaic acid works on the skin in several ways. It has known antibacterial properties documented to reduce the bacteria that can cause acne and skin congestion. It also has anti-inflammatory properties to help reduce visual redness, making it beneficial for conditions like rosacea. Additionally, azelaic acid can help even skin tone, fade dark spots, and reduce hyperpigmentation.

Benefits of Azelaic Acid:


  • Reduces skin congestion: Azelaic acid helps to reduce bacteria while reducing abnormal keratinization, keeping the pores clear. Azelaic can be prescribed by a dermatologist to treat moderately inflamed acne.

  • Reduces rosacea: Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, azelaic acid can reduce redness and inflammation associated with rosacea when used in an OTC or prescription product for rosacea.

  • Brightens skin: It aids in reducing topical hyperpigmentation without impacting normal functioning melanocytes, evening skin tone.

  • Smooths skin texture: It assists in renewing and smoothing the skin's surface.

How Does Azelaic Acid Work?

Normalize pigment abnormalities: Azelaic acid impacts melanin production twofold; first by competitively inhibiting tyrosinase and second, by targeting abnormal melanocytes, the parts of the cell that produce melanin. This specifically targets overactive pigment production in cells while disregarding normally functioning cells. Azelaic acid also addresses post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation after breakouts.


Antioxidant: Azelaic acid functions as an antioxidant but in a different way than other antioxidants such as vitamin C that quench free radicals. By reducing production of reactive oxygen species (ROSs) that can cause oxidative damage and hyperpigmentation, azelaic acid can further normalize skin tone while being safe for darker skin types.


Antimicrobial agent: Azelaic acid was shown to inhibit p. Acnes and staphylococcus epidermis without negatively affecting the skin’s microbiome. Paired with its ability to reduce proinflammatory agents, it is great for both inflammatory and non-inflammatory congestion.


Anti keratinization ingredient: Azelaic acid can normalize abnormal skin shedding thus reducing keratin buildup in the sebaceous glands and hair follicles that can lead to clogged pores and congestion. It can help combination skin because it can address skin congestion without impacting sebum secretion composition or rate, unlike salicylic acid.


Anti-inflammatory agent: When prescribed by a dermatologist at specified strengths, azelaic acid can address the symptoms of rosacea. It is used to treat papulopustular rosacea by decreasing inflammatory lesions and erythema severity. Azelaic acid reduces serine protease activity which is typically overactive in rosacea patients.

Concentration Levels & Recommended Usage for Azelaic Acid:

In cosmetic products, you can typically find azelaic acid ranging from 1-10%. It is often combined with skin brightening ingredients such as kojic acid or alpha arbutin to help reduce hyperpigmentation or combined with antibacterial ingredients like salicylic acid or sulfur to address skin congestion.


Azelaic acid is typically found in concentrations of 15% to 20% in over-the-counter rosacea products, and up to 20% in prescription rosacea products. It is also available as a prescription for moderately inflamed acne. Formats include creams, gels, and foams. For best results, it's recommended to use azelaic acid products consistently over a period of several weeks to months.


Sometimes products contain an azelaic acid derivative such as potassium azeloyl diglycinate because azelaic acid is inherently difficult to solubilize. Azelaic acid isn’t fully soluble in oil or water so if a product is not formulated properly it can feel gritty or greasy.


Is it Okay to Use Azelaic Acid Daily?

Yes, it is generally safe to use azelaic acid daily. If you are new to azelaic acid, start at a low concentration and low frequency and build up. However, as with any skincare ingredient, it's important to monitor your skin's response and adjust usage as needed. It is always recommended to patch test new ingredients to your skincare routine to determine how your skin responds. If you notice any irritation or adverse reactions, discontinue use and consult a dermatologist.

Who Should Use Azelaic Acid?

Azelaic acid can be beneficial for anyone prone to congestion, rosacea, or hyperpigmentation. It's particularly beneficial for those with sensitive skin as it's less irritating than other acids like AHAs or BHAs. It is always best to consult with a skincare professional or dermatologist to determine if a prescription containing azelaic acid is best to address your acne or rosacea.





DISCLAIMER: All skin care articles are intended to help educate on specific ingredients and skin care topics. Our articles are written to be informative and informational. Any reference to a specific patient experience is not a medical suggestion for treatment. Please note that any Prequel products with referenced ingredients are formulated for Cosmetic Use Only and NOT intended as replacements for physician advice and/or pharmaceutical product recommendations.

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