Active Ingredients: Azelaic Acid

Rachel Gibbons Beauty Expert
Active Ingredients: Azelaic Acid

What is Azelaic Acid?

Those with acne-prone skin, say hi to your new best friend, Azelaic Acid. We consider it an “over-achiever” because it tends to do more than just combat acne concerns, find out more below.

Azelaic acid is a type of dicarboxylic acid (a natural acid) that is naturally found in grains but it can also be produced by  yeast found naturally occurring on our skin, known as Malassezia furfur. It can also be synthesised in a lab.

 As indicated in the name, it works like most acids do, by exfoliating the skin of dead skin cells, helping to unclog pores and refine the skin. It also works by sending a message to inhibit the elements in and on the skin’s surface that causes skin imperfections (pigmentation, scars), dull complexion and irritation caused by sensitive skin. And amazingly, the skin receives and responds well to the message sent.


Exfoliates the skin

  • Being an acid, it exfoliates the skin by getting deep into the pores and removing the dead skin cells that are clogging the pores and are usually the main culprit for dull-looking skin.


  • Azelaic acid is a comedolytic, meaning it prevents comedones (which are small flesh coloured acne papule) from forming. The most common we see are blackheads and whiteheads.
  • It is also keratolytic, meaning it decreases keratin. When there is an excess production of keratin occurring on the cells, it causes the dead skin cells to stick together, making them harder to remove. Leading to a buildup of a combination of dead skin, bacteria, sebum and other harmful substances. 

Say bye bye to uneven skin tone

  • Azelaic acid also has the ability to restrict tyrosinase, an enzyme that stimulates melanin production, which causes dark spots and pigmentation to form. This also applies to post-acne breakouts that result in scarring.
  • In short, azelaic acid works to diminish the appearance of blemishes, help fade acne scarring and other discolouration.

Relieve skin sensitivity

  • Azelaic lessens the factors in the skin that can lead to a sensitive reaction as it possesses anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
  • Recommended for those with chronic skin conditions, especially rosacea, as it is gentle enough to treat secondary infections and inflammation.

Safe for expecting mother!

  • During pregnancy, we know how hard it is to find a product safe for you as a majority of ingredients have to be avoided to ensure safety for both the mother and baby. And this proves even more difficult if pregnant women are suffering from acne breakouts and other skin conditions due to hormonal imbalances. However, azelaic acid is one of the few safe options to treat acne, rosacea, clogs pores or pigmentation.


Azelaic acid vs. AHA vs. BHA

What sets azelaic acid apart from AHAs and BHAs is that azelaic acid only becomes an exfoliator depending on the formulation and pH levels. Its exfoliating power is also not as effective as AHAs or BHAs. However, azelaic acid offers other benefits that the other 2 don’t provide, such as significantly improving uneven complexion and lessening sensitive reactions.


What to note?

  • Just because azelaic acid is an acid, it doesn’t mean it can’t be used in conjunction with other acids, in fact, they work extremely well with AHAs, BHAs and retinol. The results may even be better. However, when using in conjunction be sure that the concentration of the products aren’t too high or you risk experiencing a sensitive reaction. Apply the azelaic acid after your AHA/BHA/retinol treatment.
  • Also, be sure to wear sunscreen during the day as your skin becomes highly sensitive to UV rays, risking sun damage.
  • Like most ingredients and products, be sure to conduct a patch test prior to and consult your doctor before if you plan to use azelaic acid together with other acids/retinol, especially if you have sensitive skin or are pregnant for precaution.
  • You can find a concentration of 10% or less in over the counter products and a concentration of 15-20% in prescription-only products.


Products we recommend 

The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%

the ordinary azelaic acid suspension 10%

It is a multi-functional support ingredient for all skin types and also acts as an effective antioxidant. This formula offers a very high 10% concentration of high-purity Azelaic Acid in a lightweight cream-gel system. It brightens the skin tone while visibly improving the evenness of skin texture and reducing the look of blemishes.


Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster

paulas choice azelaic acid booster 10%

This multi-tasking cream-gel formula reduces the look of blemishes, smooths bumpy texture, calms redness, and steadily fades uneven skin tone and post-breakout marks. It contains a blend of azelaic acid and salicylic acid, plus plant-derived brightening and soothing ingredients.

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