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Is Azelaic Acid The Key To Getting The Clearest Skin Of Your Life?

The solution to breakouts, dark spots, and rosacea.
PHOTO: Shutterstock

If like us, skincare gets you going, you're probably well versed in the various acids on offer. One that you may not be so familiar with, though, is azelaic acid. Sounds kinda cool, is also just quite cool; azelaic acid has existed within the skincare realms for quite some time, though it has blown up recently because of its endless benefits for breakout-prone complexions. From healing spots to shrinking pores, oh and brightening TF out of your base, azelaic acid really is an ingredient worth writing home about. We spoke to dermatologist Dr. Sophie Shotter for all the goss on the superior skin-saver...

So, what is azelaic acid?

Unlike other acids (minus hyaluronic, which isn't an acid per se), azelaic acid is produced by and lives on our skin. "It is a naturally occurring acid and is also in grains such as barley, rye, and wheat," says Dr. Sophie.

How is it different from other skincare acids?

Skincare junkie or not, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn't turned to a liquid exfoliator. Think of azelaic as the milder, more mindful member of the acid family. It possesses similar resurfacing powers but produces minimal irritation.

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"Unlike other acids, it won't make you sun sensitive, but that doesn’t mean you should skip the sunscreen," she stresses. While AHAs and BHAs are best known for their efficacious exfoliation, azelaic acid boasts a tonne of other benefits, too, as Dr. Sophie explains. "It is superior to AHAs (like glycolic acid) and BHAs (like salicylic acid) for improving uneven skin tone. Plus, it is also a powerful antioxidant in its own right."

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What are the benefits of azelaic acid?

Finally, the reason we're all here: how does it improve your skin? Avid azelaic acid fans will likely gush about its acne clearing abilities, after all, it is comedolytic and so actively prevents comedones (the technical term for spots). "It unclogs pores, refines the skin's surface, and has anti-inflammatory properties, which is why it is such a great choice for acne and rosacea," says Dr. Sophie.

Ever heard of chicken skin? Those annoying hard bumps on the backs of your arm that persist despite layering body lotion on THICK? Good news! Azelaic acid is a keratolytic (fancy term for a keratin decreaser), so can help reduce inflammatory skin conditions like keratosis pilaris.

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It is worth noting that the FDA has only approved azelaic acid for the treatment of rosacea and acne. Despite this, it is incredibly effective at diminishing dark spots and treating pigmentation, hence its inclusion in brightening serums and creams. "The antioxidant properties also help to protect the skin from free radical damage," concludes Dr. Sophie. I mean seriously, is there anything azelaic acid can't do?

Who should use azelaic acid?

Judging by its extensive benefits and limited side effects it would seem sensible to assume that the ingredient is suitable for everyone. And you'd be right to think so. "Because it is less of an irritant than some AHA and BHA formulations it is a good choice for those with sensitive skins and with long-term use can help reduce sensitivity. It is even safe for use during pregnancy and breast-feeding. However, if you have extremely sensitive, hyper-reactive skin, it may be best to avoid acids altogether, as you could experience stinging and discomfort.

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How should you incorporate azelaic acid into your skincare routine?

"I would recommend using azelaic acid as part of your nighttime regime," says Dr. Sophie. "Use it alongside a gentler cleanser and moisturizer or hyaluronic acid-based product. If you are new to using it, you might want to consider starting by applying it every other night to minimize the risk of irritation."


This article originally appeared on Minor edits have been made by the editors.