Everything You Need to Know About Azelaic Acid for Skin
It's a mystery why some great skincare ingredients fly under the radar, despite research proving them more than worthy of your attention. Azelaic acid is one of those ingredients! A great deal of research has shown that azelaic acid can significantly diminish the appearance of skin blemishes, help fade post-acne marks and other discolourations, refine skin’s surface, and reveal a more even skin tone. It can even reduce skin sensitivity and is compatible with any skin type. In short, azelaic acid is an ingredient you need to know about.
What is Azelaic Acid?
Chemically, azelaic acid is a dicarboxylic acid (but don’t be afraid: this type of acid is your friend). It works on skin as a gentle leave-on exfoliant which helps unclog pores and refine skin's surface. Azelaic acid also significantly lessens factors in skin that lead to sensitivity and bumps and delivers antioxidant benefits. In a word, WOW!
Azelaic acid can be derived from grains like barley, wheat, and rye, but it’s the lab-engineered form that is typically used in skincare products because of its stability and effectiveness.
Much of the research on this ingredient has looked at prescription-only topical products with concentrations between 15% and 20%, but there are incredible benefits to be seen even at lower concentrations.
Benefits of Azelaic Acid in Skin Care Products
Azelaic acid in concentrations of 10% or less aren’t easy to find, as very few brands have discovered its powerful skincare benefits, perhaps because it’s just such a tricky ingredient to formulate properly. If not formulated properly, the texture may be grainy, which could be problematic for skin.
If you’re wondering whether to choose a cosmetic azelaic acid skin care product or a prescription version, research has shown that a 10% concentration can still improve many of the visible imperfections some of us struggle with, from bumps to dull, uneven skin tone and various concerns related to ageing.
But, there are some stubborn or advanced skin concerns where it’s best to consider one of the prescription products with azelaic acid. You and your dermatologist can discuss whether a prescription azelaic acid product is right for you, and how to work it into your skincare routine.
The Science Behind Azelaic Acid Skin Care Products
Researchers have a theory on how azelaic acid works its skin-improving magic. What's suspected is that azelaic acid works by inhibiting misbehaving elements on and within skin's uppermost layers. Left unchecked, these troublemakers lead to persistent, visible skin flaws (like brown patches and post-blemish marks), dull skin tone, and signs of sensitivities. It seems azelaic acid has a radar-like ability to interrupt or inhibit what's causing skin to act up. Skin "hears" the message azelaic acid sends and responds favorably, which leads to skin that looks remarkably better, no matter your age, skin type, or concerns.
The ongoing research on azelaic acid led us to formulate our 10% Azelaic Acid Booster. The azelaic acid within targets a wide range of skin flaws and is formulated with 0.5% salicylic acid for a bit of a pore-refining nudge. The 10% Azelaic Acid Booster also contains a soothing complex of brightening plant extracts plus skin-restoring adenosine, an energising ingredients that visibly reduces signs of ageing.
Adding the 10% Azelaic Acid Booster to your routine is easy: it can be applied once or twice daily after cleansing, toning, and exfoliating. Apply on its own or mix with your favorite serum or moisturiser. It's fine to apply it to the entire face, or you can target blemished areas as needed. During the day, finish with a broad-spectrum sunscreen rated SPF 30 or greater.
The booster isn't an azelaic acid cream or azelaic acid gel; instead it's a gel-cream hybrid that's compatible with all skin types and can be used with any of our other products, including our exfoliants, which might lead you to wonder how azelaic acid compares to AHA and BHA exfoliants.
How Does Azelaic Acid Compare to Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) or Salicylic Acid (BHA)?
These three ingredients have similarities, but also some interesting differences. Although azelaic acid can exfoliate skin when properly formulated (just like for AHAs and BHA, the product’s pH range matters), it doesn’t exfoliate the same way or with the same level of effectiveness as ingredients like glycolic acid and lactic acid (AHAs) or salicylic acid (BHA).
On the other hand, azelaic acid offers additional benefits that AHA and BHA ingredients don’t provide, especially when it comes to improving a markedly uneven skin tone and certain other skin issues.
What to do? There’s no reason you can’t use an AHA or BHA exfoliant along with an azelaic acid product. In fact, this combination can be ideal for addressing the look of multiple skin concerns, from bumps to uneven skin tone to age-related concerns you may be struggling with.
References for this information:
Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, March 2017, pages 35–42
The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology March 2017, pages 37–40
Advanced Biomedical Research, February 2017, ePublication
Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, October 2016, pages 771–775
Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, September 2016, issue 3, pages 269–282
Skin Therapy Letter, January 2016, issue 1, pages 1–7
Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, September 2015, pages 964-968
Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, volume 27, Supplement 1, 2014, pages 9–17
Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews, issue 11, 2014, pages 1–17
Drug Development and Industrial Pharmacy, August 2012, pages 985–994
Experimental Dermatology, September 2010, pages 813–820
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About the Experts
Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:
The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!