Ascorbic acid, glycolic acid, hyaluronic acid, lactic acid, mandelic acid… It seems there is an endless list of acids that are used as ingredients in skincare for their firming, brightening, or moisturising effect. And now azelaic acid.
Over the past years, azelaic acid has developed a cult following on the usual suspects – that are beauty forums and Instagram. It’s flying mostly under the radar but gaining increasing popularity since it’s a versatile multi-tasker.
So, What Is Azelaic Acid?
Azelaic acid is a dicarboxylic acid (look at its structure, it has 2 carbon atoms).
It’s not so much different than your last pint of beer. It’s a naturally occurring acid found in whole grains such as wheat, rye, oats, and barley. In a plant, the acid is responsible for defending it against infections. As part of the plant’s defense mechanism, it signals the production of salicylic acid.
Unlike glycolic acid or lactic acid, it’s not an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and it’s not a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) either. It’s an exfoliator and as such it does its job in smoothing rough skin texture, unclogging pores. As a game-changing multi-tasker, antibacterial, comedolytic (prevents comedones), skin cell regulating, keratolytic (reduces keratin), anti-inflammatory, free-radical-scavenging, and skin-lightening magic properties.
How Can Azelaic Acid Help Your Skin?
If you have acne-prone, sensitive, or generally reactive skin, consider adding azelaic acid into your skincare routine. Also, if you want to lighten your dark spots or scars, it is as effective as the controversial ingredient hydroquinone but without the side effects.
Azelaic acid speeds up the cell-turnover, helping the skin to renew itself faster, thus reducing spot and blackhead development. Azelaic acid also works as a bactericidal, killing or fighting off the bacteria that is one of the causes of acne. It is also beneficial for treating rosacea, which is the chronic state of acne that creates redness, swelling, and rashes.
Remember one of azelaic acid’s many properties – keratolytic? Azelaic acid helps decrease the production of keratin. This protein can block pores and lead to acne.
Just like an AHA or BHA, azelaic acid is a (gentle) chemical exfoliant that improves cell turnover and helps smooth the skin. It can help decrease bumps and the appearance of large pores, as it goes deep within the pores and removes dead skin cells that cause dull skin tone and clogged pores, giving us an even and smooth skin’s surface.
As a free-radical-scavenger, azelaic acid soothes irritations and calms down redness.
Boosting Skin Tone and Lightening Dark Spots
Hyperpigmentation often occurs after a pimple has left its mark. It’s formed when acne images the skin, causing it to release inflammatory cells, which in turn release pigment cells that make more pigment in the skin.
Dark spots and sunspots are generally a long- and short-term cosmetic problem caused by the sun.
On the one hand, azelaic acid is anti-inflammatory, helping the acne healing process. On the other hand, it fades all kinds of dark spots (discolouration, pigmentations, melasma, hyperpigmentation). Azelaic acid blocks the enzyme tyrosinase that is needed for melanin production.
Fading and lightening dark spots is a slow burner. You may want to combine azelaic acid with alpha arbutin to speed up this process.
Is Azelaic Acid Safe?
Our skin is familiar with azelaic acid since it’s produced by a yeast that is naturally occurring in our skin and part of its microbiome. According to the Environmental Working Group (or EWG), it’s safe for use in cosmetics, subject to concentration or use limitations. It’s one of the few treatments for acne or dark spots that is safe for pregnant women.
For skincare purposes, azelaic acid is made in the lab from grains and cereals for maximum stability and effectiveness.
What Are The Side Effects, If Any?
As with all acids, azelaic acid shares its side effects like
- Tingling or burning
- Redness and irritation
To be on the safe side, always do a patch test before you start using it. Just as with acids, start slowly and give yourself and your skin time to get used to it. You can gradually work your way up to applying it in the morning and night every day.
Since azelaic acid is a natural exfoliant, always wear sunscreen when you go outside. It may make your skin more sensitive to UV light.
How Long Until You See Results?
Depending on what your concern is, you may see sooner results. If your treating acne, you may see results as soon as after 5 weeks. If your concern is to treat discolouration, then assess the results after 4 to 6 months of application.
Azelaic acid begins working on the skin immediately, even if its effects are not visible at first. You can expect to see a decrease in redness and inflammation, fewer clogged pores, a reduction in acne size and frequency. Over time, the scars and dark spots will also fade.
Can Azelaic Acid Be Used With Other Acids?
If you’re treating acne, try combining azelaic acid with salicylic acid. It would be a good idea to use them on alternating days. You can always combine azelaic acid with hyaluronic acid.
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