If you’re a skin-care enthusiast, you’ve likely heard of — and experimented with — a handful of acids, be it glycolic, hyaluronic, or salicylic; however, azelaic acid is the latest one to take the skin-care world by storm.
Don’t just take it from us, though. La Jolla, California-based, board-certified dermatologist Azadeh Shirazi, MD, describes this buzzy acid as a “dermatologist-favorite,” a “jack-of-all-trades,” and “one of the most underrated skin-care ingredients.” Put simply, Dr. Shirazi tells Allure that azelaic acid works by inhibiting tyrosinase (a.k.a. the enzyme involved in pigment production) and, thereby, “reduces hyperpigmentation.”
Michele Green, MD, a New York City-based, board-certified dermatologist, echoes Dr. Shirazi’s sentiments. Both professionals also note azelaic acid’s antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, excellent for treating skin conditions like acne and rosacea, as it kills breakout-causing bacteria and reduces inflammation. This versatile acid, also considered a gentle exfoliant, stimulates cell turnover, as well. As such, Dr. Green tells Allure that azelaic acid “can help reduce the appearance of acne scars.”
You also need not worry too much about adjusting your entire skin-care routine to incorporate azelaic acid. Fortunately, both Dr. Green and Dr. Shirazi agree that azelaic acid is generally gentle enough and safe to use in combination with other ingredients like vitamin C, AHAs, BHAs, and retinoids. However, says Dr. Green, “If you have prescription-strength azelaic acid, Retin-A, or other topical creams, you should consult a dermatologist.” Similarly, although azelaic acid is safe for all skin types, Dr. Green advises those with sensitive skin to start using the ingredient “once a day, increasing the frequency to twice a day after several weeks.” And, if you experience any irritation, it’s best to consult your doctor before continuing.
Finally, azelaic acid can be found in over-the-counter products in all sorts of strengths, from as low as one percent to as high as 12 percent and even 15 percent. Per Dr. Shirazi, the highest concentration of azelaic acid available is 20 percent, which is prescription-strength. However, that’s not to say lower concentrations aren’t effective. According to Dr. Green, “skin-care products with a low concentration of azelaic acid can be beneficial when it comes to unclogging pores, preventing acne breakouts, and soothing skin inflammation.” These lower concentrations of azelaic acid are often combined with other active ingredients like AHAs and BHAs. Dr. Green explains that, in these combination formulas, “a lower concentration of azelaic acid may help prevent skin irritation.”