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Ingredient in Focus: Azelaic Acid

It might be lesser known than some of the other {skin care} acids (hyaluronic and glycolic acid, we’re looking at you), but azelaic acid may just be one of our favourites. Its gentleness and versatility make it a bit of an all rounder, and while it’s been a well-kept secret of the beauty industry until now, it’s time for its magnificence to be shared with the masses.

Azelaic acid is a dicarboxylic acid found in grains such as barley, wheat and rye, and it’s also produced by yeast that lives on your skin. It has antimicrobial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, making it effective in the treatment of skin conditions like {acne} and rosacea. And while it’s prescribed by doctors at higher doses for these types of skin concerns, skincare products containing lower concentrations of 10% or less can make a big difference to skin tone and structure.


In a nutshell, azelaic acid brightens the skin tone and improves the evenness of skin texture for a smoother complexion. Let’s break that down further: first things first, it can reduce the appearance of blemishes, like post-breakout marks and discolouration, by encouraging cell turnover. It has gentle exfoliating properties and antioxidant powers that help to unclog pores and refine the skin’s surface, preventing breakouts and improving the texture for a more even skin tone. And then there are its skin-soothing benefits - its mildness and gentleness can even reduce sensitivity and any sensitivity-induced redness.

It works by targeting the upper skin layers, stopping emerging skin concerns in their tracks and encouraging the cells there to behave in a certain way. Left to their own devices, these deviant troublemakers would become visible skin imperfections (like post-acne marks, dark spots and a generally dull skin tone). But once azelaic acid gets involved, telling the cells to behave themselves, the result is smoother, brighter, healthier looking skin. Who’d say no to that?!


Remember what we said about azelaic acid being versatile? That doesn’t only apply to its capabilities - it’s also suitable for all skin types. If you have {acne-prone skin}, {rosacea-prone skin} or {hyperpigmentation}, then it’s a particularly effective ingredient for you, and thanks to its gentleness, it's a great exfoliant option for dry or sensitive skin. Another benefit is that it’s even safe to use during pregnancy.

It’s always worth noting the possible side effects of any ingredient you use on your skin, so take note of any burning or tingling, peeling, dryness or redness. If you experience any of these side effects, stop using the product and consult your doctor or dermatologist.


You certainly can - even twice a day if you desire. It’s a good idea to start using azelaic acid every other day to make sure your skin tolerates it - especially if you have dry or sensitive skin - and build up to daily or twice-daily use once you know your skin is A-OK.

Although azelaic acid is gentle by nature, the fact that it’s an exfoliant means that it can leave your skin more vulnerable to UV rays, so (yes, it goes without saying) always wear {SPF} as part of your skin care regime.


Azelaic acid skin care products generally come in the form of a cream, gel or foam cleanser. Here are some of our favourites:


{PAULA’S CHOICE’s} multi-tasking {10% Azelaic Acid Booster} combines azelaic acid, salicylic acid and plant extracts to help solve a multitude of concerns. Breakouts? Check. Red marks from past blemishes? Double check. Brown spots caused by sun damage? Triple check. That’s what we call an all-round superhero.


{The Ordinary} is renowned for its stripped-back, no frills skincare, and its {Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%} is served straight up, hold the ice! Their formulation protects skin from free radical damage, brightens tone, improves texture and minimises the appearance of blemishes. It’s available in 30ml or 100ml options and it comes in a lightweight cream-gel system which is effortlessly easy to use and suitable for all skin types – what could be better.


Effective and potent yet gentle enough to use daily, {REN Clean Skincare’s} {Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic} promises a bright, even glow. This ingenious tonic combines lactic acid and willow bark extract - which smooths, tones and reduces pore size - with azelaic acid - which brightens and even out skin tone. Apply to cleansed skin day and night for the perfect glow.


Make a skin-saving promise to yourself (and keep it!) with {Allies of Skin’s} {Promise Keeper Nightly Blemish Treatment}. This potent nightly leave-on treatment mask is formulated with a powerful blend of exfoliating acids (including azelaic) and peptides, alongside replenishing and anti-bacterial ingredients, and it works double-time as a curative and preventative measure to keep skin clear. Simultaneously unclogging pores, fading old blemishes, refining skin texture and brightening the complexion, it’s a miracle for those of us battling blemishes.


Cult Beauty
Cult Beauty Writer and expert

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