What Does Azelaic Acid Do for Skin?

What Does Azelaic Acid Do for Skin?

Written by: Bryan Barron 

Medically Reviewed by: Debra Jaliman MD Board-Certified Dermatologist

Azelaic acid was once one of the best kept secrets in skin care, mostly known in medical and professional settings. Now it’s one of the more highly sought-after ingredients thanks to undeniable research demonstrating how it significantly diminishes the appearance of skin blemishes, helps fade post-acne marks and other discolorations, refines skin’s surface and even reduces sensitivity. In short, azelaic acid is an ingredient you need to know about.

Let’s dive into this powerhouse ingredient below.

What is azelaic acid?

Azelaic acid is a skin-friendly dicarboxylic acid with unique properties that works by inhibiting misbehaving elements on and within skin's uppermost layers (1). Left unchecked, these troublemakers lead to persistent, visible skin imperfections (like brown patches and post-blemish marks), dull skin tone and signs of sensitivities (2). Essentially, 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 better, no matter your age, skin type, or concerns.

Azelaic acid can be derived from grains like barley, wheat, and rye. However, the lab-engineered form is typically used in skin care formulas because of its greater stability and effectiveness.

Azelaic acid benefits

Some of the research on azelaic acid has looked at prescription-only topical products with concentrations between 15% and 20%, but there are incredible skin benefits to be seen even at lower concentrations (3,4).

  • Mild exfoliating action that helps unclog pores and refine skin's surface
  • Skin tone-evening properties to help fade post-acne marks and other discolorations
  • Significant skin-calming factors to reduce sensitivity and bumps
  • Antioxidant power that contributes to healthier-looking skin

The research on the unique way azelaic acid improves skin led us to formulate our 10% Azelaic Acid Booster. The azelaic acid within targets a wide range of skin imperfections 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 energizing ingredient that visibly reduces signs of aging.

Azelaic acid uses for skin

Azelaic acid’s many benefits lend themselves to a myriad of uses for skin. The ingredient is often touted as the perfect way to tackle an uneven tone or dark spots but this glosses over azelaic acid’s penchant for calming redness and smoothing skin.

Beyond the different skin concerns that this multitasking ingredient works on, azelaic acid can also be delivered through both prescription and OTC (over-the-counter) products, depending on the percentage included in the product, as we’ve mentioned above.

Dark Spots

Reducing the appearance of dark spots and an uneven tone is azelaic acid’s top claim to fame and why it’s often compared to vitamin C. Azelaic acid conquers this concern by helping to interrupt an enzyme (tyrosinase) in skin's uppermost layers that would otherwise lead to uneven skin tone and dark spots (5).

Azelaic acid also helps reduce the appearance of dark spots that are incurred from previous inflammation, life changes, environmental damage and injury to skin (6,7).


Although it’s billed as a dark spot buster, azelaic acid is also routinely used to help soothe and calm the redness that’s often associated with irritation and sensitivity as well as being suitable for rosacea- and eczema-prone skin.

Although more research needs to be done to examine exactly how this acid does so, studies have already shown azelaic acid assists in the decrease of visible redness on skin, and is even suitable for rosacea-prone skin (8,9).

Skin texture

As a dicarboxylic acid, azelaic acid also has mild exfoliating properties. Through the usage of its keratolytic abilities, that is, the way that azelaic acid can break down the dead, dull outer layers of skin, it refines skin texture (10). Consistent usage of azelaic acid can result in fewer clogged pores and bumps as well as a radiant, healthy look.

How to use azelaic acid

Azelaic acid products “play” well with others, meaning you can layer it into your routine without worrying that the azelaic acid will overpower or deactivate other ingredients. If it’s an over-the-counter product, apply once or twice daily. If it’s prescription strength, follow the advice of your prescriber.

In the case of our 10% Azelaic Acid Booster, we recommend applying it after your normal cleansing, toning and exfoliating steps. It can be applied on its own or mixed into your favorite serum or non-SPF moisturizer. 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.

Who should use azelaic acid and who should not?

Azelaic acid is a safe skin care ingredient that has widespread compatibility with all skin types and is typically well-tolerated, even by those with sensitive skin (11). Its multitasking abilities mean it’s sought after by those with varying skin concerns as well.

Who could benefit from azelaic acid?

Azelaic acid is particularly beneficial for those with blemished skin and/or those with uneven tone and bumpy texture due to the ingredient’s ability to help visibly reduce the appearance of dark spots and rough texture.

Those prone to redness and the discomfort of eczema can also reap the benefits of azelaic acid, since it can also be used to calm sensitivity. It’s even suitable for those struggling with rosacea.

Who should stay away from azelaic acid?

Adverse reactions and side effects to azelaic acid are not common, but as with any skin care ingredient, if you experience signs of irritation, stop use or experiment with applying less often (once every other day, for example).

How long does azelaic acid take to work?

Like other bioactive ingredients, you’ll see results from the first application of an azelaic acid product. A visible soothing of sensitivity is one of the benefits you’ll notice immediately. A more robust picture of azelaic acid’s benefits, like the visible reduction of dark spots and uneven tone, appear after one to three months of consistent usage. This assumes you’re also protecting your skin from UV light exposure by applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen rated SPF 30 or greater every day.

Azelaic acid side effects

Azelaic acid is a fairly gentle skin care ingredient for all ages and ethnicities. If you have reactive, sensitive skin or a compromised skin barrier, the application of an active ingredient might cause dryness, flaking or irritation. That’s why it’s important to monitor how your skin responds to each new ingredient you incorporate into your routine.

How does azelaic acid compare to alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or salicylic acid (BHA)?

AHA, BHA and azelaic acid share similarities, but also some interesting differences. Although azelaic acid can exfoliate skin when properly formulated, 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 skin sensitivity issues (12).

Can you use azelaic acid and AHA or BHA together? Yes, 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 (13).

Can I use vitamin C and azelaic acid together?

Yes, you can use vitamin C and azelaic acid products together—these ingredients complement one another. Using them together may speed up the results for evening skin tone and fading marks by targeting the issue via multiple pathways.

Using them together is as simple as seeking out a product formulated with both instrumental skin care ingredients or layering separate products with each ingredient over one another. Just remember, if applying these ingredients during the day, always round out your skin care routine with the application of a broad-spectrum SPF 30+.

Can I use azelaic acid with retinol?

Implementing both azelaic acid and retinol into your skin care is a safe and viable option (14), especially if you’re looking to tackle a mix of skin concerns, like anti-aging, uneven tone and bumps.

Like vitamin C and azelaic acid, you can look for a product that contains both ingredients or can layer products that contain each over one another.

If you’re using a prescription azelaic acid or retinoid, consult with your dermatologist before layering and combining. Listen to your skin! If the application of both ingredients simultaneously isn’t working for your skin, consider using one ingredient within your morning routine and another during your nighttime routine.

What should you not mix with azelaic acid?

Azelaic acid products can be used alongside all kinds of skin care products and there isn’t research showing it’s a problem to use alongside other powerhouse ingredients such as niacinamide and peptides. Of course, if you’re using a prescription version, consult with your physician on how to work it into your skin care routine.

Learn more about skin care ingredients.

References for this information:

  1. Current Drug Therapy, June 2020, pages 181-193
  2. Indian Dermatology Online Journal, November-December 2017, pages 406–442
  3. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, September 2015, pages 964-968
  4. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, October 2016, pages 771–775
  5. Journal of Molecular Structure, January 2021, pages 129-234
  6. Phamaceutics, April 2021, page 567
  7. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, September 2016, Issue 3, pages 269–282
  8. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, March 2017, pages 37–40
  9. Experimental Dermatology, September 2010, pages 813–820
  10. Advanced Pharmaceutical Bulletin, June 2020, 239-246
  11. International Journal of Toxicology, July-August 2012, pages 5S-76S
  12. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, February 2018, pages 28-37
  13. Advanced Biomedical Research, February 2017, ePublication
  14. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, April 2013, pages 434-437