You may or may not have heard of azelaic acid — this skin medication is only recently making waves. However, if you suffer from acne or rosacea, you will definitely want to find out more about how azelaic acid can help you.
In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about azelaic acid, from the products it is used in, to its many benefits, and any side effects you should know about.
What is azelaic acid?
Azelaic acid is an organic compound that can be derived from wheat, rye and barley, although the type of azelaic acid that is used in skincare products tends to be the lab-engineered form due to its increased effectiveness and stability.
Azelaic acid belongs to a class of drugs known as dicarboxylic acids. This may sound a little scary, but don’t worry — azelaic acid is used in small percentages in medical treatments, and is a perfectly safe and beneficial acid to use.
What is azelaic acid good for? The main benefits of azelaic acid
There are many different benefits to using azelaic acid due to its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and keratin-reducing properties. As a result, it can be used on a range of different skin problems and conditions to great effect.
Have a look below to see how azelaic acid can benefit various skin conditions and more.
Acne and acne scars
Azelaic acid is an extremely effective treatment for acne and can be used to treat mild and hormonal acne. Azelaic acid products help to reduce the swelling and inflammation of acne, but also work in a preventative manner by unblocking pores and glands and killing bacteria.
Through a consistent course of treatment, azelaic acid can also help to fade surface acne scars and reduce their appearance over time.
Azelaic acid products are particularly effective at treating rosacea.
The anti-inflammatory properties of the acid treat visible rosacea symptoms such as redness, swelling and rashes. Azelaic acid also prevents spots and bumps by killing skin bacteria and keeping pores unblocked. Over time it will smoothen skin and reduce redness, flushing and the appearance of obvious blood vessels.
You can buy Finacea gel from The Independent Pharmacy — you’ll just need to answer a short consultation questionnaire to allow our medical team to review your condition and write you a prescription, if appropriate.
Hyperpigmentation is a medical term used to describe dark marks and patches on the skin that occur due to excess melanin production.
Products containing azelaic acid can be used to treat hyperpigmentation. This is because azelaic acid inhibits the enzyme tyrosinase, which is needed for the production of melanin. By affecting melanin production, azelaic acid has the ability to lighten the skin and reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation.
Similar to hyperpigmentation, melasma is a common skin condition caused by the overproduction of melanin. This results in brown or greyish-brown patches on the skin mostly found on the face but sometimes found on other parts of the body that are more exposed to the sun (such as the neck and forearms).
Melasma is much more common in women and is thought to be triggered by sun exposure and hormonal influences (such as pregnancy, birth control pills and hormone therapy).
Azelaic acid can help to lighten this melasma and reduce its appearance of melasma by inhibiting melanin production.
The antibacterial qualities of azelaic acid help to prevent the formation of both white and blackheads, by killing the skin bacteria that can lead to spots. It also inhibits the production of keratin skin cells, which can block pores and sebaceous glands and create oily build-ups (leading to blackheads).
What is it used in?
Azelaic acid is used in a number of skin treatments, due to its anti-inflammatory effects on the skin and its ability to reduce the production of keratin surface skin cells — which are responsible for clogging up pores.
Here at The Independent Pharmacy, we currently offer two topical treatments that contain azelaic acid as the active ingredient:
Finacea Gel is a prescription-only gel containing 15% azelaic acid that can be used to treat rosacea. The azelaic acid in Finacea has anti-inflammatory properties, which causes it to reduce the redness and swelling of rosacea.
Finacea also reduces the body’s natural production and growth of keratin cells. This prevents keratin cells from blocking pores and sebaceous glands (the small glands in your skin which release sebum), alleviating rosacea symptoms such as bumps, spots, papules and pustules.
To find out more about Finacea, go over to our ‘What is Finacea?’ page.
Like Finacea, Skinoren cream also contains the active ingredient azelaic acid. However, Skinoren is stronger in comparison, containing a 20% dosage of azelaic acid.
The azelaic acid in Skinoren works in two ways to combat acne: by reducing the growth of pore-blocking keratin cells, and by killing the bacteria associated with acne. This common skin bacteria (propionibacterium) feeds on the sebum produced by the skin, creating waste products and fatty acids that worsen acne symptoms and cause the skin to become inflamed and infected.
By unblocking pores and glands, and killing bad bacteria, Skinoren reduces acne and allows your skin to heal naturally.
Although Finacea Gel is typically used for rosacea, and Skinoren cream is used for acne, the two treatments can sometimes be prescribed for the other skin conditions depending on the individual situation. Both products are only available by prescription.
Azelaic acid and pregnancy
Using azelaic acid while pregnant or trying to become pregnant is generally recognised as safe.
As azelaic acid comes in the form of topical treatment (a gel or cream that you rub into the skin), a small amount is absorbed by the body. However, this amount is very small — less than 4% — and there is currently no evidence that azelaic acid can cause harm to an unborn baby.
If you decide that you would like to use an azelaic acid product to treat any skin conditions during your pregnancy, it is best to seek advice from your doctor on how to proceed.
Similarly, if you are breastfeeding, it is a good idea to discuss the risks and benefits of taking this medication with your doctor.
Azelaic acid side effects
The majority of people will be able to use azelaic acid products successfully to treat skin conditions, and without suffering any negative side effects.
However, here are some possible side effects that may occur if you use this treatment:
- Numbness, tingling, burning or stinging sensations on the skin
- Dry skin
- Rash or contact dermatitis
(Please note, this list is not exhaustive and there may be rarer side effects that we haven’t mentioned on this list).
Most side effects are mild and harmless, and will occur upon application if they occur at all; these should subside as your body adjusts to the medication throughout your treatment.
If any minor side effects persist, you should contact your doctor for guidance — they may suggest that you decrease to one daily application instead of two.
If you suffer from any persistent, painful or more serious side effects (skin discolouration, hypersensitivity, worsening of asthma), then stop treatment immediately and contact your doctor for advice.
Further information on azelaic acid
Still haven’t found the answers about azelaic acid that you were looking for? We’ve answered any further questions you may have below.
Is azelaic acid natural?
Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring compound found in grains such as wheat, rye and barley. However, the type of azelaic acid that is used in medical treatments for skin conditions tends to be the lab-engineered form as it is more stable and effective, making it more suitable for use.
In its natural state, it is a white power.
Is azelaic acid an antibiotic?
No, azelaic acid is not an antibiotic.
There are other topical skin treatments such as Rozex rosacea gel that contain an antibiotic as the active ingredient, rather thanazelaic acid.Rozex contains the powerful antibioticmetronidazole, which treatsrosacea by killing skin bacteria. Find out more about Rozex in our guide: What is Rozex?.
Is azelaic acid good for your skin?
In small doses, yes. Azelaic acid has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, making skin clearer, smoother and healthier.
It can sometimes lead to dryness, however, this can be resolved by using a sensitive moisturiser once your azelaic acid cream or gel has been absorbed.
In summary, azelaic acid has many benefits: it can combat acne and spot growth, alleviate the redness and swelling of rosacea, and reduce other skin problems such as hyperpigmentation, melasma and acne scars.
Don’t take our word for it — read our Finacea gel reviews page, another azelaic acid product, to see what real users think of the treatments and its benefits.