Azelaic Acid: Why You Need It And How To Get It

This little multitasker can be used to treat rosacea, flaky skin, acne, AND hyper-pigmentation.

You’ve likely never tried a skin care product with azelaic acid. If you don't deal with rosacea, you may not have even heard of it. So I’m pretty sure that as a beauty writer/skin care proselytizer, it’s my duty to tell you that azelaic acid is a game-changer.

Why the virtual unknown status? Azelaic acid can be a little tricky to get your hands on. Typically, it's only available by prescription, under brand names such as Finacea and Azelex, in concentrations from 15-20 percent.

You'll also find it listed in small amounts in some of your favorite retail products, like Jan Marini Bioglycolic Bioclear Lotion ($60) and GlamGlow's Supermud Clearing Treatment.

I got an eight percent azelaic acid product via Pocket Derm, a website that lets you upload photos of your skin and chat with a licensed dermatologist who can prescribe topical medications customized to your skin.

I initially looked into azelaic acid as a treatment for the unpleasant flakiness I was developing around my nose and mouth. Turns out it can also be helpful in smoothing skin--and so much more.

Azelaic acid is most frequently prescribed for rosacea sufferers, because it’s crazy-effective at decreasing the inflammation that causes rosacea’s trademark redness. The ingredient is also antibacterial, making it helpful for decreasing acne.

I fact checked this with my derm, Dr. David Lortscher, who said, “Azelaic acid acts in part by inhibiting the growth of acne-causing bacteria, such as Propionibacterium acnes. It also works on the cells that line hair follicles by changing the way they mature and proliferate, which decreases follicular ‘plugging’ and helps prevent blackheads, whiteheads, and inflamed acne lesions.”

Basically, azelaic helps regulate the production of keratinocytes (skin cells), so they don't build up and clog your pores. It also helps fade the dark spots acne leaves behind. (Are you feeling a little faint? I am.)

“In cases of hyper-pigmentation, azelaic acid appears to selectively target hyperactive melanocytes [pigment-producing cells], while having little effect on normal melanocytes. For this reason it is a treatment of choice for hyper-pigmentation in patients of all skin types,” says Dr. Lortscher.

This means that, for darker skinned girls like me, azelaic acid can work to lighten dark spots to the tone of your natural coloring.

Add up the uses for azelaic acid and it seems like a miracle ingredient, but, as with all treatments, it can react differently on different skin types. Itchiness and irritation are two potential side effects.

As for me, I’ve noticed an immediate difference in flakiness and inflammation, but no visible changes to my hyper-pigmentation just yet.

Have you tried azelaic acid? What little-known yet fantastic skin care ingredients do you recommend?