Azelaic Acid for Acne: How to Use This Underrated Ingredient

Consider your redness, inflammation, and blackheads dealt with.

woman applying azelaic acid serum
(Image credit: Artem Varnitsin/Getty)

The reality is that most acne-fighting products and spot treatments, while amazing, can be dry and irritating if you err on the drier side or have rosacea. But because the big, wide world of skincare has something for everyone, all hope is not lost. There’s an anti-inflammatory ingredient called azelaic acid that’s an underrated superhero for treating breakouts (and hyperpigmentation) gently. “It’s a mild exfoliating acid,” explains double board-certified adult and pediatric dermatologist and fellowship-trained cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Karan Lal. “It’s normally produced by the yeast on our skin, but in skincare it’s often made in the lab.” 

Unlike other ingredients (think: salicylic acid, retinoids) that can make the skin more irritated, azelaic acid is actually going to reduce redness, rosacea, and irritation, while also breaking up blackheads and fighting discoloration. To sweeten the deal, it plays nicely with other ingredients, can be used day or night (or both!), and provides results in just about a week. To get more information on how azelaic acid can treat acne and shop the best azelaic acid skincare products, keep scrolling. 

What to Look For

Medium 

Because azelaic acid is a pretty buzzy ingredient, you’re going to have options. It’s featured in just about every product you could imagine, from serums to lotions and cleansers. The best option for you largely depends on just how sensitive your skin is. “Gels and foams can sting, whereas creams may be better suited for those with sensitive skin,” says Dr. Lal. 

Concentration

The majority of your over-the-counter products are going to be at a 10 percent concentration. “It’s fine to start with and use one to two times a day,” explains Dr. Lal. Then, you can work up to prescription-strength concentrations, which range from around 15 to 20 percent. 

Other Ingredients 

While azelaic acid is a star ingredient, it’s going to be one of many on an INCI list. If you run on the drier side, you may want to seek out a product with allantoin, which has soothing properties. “It also works very well with vitamin C to help brighten skin, so if you are treating hyperpigmentation find a product with both,” advises Dr. Lal. 

Just a quick word of warning for those with *extra* sensitive skin: “Make sure the acid isn’t combined with other actives,” says Dr. Lal. It’ll make your skin more irritated than necessary.  

The Best Azelaic Acid Products

Meet the Dermatologist

.
Dr. Karan Lal

Originally from New York City, he grew up in Queens and attended Hunter Science High School in Manhattan. He graduated summa cum laude from the New York Institute of Technology, where he completed a rigorous seven-year accelerated combined medical program. He was selected to be an academic medical scholar, during which he received a Master of Science in neuroscience and a scholarship for three years of medical school and graduate training. He was elected to the Sigma Sigma Phi and Psi Sigma Alpha medical honor societies. He completed his internal medicine internship at the University of Connecticut Medical Center where he was elected intern of the year. He completed a three-year dermatology residency at the University of Massachusetts, where he was elected chief resident. He continued at the University of Massachusetts to complete a pediatric dermatology fellowship, where he gained an interest in vascular anomalies, pediatric laser, and dermatologic surgery of pediatric patients. Dr. Lal specializes in pediatric and adult dermatology, laser surgery, soft tissue filler augmentation, body sculpting, melanocyte keratinocyte transplant surgery for vitiligo and hypopigmentation, pigmentary abnormalities of the skin and enjoys treating patients from birth onwards. He is an expert in atopic dermatitis, vitiligo, melasma, psoriasis, and hidradenitis and has worked in specialty clinics among experts. He is the only board-certified pediatric and fellowship-trained cosmetic dermatologist in the country.

Beauty Editor

Samantha Holender is the Beauty Editor at Marie Claire, where she reports on the best new launches, dives into the science behind skincare, and shares the breakdown on the latest and greatest trends in the beauty space. She's studied up on every ingredient you'll find on INCI list and is constantly in search of the world's glowiest makeup products. Prior to joining the team, she worked as Us Weekly’s Beauty and Style Editor, where she stayed on the pulse of pop culture and broke down celebrity beauty routines, hair transformations, and red carpet looks. Her words have also appeared on Popsugar, Makeup.com, Skincare.com, Delish.com, and Philadelphia Wedding. Samantha also serves as a board member for the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME). She first joined the organization in 2018, when she worked as an editorial intern at Food Network Magazine and Pioneer Woman Magazine. Samantha has a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from The George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. While at GWU, she was a founding member of the school’s HerCampus chapter and served as its President for four years. When she’s not deep in the beauty closet or swatching eyeshadows, you can find her obsessing over Real Housewives and all things Bravo. Keep up with her on Instagram @samholender.