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It's the holy grail ingredient you've been overlooking if you have acne, rosacea, or hyperpigmentation.

By Susan Brickell
November 04, 2019

If you struggle with acne, rosacea, or hyperpigmentation, then you know how frustrating the journey to a clear, bright complexion can be. Maybe you've tried everything on the shelves of your local drugstore or invested in countless professional treatments, only to feel like you're fighting a losing battle every time you look in the mirror and a crop of pimples or patch of melasma stares right back at you.

Well, we've found the answer to your skin woes—meet azelaic acid. Here, everything you need to know about the powerful ingredient, along with the best over-the-counter products with azelaic acid that dermatologists swear by.

What is azelaic acid?

Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring acid found in wheat, barely, and rye, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “It has both anti-inflammatory and skin brightening benefits, and it is used to treat conditions like acne, rosacea, and hyperpigmentation,” he tells Health

But how exactly does it work? Because it's an anti-inflammatory, it decreases redness and swelling associated with both acne and rosacea, similarly to how it works in nature to combat stressors in the cell,” explains Rachel Nazarian, MD, a New York-based dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. It basically kills the bacteria that causes acne and keeps skin pores clean, points out Debra Jaliman, MD, a dermatologist based in New York City.

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The pros and cons of using azelaic acid

On top of treating inflammation, it features antibacterial properties to fight acne, and it can actually decrease the production of melanin—which is responsible for pigmentation in skin—to improve discoloration following acne pimples, or even melasma, says Dr. Nazarian. Hard to believe? Well, it's true: Azelaic acid prevents discolored skin cells from developing, thus helping fade post-acne marks, notes Dr. Jaliman. 

Unlike retinol and other acne medications, it will not make your skin more sensitive to the sun. But that doesn't mean you should forego sun protection. While you wont be more susceptible to burning, you should still apply sunscreen every day, especially if you are treating issues like hyperpigmentation, advises Dr. Zeichner. 

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Dr. Nazarian’s patients occasionally report mild stinging during the first week of using azelaic acid, but this diminishes with time. “It’s one of the safest ingredients in dermatology, and I often prescribe higher strengths of azaleic acid for my patients who are pregnant or breastfeeding,” she shares. As your body becomes accustomed to it, you will experience less of the side effects—like tingling, burning, and dryness, adds Dr. Jaliman.

While it is effective, it can sometimes cause skin irritation, says Dr. Zeichner. So, it’s important to apply a moisturizer to the face regularly if you are using a product that contains azelaic acid. You can use it twice daily, however, the frequency depends on your skin’s tolerance. 

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Should you add it to your skincare routine?

Designed to be used on sensitive skin and to stubborn breakouts, rosacea, or hyperpigmentation, azelaic acid is an ingredient you’re most likely overlooking. It might just be the holy grail product your beauty arsenal is missing.

Interested in trying azelaic acid? While it's available by prescription from your dermatologist—just schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss if it's a right fit—you can also find the ingredient in some over-the-counter facial serums and creams. Below, the best products with azelaic acid, according to dermatologists, that will help remedy acne scars, uneven skin tone, and discoloration, and give you your healthiest glow ever.

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