How azelaic acid benefits your skin

The versatile ingredient for dark spots, uneven skin texture & more

Is your medicine cabinet overflowing with skincare products designed to target a single skin concern? Do you have hyperpigmentation, uneven skin texture, acne, and a complicated skincare routine to account for them all? 

It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s actually one multitasking ingredient that can help with all of the above: azelaic acid. Get ready to refine your routine and reach for a multipurpose formula with this versatile ingredient.

What is azelaic acid?

Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring dicarboxylic acid found in grains like barley, wheat, and rye. Like other acids used in skincare, it works as an exfoliant to help unclog pores and refine the skin’s surface, but it also does so much more.

Even though it’s grain-derived, people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity can typically use it without worry.

How does azelaic acid work?

Applied topically in a cream, gel, or foam, azelaic acid gets to work as a pigment-regulating, gently exfoliating, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial skincare ingredient. (We told you it was a multitasker.)

  • Most notably, azelaic acid is an effective treatment for stubborn dark spots, including post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and melasma. It reduces excess pigment in the skin by zoning in on hyperactive melanocytes (pigment-producing cells) and slowing their roll.1
  • As an exfoliant, azelaic acid helps clear away dead skin cells that cause dullness, clog pores, and contribute to uneven skin texture. 
  • With anti-inflammatory properties, azelaic acid helps calm the redness and tenderness of skin conditions like rosacea and acne.2
  • Azelaic acid has antibacterial properties that help keep your skin’s bacterial ecosystem in balance and reduce the spread of acne-causing bacteria.3

What does azelaic acid do to your skin?

Over time, this multitasking ingredient helps fade dark spots, reduces redness, and decreases breakouts for an overall brighter and smoother complexion. It can both clear up acne and support long-term anti-aging goals.

Where can you get azelaic acid?

In high percentages, like 15–20%, azelaic is available through prescription only. You can also find over-the-counter products with azelaic acid at 10% or less strength from other skincare brands.

If azelaic acid suits your skin goals, an Agency provider can include it in your Future Formula or Dark Spot Formula at a strength that works for you.

Does azelaic acid have side effects?

Azelaic acid side effects are typically minimal, and it’s generally well-tolerated by all skin types for daily use, even alongside other active ingredients like tretinoin. That said, it may cause irritation (like redness, flaking, or itching), especially when you first start using the ingredient or transition to a higher strength. In case that’s your experience, we have a guide with tips for minimizing irritation.

You also might experience an azelaic acid purge, or increased breakouts, when you first begin to use this ingredient. While annoying, the temporary purge phase is actually evidence of the azelaic acid working to clear out your pores. Once you’re past the purge phase, you’re on your way to clear and even skin.

Want to know more about your Agency formulas?

You know your skin—we’re here to help you know your skincare. Our team of dermatology experts has helped create guides to each of the forward-thinking ingredients in your personalized skincare formulas. 

Learn how these ingredients also help your skin face the future: tretinoin, hydroquinone, dexpanthenol



1. A.S. Breathnach. Melanin Hyperpigmentation of Skin: Melasma, Topical Treatment With Azelaic Acid, and Other Therapies. Cutis. (January 1996).

2. Stuart Maddin. A Comparison of Topical Azelaic Acid 20% Cream and Topical Metronidazole 0.75% Cream in the Treatment of Patients With Papulopustular Rosacea. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (1991, June 1).

3. Young Bok Lee, et al. Potential Role of the Microbiome in Acne: A Comprehensive Review. Journal of Clinical Medicine. (2019, July 7).