The Guide to Azelaic Acid

This pore-unclogging powerhouse busts blackheads, acne, and inflammation

Did you know that wheat — something you may eat every day — contains a powerful acne-busting ingredient? Azelaic acid occurs naturally in several whole grains, and when applied to the skin, effectively battles acne, clogged pores, dark spots, and inflammation. (It’s even safe to use topically for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity!)

Azelaic acid has racked up an impressive resume of clinical trials, and is FDA-approved as a prescription topical cream or gel. (Sorry, you can’t just cover your face in flour.) Let’s dig into how it works.

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Restoring balance when acne strikes

Remember — your skin is an ecosystem. It thrives when natural processes (like skin cell production) and native organisms (like bacteria) are kept in balance. Azelaic acid maintains order and corrects acne-causing imbalances by:

  1. Regulating the production of new skin cells. Picture a factory assembly line. Without proper regulation, new skin cells can pile up faster than they’re needed, blocking up the whole system! Azelaic acid keeps things running smoothly — helping clear acne, whiteheads, and blackheads.
  2. Keeping bacteria from running amok. Azelaic acid prevents the spreading of Propionibacterium acnes and Staphylococcus epidermidis, which are both found inside acne lesions.

Fighting dark spots

Believe it or not, azelaic acid does even more. This impressive ingredient also cleans up the mess left by acne or sun exposure. It lightens dark spots by:

  1. Slowing the production of melanin, or skin pigment.
  2. Blocking abnormal melanocytes, pigment-producing cells that have gone haywire.

Soothing inflammation

This multi-talented ingredient also calms the inflammation that causes rosacea and bumpiness. Ever take anti-inflammatories for a swollen knee? Azelaic acid reduces swelling and redness in your skin.

Side effects

Best of all: azelaic acid is non-toxic and safe to use. Most people experience no significant side effects beyond mild stinging or itching at first. If these sensations are irritating you, let your provider know.

Where can I get azelaic acid?

Here’s the thing: azelaic acid is powerful enough that it’s prescription-only, according to the FDA. Meaning you can’t get it over the counter. You’ll need to chat with a dermatologist — which you can do in person, or check out the online team at!

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Learn more

Curious about other acne-busting ingredients? Check out our guides to clindamycin, zinc pyrithione, and tretinoin. See you around!


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