Does Azelaic Acid Lighten Skin & Can it Treat Hyperpigmentation?

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From dark acne scars to sun spots to pregnancy-induced melasma, hyperpigmentation rears its head in many forms, and none of them are easy to deal with.

Fortunately, there is a multitude of skin lightening creams out there that could potentially help, so long as you pick one that uses credible, science-backed ingredients.

Read our guide and see what are our favorite skin lightening creams.

Which ingredients, in particular, should you be keeping an eye out for? We have several favorites, from kojic acid to licorice root extract. However, today, we’re going to be discussing another natural ingredient that we highly recommend; azelaic acid.

This compound is naturally derived from wheat, rye, and barley, although synthetic versions are also used in skincare products. The big question is: does azelaic acid really lighten the skin and is it worth prioritizing over other lightening ingredients? Read on to find out!

Does Azelaic Acid Lighten Skin? Before and After Results for Dark Spots, Melasma, and Hyperpigmentation

Young woman with freckles

Although not officially classified as a skin lightening ingredient, azelaic acid is commonly used off-label to treat hyperpigmentation.

Why? Because it’s significantly more effective than many of the “official” skin lightening compounds used in skincare.

Clinical studies have found that azelaic acid is able to decrease melanin production in the skin [1].

By preventing the skin from producing so much of this pigment, the complexion then takes on a lighter and brighter finish.

Azelaic acid has been proven to be effective at treating various types of hyperpigmentation, from melasma to age spots to acne scars, and can be safely used on all skin tones/colors too.

Another ingredient equally effective in treating skin discolorations, hyperpigmentation, and acne scars is glutathione. Read our article about glutathione powder benefits and find out what makes this ingredient so special.

The Other Skincare Benefits Offered By Azelaic Acid

While many people now flock to azelaic acid for its skin lightening properties, the ingredient is also commonly used for other skincare purposes too.

An Effective Alternative to Prescription-Strength Acne Treatments

If you’re regularly plagued with pimples, then azelaic acid is worth trying. Studies have found the ingredient to be comparable to oral isotretinoin, yet without the nasty side effects that the latter can cause [2].

It works in a few different ways. For starters, it’s an antibacterial that can destroy acne-causing bacteria on the skin. It also has a mild exfoliating effect that prevents blockages in pores.

Finally, as an anti-inflammatory, azelaic acid can calm existing breakouts, while putting a stop to any inflammation that may trigger a new breakout.

Natural Anti-Aging Properties: Say Goodbye to Wrinkles

Although it’s not marketed as an anti-aging ingredient, azelaic acid can help to turn back the hands of the clock in a couple of different ways.

does azelaic acid lighten skin

As mentioned, it’s an anti-inflammatory, and with inflammation being one of the biggest causes of skin aging, this goes a long way in keeping the skin looking youthful.

Research has also found that azelaic acid can increase collagen levels in the skin [3]. Collagen is one of the main proteins responsible for how smooth and firm your skin is – the decline of natural collagen production with age heavily contributes to the onset of wrinkles.

As a result, with azelaic acid giving collagen synthesis a boost, it can prevent and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.

Even better, azelaic acid has antioxidant properties. As you probably know, antioxidants are key to fighting free radical damage in the skin, which would have otherwise accelerated the aging process.

Treats Rosacea and Skin Redness

Thanks to its powerful anti-inflammatory properties, azelaic acid is an approved treatment for rosacea. It’s fantastic at soothing the redness associated with the condition, and it can also kill the Demodex mites that are a common rosacea trigger.

How to Use Azelaic Acid on Your Skin (and When to Use it)

From serums to gels to creams, you’ll find azelaic acid in a number of different skin care formulas. It’s available in various strengths – look for something between 10% and 20% for best results.

Anything lower than this would mean that the azelaic acid hasn’t been used in a high enough concentration to truly be effective.

Woman massaging her face after putting on moisturizer

To start with, we would recommend using azelaic acid once a day at night. Give your skin a week or so to become accustomed to the ingredient, before adding it into your morning routine too.

How Long Does it Take for Azelaic Acid to Work?

Research suggests that the ingredient should be used twice a day for best results. By doing this, you should start to see a noticeable improvement in your skin after about 16 weeks [4].

Can You Use Azelaic Acid and Vitamin C Together?

Both vitamin C and azelaic acid are powerful antioxidants. As a result, using the two together will maximize their effects, bringing improvements to your skin even sooner.

Can Azelaic Acid and Salicylic Acid Be Used Together?

If you’ve been struggling to beat your breakouts, then a combination of azelaic acid and salicylic acid could be the solution you’ve been searching for. Both have similar effects, yet work in slightly different ways, so they’re safe to be used together.

How About Azelaic Acid and Retinol?

When it comes to azelaic acid and retinol, the two play fantastically together. In fact, research has found that not only do they produce results faster when used together [5], but azelaic acid can actually enhance the effects of retinol [6].

Woman in a bathroom with face cream on hand

FAQ:

Q: Can azelaic acid whiten skin?

Yes, azelaic acid can whiten dark spots and brighten up your overall skin tone.

Q: Does azelaic acid change skin color?

Azelaic acid can lighten your skin color.

Q: Does azelaic acid stain skin?

No, azelaic acid won’t stain your skin. It won’t stain your clothing either.

Q: Where does azelaic acid come from?

Azelaic acid comes from certain plants, such as wheat, rye, and barley. However, it is also created synthetically – this ensures a more stable form that’s better suited to skincare products.

Q: What is azelaic acid used for?

Azelaic acid is used for skin lightening, treating acne, soothing rosacea, and anti-aging.

Q: Is azelaic acid good for acne and can it help with acne scars?

Yes, azelaic acid is fantastic for acne! Not only will it help treat existing breakouts, but it can also help to prevent and fade acne scars.

Q: Does azelaic acid exfoliate pores?

Yes, azelaic acid has an exfoliating effect and will keep your pores clear.

Q: Does azelaic acid cause purging?

Yes, by speeding up natural cell turnover, azelaic acid can cause purging.

Q: Does azelaic acid cause peeling in dry skin types?

Since it exfoliates the skin, over-using azelaic acid can result in peeling skin.

Q: Is an azelaic acid cream or gel better?

Both work well – it all depends on the concentration of azelaic acid used, as well as the other ingredients added to that formula.

Conclusion: Is Azelaic Acid Worth Using?

So, does azelaic acid lighten skin? Whether you’re treating hyperpigmentation, acne, rosacea, or wrinkles, azelaic acid is an ingredient that’s well worth using. Fortunately, more and more people are recognizing this, meaning that azelaic acid products are now easier to find than ever.

Give one a try and it won’t be long before you start seeing the difference in your skin!

ALSO READ: Effects of Mercury on Skin

References

[1] https://practicaldermatology.com/articles/2013-mar/new-insights-into-azelaic-acid
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11701404
[3] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23278893/
[4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21637899/
[5] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/09546639609089556
[6] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10898830/

Avatar for Alina Jumabhoy
About Alina Jumabhoy

With almost 10 years of experience writing for the skincare industry, Alina brings her unique perspective into all of the in-depth reviews and articles she writes.