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Why azelaic acid is the skincare “secret weapon” for sensitive skin

October 12th 2018 / Dr Samantha Bunting / 0 comment

Cosmetic dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting dubs it “the acid with extra” and it can help your skin to build up tolerance to more potent actives such as retinol. Here’s why you need azelaic acid in your skincare routine according to Dr Sam

You’ve likely heard of refining AHAs such as glycolic acid and pore cleansing BHAs such as salicylic acid, but how about the ‘dicarboxylic’ azelaic acid? Not such a household name.

Cosmetic dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting reckons it deserves a more significant place at the skincare active table, however, as its powers are significantly underrated. Here’s what azelaic acid can do for your skin and why Dr Sam thinks that it’s one of of the most versatile skincare ingredients out there.

It’s gentle yet effective

Azelaic acid is a chemical derived from a yeast extract that naturally ‘lives’ on your skin and it’s less potent than many other other exfoliating acids. Which isn’t to say that it’s a ‘weak’ ingredient - far from it. It’s particularly revered for evening out skin tone and reducing sensitivity and while it does lightly exfoliate skin, it doesn’t do so as aggressively as the likes of glycolic acid can, thus you’re far less likely to see any adverse effects. Which brings us to…

It’s very safe

Whether you’ve got sensitive skin or your pregnant or breastfeeding, Dr Sam Bunting gives this skincare active the all clear. If you do find that it stings a bit on application, she recommends buffeting the effect by applying azelaic acid over your moisturiser rather than under it.

It tackles multiple conditions at once

Dr Sam particularly loves azelaic acid for its “versatility” and uses it most often in clinic to address overlapping conditions whereby treatment with other actives might improve one element of skin but worsen another (see out acne/eczema sufferer diary to read about this particular multiple skin issue struggle). For example, if you have acne and rosacea or acne and melasma or pigmentation, it’s effective for treating both skin concerns at the same time, which means no tricky skincare maths on your part.

It can improve your skin’s tolerance of other skincare ingredients

Dr Sam will often use azelaic acid as a ‘gateway’ to strong ingredients such as retinol, as consistent use can help your skin to adapt to active ingredients over time. As an additional bonus, azelaic acid can also “temper the skin’s natural tendency to react to things.” Basically, it’s the stabiliser of skincare acids and the fact that you can use it twice a day after cleansing makes it easy to establish a steady routine.

It’s more accessible than ever

It used to principally be available on prescription but brands and formulators are waking up to azelaic acid’s potential and including it in more and more creams and serums. Here are three of Dr Sam’s favourites:

Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster, £37 for 30ml


This light lotion tackles everything from active breakouts to smoothing fine lines.

Buy now

Jan Marini Rosalieve Redness Reducing Complex, £77 for 30ml


Not cheap, but Dr Sam’s favourite owing to the fact that it has a smooth formula that sinks in quickly without being gritty.

Buy now

Sesderma Azelac Spray, £24 for 100ml


This spray can be used on face and body to bring down the redness associated with rosacea.

Buy now

How to use exfoliating acids in your skincare routine

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