You’ve probably seen azelaic acid showing up on the ingredient lists for all-natural skin lightening products and that’s ’cause this bleaching agent is a natural component found in grains like wheat, rye and barley.
And for something that’s made out of yeast, it’s surprisingly effective. And not just for skin lightening but for a whole host of skin conditions.
What is Azelaic Acid?
Azelaic acid first started drawing attention for its acne-fighting benefits. It belongs to a class of medication called dicarboxylic acids and treats bacterial-related acne by killing the acne bacteria in pores while simultaneously reducing inflammation and decreasing the production of keratin, which is a natural substance that promotes the growth of acne bacteria.
As azelaic acid started catching on as an acne treatment, doctors began to notice it came with side effects: changes in skin pigmentation. Aka, skin lightening.
Curious how it works? Let’s find out.
How Does Azelaic Acid Lighten Skin?
Azelaic acid’s skin lightening effects aren’t just a side effect – it’s a huge part of what this natural ingredient does. When applied topically, azelaic acid lightens your overall skin tone by reducing melanin production, which it does by inhibiting the enzyme tyrosinase, an enzyme that stimulates melanin production.
At the same time, azelaic acid also works to combat hyper-pigmentation by suppressing the growth of abnormal melanocytes (simply, melanin-producing cells) that lead to cases like melasma, lentigo maligna and other hyper-pigmentation problems. It does so by inhibiting the DNA synthesis of abnormal pigment-producing cells and basically killing them.
Interestingly, azelaic acid is selective when it comes to targeting pigment-producing cells – it’s been shown to have very little effect on normally pigmented skin like freckles, but is much more active against hyper-pigmentation caused by abnormal melanin synthesis, which makes it an ideal choice when you’re looking to get rid of hyper-pigmentation disorders.
Extra perk? Azelaic acid is great for acne prone skin so those suffering from constant breakouts can get relief from active acne as well as faster fading for acne spots. And oily skinned beauties can rejoice as well – this all natural skin lightening comes with matte-ifying benefits!
How Effective is Azelaic Acid for Skin Lightening?
For a natural ingredient found in yeast, azelaic acid is surprisingly effective. One double-blind study showed that a 20% azelaic acid cream was effective for lightening the skin of 65% of the participants in just 24 weeks.
Another 24-week study in South America found that a 20% concentration of azelaic acid was equivalent to 2% hydroquinone in the treatment of melasma, whereas another study conducted in the Philippines found that 20% azelaic acid was superior to 2% hydroquinone.
Our 2 Cents on Azelaic Acid
We really like azelaic acid as a skin lightener for a few reasons:
- It’s a safer, all-natural (and FDA-approved) alternative to hydroquinone which makes it an effective, more skin-friendly bleaching agent if you have sensitive, easily irritated skin
- It’s antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and effective in eliminating acne-causing bacteria, which makes it a two-in-one product if you’re looking to lighten skin and banish breakouts at the same time
- It’s safe for all skin tones, which makes it particularly good for those with darker skin types
- Highly effective for brightening dull skin and evening out your complexion
- It leaves your normally pigmented skin alone while targeting abnormal melanocytes, making it particularly good for people who’re looking to fade a tan or get rid of hyper-pigmentation problems like melanoma or dark/red spots caused by acne while leaving natural freckles mostly intact
That being said, azaleic acid does have a few drawbacks as well:
- Again, azelaic acid is not very effective against normal pigmentation, like freckles and age spots. Hydroquinone proves much more effective for that
- The most potent azelaic acid concentrations – 20% – are prescription only. Without a prescription, you can only get lower concentrations – up to 15%
- Azelaic acid alone only goes so far – you can expect to get one to two shades lighter. To get the most skin whitening benefits with azelaic acid – effects that are comparable to high-concentration hydroquinone, you’ll want to combine it with other skin lightening ingredients like tretinoin or alpha hydroxy acids
The Best Azelaic Acid Products
Wondering what the best azelaic acid products are? Here’s our roundup of potent creams, serums and gels that you can get without a prescription!
This is hands down the most potent azelaic acid product you’re going to get without a prescription. GIGI’s Bioplasma Azelaic Cream has an unusually high concentration of 15% azelaic acid which might just be strong enough to replace your prescription product, if you’re using one.
And thanks to its potency, it works wonders on acne, rosacea, hyperpigmentation and scars
We especially like the smooth and creamy texture of this cream – it’s really easy and pleasant to use and while it’s strong enough to keep breakouts, rosacea and hyperpigmentation at bay, it’s gentle on your skin. As in, no dryness, flaking or sensitivity.
Overall, the best azelaic cream you can get your hands on. Find it here!
This azelaic acid serum may not boast as huge a concentration of azelaic acid but it does come with a lot of other skin lightening, skin boosting perks, like mandelic acid (amazing for clearing blemishes and promoting cell turnover), phytic acid (another great skin lightening agent), retinol (an antioxidant which can prevent free radicals and increase collagen production), ferulic acid (fights off the negative effects of various free radicals) and Vitamin C (you know this one’s a must for your skin, right?).
Combine all that with a potency of 10% azaleic acid and you get one of the best skin lightening, blemish banishing, glow giving serums ever. Find it here!
Last but certainly not least, we have a cult favorite – PCA’s Skin Pigment Gel. Now, before we continue, you should know that this isn’t your average azelaic acid product. Why? It’s also got 2% hydroquinone in it. And that’s not all – it’s also packing azelaic acid, lactic acid, kojic acid and citric acid – all of which are known skin lightening ingredients.
As such, this is one to use for more serious skin lightening as well as for those who’re trying to fade natural pigmentation, like freckles and age spots (which hydroquinone is most effective for) as well as unnatural pigmentation like acne spots.
As for melasma? If nothing else has worked for you, you’ll want to give this one a try. So many users have had luck with it, there’s a very good chance it’ll work to fade your stubborn dark patches as well. Find it here!