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Azelaic Acid Making Skin Worse? Why You Shouldn’t Worry

by Ella Goodman 03 Jul 2024

Why Is Azelaic Acid Making My Skin Worse?

So, you've jumped on the azelaic acid train, expecting a one-way ticket to Glowy-Skin-Ville, but instead, you’re dealing with breakouts, redness, and a whole lotta frustration. 

What gives? 

Don’t worry, you’re not alone, and yes, there's light at the end of this acne-riddled tunnel. 

Let’s delve deep into why azelaic acid might be making your skin worse—and how to turn things around.

The Initial Freak-Out: Purging vs. Breaking Out

Okay, let’s set the record straight: your skin going haywire when you first introduce azelaic acid is kind of normal. 

Say hello to the purging phase

Think of it as your skin detoxing and saying, “Hey, it's time to clear out all these nasties lurking beneath the surface.”

How to Tell If It’s Purging and Not Just Breaking Out:

  • Timing: Purging usually kicks in within the first few weeks of starting a new product. Random breakouts, on the other hand, can ambush you anytime.
  • Location: Purging typically occurs in the same battlegrounds where your skin usually fights acne wars. New breakouts can show up like uninvited party crashers anywhere on your face.
  • Duration: Here’s the key—purging should taper off after 4-6 weeks. Patience, grasshopper.

So if you’ve just started on azelaic acid and you're seeing more blemishes in your usual acne-prone areas, take a deep breath—it’s probably just purging. Annoying, yes, but temporary.

Sensitivity Might Be Your Middle Name

Azelaic acid is generally considered to be the gentle giant of active ingredients, but your skin might be extra sensitive. 

Here’s why this happens and what you can do:

Why Sensitivity Happens:

  1. Barrier Woes: If your skin barrier is already in shambles, introducing a new active ingredient can feel like rubbing salt in the wound.
  1. Concentration: You might be diving into the deep end with a higher concentration than your skin can initially handle.

Tips to Combat Sensitivity:

  • Start Slow: Introduce azelaic acid gradually. Start with every other night or even just twice a week. Pay attention to how your skin reacts.
  • Buffer: Apply a hydrating serum or moisturizer before azelaic acid. It acts as a buffer, cushioning the potential impact.
  • Barrier Repair: Arm your skin with ceramides and fatty acids to bolster that barrier and keep sensitivity at bay.

It’s Getting Hot in Here: Redness and Burning

Redness and burning sound like a summer sizzler you didn’t sign up for, but it’s pretty common when your skin’s like, “Woah, what’s this new stuff?” 

Here’s what's likely causing that fiery reaction:

Why the Redness & Burning:

  1. Initial Reaction: Your skin can throw a tantrum when faced with unfamiliar active ingredients.
  1. Overuse: You might be too eager, applying too much too soon.

Fix the Fire:

  • Hydrate: Ingredients like hyaluronic acid are like a gulp of water for your skin. Hydration can help soothe the burn.
  • Soothing Ingredients: Seek out products with niacinamide or aloe vera—they’re the calming BFFs your skin needs right now.
  • Patch Test: Test azelaic acid on a small area before full-face application. It buys you peace of mind and spares you from larger-scale skin drama.

Peeling Like a Post-Summer Tan

Flaking as if you’ve just returned from sun-soaked beaches in the Bahamas? Skin peeling is another telltale sign your new routine might be supercharged.

Why You’re Peeling:

  • Exfoliation Overload: Azelaic acid gently exfoliates the skin. If you’re mixing it with other exfoliants (like retinol or AHA/BHAs), your skin might be waving a white flag and screaming “Overload!”

Smooth It Out:

  • Moisturize: Double down on a hydrating, non-comedogenic moisturizer. Think of it as giving your skin a big, soothing hug.
  • Skip Days: Let your skin breathe. Give it a break from other exfoliants to avoid over-exfoliating.

Understanding Azelaic Acid’s Superpowers

Before you “consciously uncouple” from azelaic acid, let’s hit the rewind button and recall why you started this journey in the first place. 

Because lest we forget, azelaic acid is the unsung hero your skin didn’t know it needed. Packed with benefits, it's worth understanding some of its superpowers:

  • Fights Acne: Azelaic acid goes to war with the bacteria responsible for acne. It’s like having a tiny battalion fighting off the invaders.
  • Reduces Hyperpigmentation: It’s a miracle worker for tackling those post-acne marks that stubbornly stick around.
  • Anti-Inflammatory: This acid is a champ at calming redness and swelling, making it a rosacea sufferer’s new best friend.

So before you call it quits, take a step back and consider adjusting your approach. A little patience and tweaking can turn this skincare rollercoaster into a smooth ride towards radiant, healthy skin.

Hang tight—for many folks, azelaic acid is a game-changer.

Making Azelaic Acid Work for YOU

You’re not one-size-fits-all, and neither should your skincare routine be. 

Here’s how to customize your azelaic acid experience:

1. Check the Other Players:

  • Gentle Cleanser: Opt for a cleanser that is mild and effective. Think creamy, non-foaming varieties that will sweep away grime without stripping your skin's natural oils. Think of it as prepping a clean canvas for a masterpiece.
  • Simplified Routine: Azelaic acid is potent. While your skin acclimates, put your other active ingredients—retinoids, AHA/BHAs—on the bench. Less is more when your skin is adjusting. This isn't the time to be a hero; slow and steady wins the skincare race.

2. Layer Like a Pro:

  • Get strategic with your layering! Start with your cleanser to create a squeaky-clean base. Then follow with a toner, but only if it’s hydrating. This is the foundation upon which dewy skin is built.
  • Next comes the serums. These should be light, water-based ones if you’re combining them with azelaic acid.
  • Apply your azelaic acid next, letting it sink in completely before moving to the moisturizer phase. Heavier, occlusive moisturizers should follow last to lock in all those juicy benefits.

3. Protect Ya Self:

  • Sunscreen: If azelaic acid were Batman, sunscreen would be Robin. Essential and inseparable! Because azelaic acid can heighten sun sensitivity, apply at least SPF 30 every single day, rain or shine. You're investing in your glow; don’t let UV rays rob you of your gains.

4. Give it Time:

  • This isn’t an overnight miracle elixir. Skincare is a marathon, not a sprint. Commit to a consistent routine for at least 12 weeks to see true transformation. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is your luminous complexion. Stay patient and keep the faith alive.

The Ultimate Chill-Out Routine

Stress can wreak havoc on your skin, so here's a little bonus: a skincare routine infused with self-care.


  1. Cleanser: Choose one that's mild yet effective. You're setting the stage for everything that follows.
  1. Hydrating serum: Something with hyaluronic acid will keep your skin plump and prepped for more.
  1. Light moisturizer: Layer lightly. You want hydration without any feeling of weight.
  1. Sunscreen: Just a reminder—never skip this step. SPF is non-negotiable.


  1. Double Cleanse: First, use an oil-based cleanser to melt away makeup and sunscreen. Follow with a gentle foaming cleanser to clear away any leftover residue and impurities.
  1. Hydrating toner: Choose an alcohol-free version to soothe and prepare your skin, making it more receptive to what comes next.
  1. Azelaic Acid: Use a pea-sized amount. Let it sit for a few minutes to absorb before moving on.
  1. Moisturizer: Pick a rich, barrier-repairing option. Think ceramides or peptides—stuff that gives your skin that extra hug before bed.
  1. Overnight Mask (once a week): Indulge your skin in an extra dose of hydration and TLC. Lay it on and let it work its magic while you dream of better skin days.

Taking It Beyond Skincare

Lifestyle changes can also make a significant impact on your skin’s success with azelaic acid.

Holistic Approach:

  • Diet: This one’s a classic—cut down on sugar and dairy. Both have been known to ramp up inflammation and trigger breakouts. Your skin reflects your diet, so feeding it right is essential.
  • Hydration: Keeping yourself well-hydrated is basic but crucial. Aim for at least 8 glasses a day. Better hydration leads to better skin elasticity and function.
  • Sleep: Sleep isn’t just beauty rest—it’s a fundamental period when your skin repairs itself. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality shut-eye. Your complexion will thank you.

It’s All About You, Darling!

Your skincare journey is personal—you’ve got to find what works best for YOU. 

Adjust your routine, be patient, and stay informed.

Remember, overcoming these initial hurdles with azelaic acid can lead you to clearer, brighter skin (it’s a central part of our clinically effective dark spot corrector for a reason!).

Keep experimenting, stay encouraged, and most importantly, listen to what your skin is telling you.

In the end, azelaic acid could be that missing puzzle piece in your skincare routine. Embrace the discovery phase, because beautiful skin is a journey, not a destination.

Now go forth and get that glow!


By taking these steps, you’re not just addressing why azelaic acid might be making your skin worse; you’re also setting yourself up for a win in the long run. Now that’s the kind of skincare adventure we’re talking about. Share this guide with anyone else who’s struggling, and let’s get through this together!

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