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Skincare Real Talk: Does Azelaic Acid Make Skin Worse at First?

by Ella Goodman 18 Mar 2024

Hey skin care junkies! 

Azelaic acid’s a true skincare all-star, loved by millions.

But have you ever wondered whether these results are instant?

Or is there a bit of pain before the gain? 

Let’s settle this debate once and for all!

Does azelaic acid make skin worse before better?

First off, let’s get clear on exactly what we’re dealing with when we talk about azelaic acid.

Azelaic acid is a natural substance produced by the yeast that lives on healthy skin. While its primary function is to kill the bacteria that causes acne and rosacea by oxygenating the skin pores, it also reduces inflammation and slows the growth of skin cells that could block pores. 

In other words, it's your skin's own secret agent.

"But how can my secret agent make my situation worse?" you may ask. 

Well, my friend, let's chalk this up to something called the 'purging phase'. 

This delightful (read: slightly less than delightful) phase is the result of increased cell turnover. 

When cell turnover speeds up, the skin starts to micro-peel, and the existing pimples or clogged pores underneath make their way to the surface faster.

And yes, it's exactly what it sounds like – a couple of days or even weeks of your skin throwing a tantrum like a toddler being told no chocolate cake before dinner. 

But, just like the cake-deprived tot, this phase will pass, and you'll see the light (not to get too philosophical on ya).

The skin getting worse before better is not restricted to azelaic acid alone, FYI. It's a known phenomenon across different active ingredients. Retinoids, vitamin C, benzoyl peroxide — they all have a tendency to put your skin through the purging phase before they start showing improvements. 

Do keep in mind that this isn’t a universal law. Not everyone goes through the purging phase, lucky ducks! 

Skin's reaction to products is incredibly personal, depending on unique factors such as its current health, your diet, exercise, exposure to pollution, and even your darn genes. 

"But how do I know if it’s purging or a legit bad reaction?" 

Glad you asked! 

Purging typically presents as a miniature breakout in the areas you usually get them. The pimples also tend to clear up quicker than usual. 

On the flip side, if redness, burning, itching or swelling occur, that may indicate a potential allergic reaction or irritation. That's when it might be time to hit the pause button and consult a dermatologist. 

And, here's a pro-tip for you: when adding any new product to your skincare regimen, less is more. Start with a pea-sized amount of azelaic acid every other day and gradually increase the frequency and amount depending on how your skin responds.

So yes, azelaic acid can turn your skin into a drama queen temporarily. But once that phase is over, it’s like the whole dramatic episode never happened.

Your skin will be clearer, brighter, and healthier - kinda like that post-final-exam glow, without the stress of all-nighters. And that's the tea, folks! 

Remember, patience is the key to skincare. Don't be too hard on yourself or your skin. You're both simply working towards a common goal - proving that beauty, in a way, is skin deep after all. 

Can azelaic acid make pigmentation worse?

Hold that thought, the answer is a big NO! azelaic acid will not make pigmentation worse.

You might be twiddling your thumbs in uncertainty and we get it. The world of skincare seems to unravel a new mystery every other day! 

But here is your fun fact for the day - azelaic acid, contrary to a handful of myths floating around, does not lead to skin darkening or exacerbate pigmentation. 

Are your antennas up? Read on.

Azelaic acid indeed works as your trusted champion against pigmented cells. Picture a brave night in gleaming armor, ready to slay the dragon named melasma and its sidekick, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. The acid functions with calculated accuracy, targeting the pigment-producing cells, also known as melanocytes. 

There's a science-y bit to that.

Melanin is the pigment that gives our skin its color. Now imagine a spectrum, one end of which represents reduced melanin production resulting in lighter skin, and the other end with increased melanin creating darker skin. 

Azelaic acid nudges your skin to the lighter end of this spectrum by decreasing the overactive production of melanin. 

Bear in mind, this isn’t a process of merely fading your color away. It's a responsible and restorative function where azelaic acid halts the excess melanin production that the skin doesn’t need, and thereby lightens any existing pigmentation

It's like a sentinel for your skin, building a protective shield and maintaining the balance of melanin production!

However, lest you think you're completely out of the woods, remember to apply sunblock during your azelaic acid skincare regime. The caveat here doesn't lie with the acid itself causing skin darkening. 

Instead, any skincare product that targets pigmentation can potentially make your skin more susceptible to sun damage.

Why is that, you ask?

Well, here's the science. 

The sun emits UVA and UVB rays, both of which have the potential to harm your skin. Specifically, UVB rays can cause sunburn and play a decisive role in the development of skin cancer. 

Exposing your skin to these rays, particularly when it's in the process of healing and rejuvenating, can disrupt the process and lead to further pigmentation issues. 

So, the moral of the story is - jam to the rhythm of your azelaic acid regime but don't forget to wear sunscreen! This power pair are the salsa dancers of skincare, lightening your pigmentation while protecting your skin all at once!

So say goodbye to your pigmentation fears and say hello to a newfound love for azelaic acid. 

Your skin will thank you for it - and so will your confidence! 

Go ahead, pamper your skin with azelaic acid and don't forget to play it safe with sunscreen. You are now armed with the knowledge to tackle pigmentation. 

The power to illuminate your skin begins at the end of your fingertips, quite literally! 

How long does it take for your skin to adjust to azelaic acid?

So, you’re experiencing a few growing pains after first incorporating azelaic acid.

But don't fear, this is just your skin bidding goodbye to all things bad! (Acne and hyperpigmentation, take the hint, won't you?)

As a rule of thumb, you’re likely to get over the adjustment phase with azelaic acid within about 4 weeks.

Now, let's delve a tad deeper into why that four-week mark really matters. 

You see, our skin follows its own calendar and, yes, it sticks to schedules better than you do with your morning yoga regimen. 

A skin cell renewal cycle, otherwise known as epidermal turnover, is the period of time it takes for your skin to slough off the old and get with the new. For an average, healthy adult, this process usually takes about 28-30 days. 

Consider azelaic acid your skin's personal fitness trainer. It's there to whip your skin cells into shape. However, it can't rush the process. 

Asking how long before you see results with azelaic acid is like asking how long it takes to see toned abs. The answer is - it takes as long as your skin (or you in the gym, respectively) needs. You wouldn't quit after a week of workouts, would you?

When you begin using azelaic acid, the first week might be an uphill battle. Slightly irritated skin, a touch of peeling here, a bit of redness there - these are all signs that the product is actually working. 

It's not exactly sparring-boxing-gloves-off kind of fight, more like a friendly arm wrestling match with your skin cells. 

See, introduction of azelaic acid forces your skin to kick start its natural regulatory mechanisms -- AKA getting back on the right workout plan of shedding dead skin cells and producing fresh, healthy ones.

As you move into the second and third weeks using the product, your skin should start adjusting. It's now starting to learn the rhythm and getting in the groove, just like you do with your favorite Zumba class. 

So, you might notice that initial irritations are beginning to recede. Every usage trains your skin to better metabolize the acid. 

When you cross that four-week threshold, that's when your skin will be in full-swing azelaic acid mode. 

By then, your cells should be functioning like a well-oiled machine and better tolerating the acid. In this phase, entranced by azelaic acid's zestful dance, you will begin to see a commendable improvement in your skin. 

Think clearer complexion, reduced inflammation, and a visible reduction in hyperpigmentation. 

Oh, the sheer delight! The payoff for those early days of adjustment and going steady is indeed sweet. But it doesn’t mean making a hasty exit from this dance floor. 

A lasting relationship with azelaic acid will keep perfecting your skin's texture and giving it a nice, healthy glow over time.

So remember, darlings, four weeks is your compass. Navigate with patience and tenacity, and azelaic acid will unfold a panorama of skin goodness. Now, off you go, and no looking back!

When should I stop using azelaic acid?

Time for a little chit-chat about when to pump the brakes on azelaic acid. 

We know when and why we should use it, but when should we part ways with it? 

Firstly, keep in mind that azelaic acid is as chill as a penguin comfortably sliding down an Antarctic ice slope - the stuff is mellow and doesn't usually crank up any trouble. 

However, no two snowflakes are alike, and your skin is no exception. Everyone sports a uniquely individual skin type, making some skincare components a hit or a flop. 

Let's decant this. If your skin pitches a fit, sprouting irritation, tenderness, or flaky dryness, it's a cue from your body that azelaic acid might not be your ideal dance partner in the waltz of skincare. If it doesn't sit well with your skin, you should read the room and give it a miss.

On the flip side, azelaic acid, derived from yeast and boasting non-comedogenic features, is proclaimed a heartthrob by dermatologists. It gently exfoliates the skin and navigates breakout control, making it an evergreen favorite. Handle with care though - the goal here is not to antagonize your skin; rather, it's about a beautiful coexistence.

Public service announcement: with azelaic acid, think about planting a seed and nurturing it to bloom. 

In case you missed it, there might be a bit of a 'storm before the calm' phase where your skin takes some time to acquaint itself with this new member of your skincare team. Lessons learned from this journey: patience, sunscreen, and dollops of self-love. 

These words of wisdom aim to guide the skincare luminaries in the best direction. 

The verdict? Azelaic acid could well be the next MVP (Most Valuable Player) ready to slide into your skincare squad. The only requisition required: a bit of real estate on your bathroom shelf!

In conclusion, here's the golden rule to remember - perfection sounds glamorous, but it's a tiny, rigid box to squash oneself into. 

The real goal here is not 'perfect' skin, but happier, healthier skin. 

Your skin speaks a language of its own, and listening to it is fundamental. Always treat your skin with gentleness and respect.

So, carry on being fabulous, gorgeous, and uniquely 'you'. 

But if you wish to shift your skincare routine up a gear, why not consider azelaic acid? It just might add a bit of dazzle and elevate your skin to another level of radiant. 

Trust us, your skin will thank you for it!

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