If you've spent any time poking around or lurking among Internet forums like r/skincareaddiction or even just reading Byrdie with any kind of regularity (hey y'all), then you've almost certainly picked up on the purported efficacy of actives. Meant to be far more powerful than more general ingredients, actives, shorthand for "active ingredients" have one standout ingredient among many typically due to its higher concentration percentage—and a lot of times, it's some sort of acid. Naturium, the high-tech, science-focused skincare line founded by social media star and skincare expert Susan Yara, knows a thing or two about harnessing the power of different acids. They released some excellent news for anyone with skin with the launch of the Azelaic Acid Emulsion 10% ($22).
Meet the Expert
- Susan Yara is a skincare influencer and founder of the skincare brand, Naturium.
- Dr. Morgan Rabach is a dermatologist at LM Medical.
What Is Azelaic Acid?
Azelaic Acid, often abbreviated as AzA, is a popular acid for treating hyperpigmentation, melasma, and acne.
For newcomers to AzA, finding a concentration percentage high enough to actually treat the discoloration without a prescription can be tricky. That's where Naturium comes in, offering the highest azelaic acid percentage available over-the-counter. "It's truly the product I wish I had during those years when I couldn't use salicylic acid, retinoids, and some of my favorite hyperpigmentation treatments," Yara tells Byrdie exclusively, explaining that the idea for the emulsion came from her years of pregnancy and breastfeeding that prohibited other harsher ingredients. "And while I don't plan to ever have babies again, I'm glad I now have this product to keep my skin glowing. It's great for all skin types, and can either be the one treatment product you use in your routine or you can layer it with other actives (even with retinoids)." That last point is one worth remembering, particularly if you use tretinoin—the two "augment" or complement each other.
Though azelaic acid might not have the name recognition of some other acids, it's absolutely one worth familiarization. A dicarboxylic acid that exfoliates skin, calms inflammation, treats acne with its natural antibacterial properties, and fades hyperpigmentation. And because it's technically natural, derived from your own body's yeast (the topicals are all lab-grown, though) it's safe for all skin types and, as in Yara's case, for pregnancy and breastfeeding, too. Despite the acid's efficacy, Yara and the Naturium team weren't content to stop there. The emulsion is also formulated with a plant-based iteration of retinol meant for anti-aging, and niacinamide, a form of B3 that protects skin's moisture barrier while also fighting acne that Yara calls "one of my favorite skincare ingredients. It helps brighten, soothe, and strengthen the skin barrier." Rounding out composition is sugarcane-derived squalane ("Again, one of my favorite skincare ingredients to hydrate and nourish the skin," Yara says), and acetyl rheum rhaponticum root extract and avena sativa (oat) kernel extract ("both ingredients are great for further brightening the skin and evening discoloration.").
Once you get your hands on the emulsion, it's surprisingly simple to fold it into your existing routine thanks to the harmonious, gentle ingredients. “Emulsions are lighter versions of moisturizing creams,” says Dr. Morgan Rabach, dermatologist at LM Medical, in an interview with Byrdie. “Unlike most heavy facial creams, emulsions are typically water-based, which means they go on lighter and thinner than creams. In some cases, emulsions come in gel or almost liquid forms. I think of them as thicker than a serum but thinner than a cream.” Typically, it's suggested that you apply your emulsion as one of, if not the, final step in your routine. When in doubt, layer it on after your other most active product. If you're using a retinol, for example, this would come just after. If you're feeling dry, follow it up with a moisturizer. Why can't everything be this easy?
Similar Azelaic Acid Products
Paula's Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster is another cream-gel formula that features azelaic acid. Similar to Naturium's emulsion, this product works to reduce the look of blemishes, smooth out bumpy texture, calm redness, and also fade uneven skin tone and post-breakout marks. It can be mixed with a moisturizer or serum or used on its own day or night.
The Ordinary's Azelaic Acid 10% Suspension Brightening Cream visibly brightens skin tone and improves skin texture. Considering a 1 oz bottle of this cream is $10, this is an affordable way to incorporate azelaic acid into your skincare routine.
Mazurek K, Pierzchała E. Comparison of efficacy of products containing azelaic acid in melasma treatment. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2016;15(3):269-282. doi:10.1111/jocd.12217
St Surin-Lord S, Miller J. Topical treatment of truncal acne with tretinoin lotion 0.05% and azelaic acid foam. Case Rep Dermatol Med. 2020;2020:5217567. doi:10.1155/2020/5217567
Chilicka K, Rogowska AM, Szyguła R, Dzieńdziora-Urbińska I, Taradaj J. A comparison of the effectiveness of azelaic and pyruvic acid peels in the treatment of female adult acne: a randomized controlled trial. Sci Rep. 2020;10(1):12612. doi:10.1038/s41598-020-69530-w