Home Skincare Does Azelaic Acid Cause Purging?

Does Azelaic Acid Cause Purging?

by Gabbi

Cell turnover is all the rage, and most of us are looking for a new superhero ingredient to promote an even complexion.

Chemical exfoliants like AHAs, BHAs, and retinols are commonly used to slow aging and reduce acne or hyperpigmentation.

However, azelaic acid is an underdog ingredient that doesn’t nearly get enough praise. This component is ideal for combating acne, melasma, and even rosacea.

However, chemical exfoliants can increase your skin’s sensitivity levels. In addition, you may notice your skin may appear red, or more breakouts will arise. This is often referred to as purging because an active product increases cell turnover.

Does azelaic acid cause purging? Yes, azelaic acid can cause your skin to purge because it’s an active ingredient that produces cell turnover. You may notice that prescription-grade azelaic acid with a higher percentage will be more likely to trigger purging.

However, don’t neglect over-the-counter products just yet. Even these azelaic acid products will cause your skin to purge, except it may take a little longer to see your true results. So, what else should you know about azelaic acid?

What Is Azelaic Acid?

Azelaic acid is also considered a chemical exfoliant, except it’s a gentle and leave-on treatment when compared to other exfoliants. However, it’s proven an effective ingredient thanks to the anti-inflammatory properties it offers our skin.

According to an NBC interview with Joshua Zeichner, MD, “Azelaic acid is a compound found in wheat, rye, and barley that can help treat acne and rosacea because it soothes inflammation.” 

If you’re on the hunt for a good topical azelaic acid serum, take a look at this effective one from Naturium.

Benefits Of Azelaic Acid 

Azelaic acid is a simple ingredient that you can incorporate into your skincare routine. In addition, it provides numerous benefits for the skin and targets common imperfections. Also, it’s most popularly used in a serum or ointment formula.

However, azelaic acid can treat acne, soothe rosacea, eliminate sun spots or discoloration, etc. Therefore, people who are most likely to benefit from using azelaic acid are those dealing with acne, rosacea, or who have oily to combination skin.


We’ve briefly mentioned that azelaic acid has soothing properties. These anti-inflammatory components are what help soothe skin concerns like rosacea or acne. 

In the same NBC interview with Jeanine Downie, MD, “it’s anti-inflammatory for the acne and it’s anti-pigment because it blocks tyrosinase.” Downie also describes azelaic acid as an antibacterial antioxidant. 

Evens Skin Tone

Hyperpigmentation and acne scarring can haunt you long after your breakouts disappear. Thankfully, azelaic acid can also even out your complexion. This acid will promote cell turnover and slowly reduce discoloration from the skin’s surface.

This is also an excellent ingredient for those struggling with melasma, usually caused by an overproduction of melanin or hormone fluctuations. In addition, azelaic acid will be able to reduce the appearance of dark spots and hyperpigmentation.

Unclogs Pores 

Other common skin concerns include clogged pores, whiteheads, and blackheads. In addition, those who are oily or have acne-prone skin may have also experienced issues with their pores. However, azelaic acid can also decongest your pores. 

Paula’s Choice Ingredient Dictionary states, “it is a type of acid known as a dicarboxylic acid derived from grains that offers gentle exfoliating properties to help unclog pores and refine skin texture.”

Eliminates Dead Skin Cells

Azelaic acid is a mild exfoliant, but don’t be fooled by this gentle ingredient just yet. We’ve mentioned that azelaic acid will promote cell turnover, and it will do so by eliminating dead skin cells from the skin’s surface.

With consistent use, you’ll notice that newer cells are coming forth to offer an even brighter complexion. 

Cons Of Azelaic Acid

Unfortunately, azelaic acid may not be for everyone. 

While it may be a gentle exfoliant and targets the skin differently than AHAs and BHAs, it can still cause sensitivity. However, it can also depend on the percentage or strength of your azelaic acid. 

You may want to avoid azelaic acid if the skin is sensitive, vulnerable, or compromised. In addition, if you feel any adverse physical reactions to azelaic acid, discontinue its use and consult a physician. 

Not Ideal For Sensitive Skin

Stay clear of azelaic acid if you have sensitive skin. You may not have to avoid this ingredient altogether, but you may need more time for your skin to adjust to it. For example, a derm may recommend using this acid once a week until the skin adjusts.

In addition, you may even be advised to perform a past test. 

Can Take A While To See Results 

It can take a while to see results from azelaic acid because your skin will most likely go through a purging phase. 

In addition, because azelaic acid speeds up cell turnover, it will also bring forth sebum and debris that has been trapped under the skin.

Also, if you plan to use an over-the-counter azelaic acid, you may want to wait a few months before expecting any results. However, using prescription-grade azelaic acid may be more effective and efficient.

Potential Burning 

This mild exfoliant can also trigger adverse reactions. For example, if you’re particularly sensitive or mix azelaic acid with improper ingredients, it can harm the skin barrier. You may experience stinging or burning upon application.

The best way to avoid these reactions is by conducting a patch test. 

What Is Skin Purging?

The term purging is commonly used in the skincare world. Also, it’s often associated with retinoids because they’re also an intense anti-aging product. However, skin purging can refer to the number of breakouts that can occur after applying an active.

Active ingredients include retinoids, chemical exfoliants, azelaic acid, and more. These breakouts during the purging phase include an increase in acne, redness, and sensitivity. However, you may also experience dryness or flaky skin.

Will Azelaic Acid Cause Purging? 

Yes, azelaic acid may cause skin purging because it’s an active ingredient and promotes cell turnover. So, when this acid brings new cells to the surface, it will first bring out any sebum or debris, which will cause an increase in breakouts.

However, you’ll need to use azelaic acid consistently if you want to see results and move past the purging phase. 

Signs Your Skin Is Purging

Everyone will have a different experience during the purging phase. For example, some may experience an overly dry or red skin barrier, while others see an increase in acne. 


Irritation and inflammation is usually followed by redness. However, it’s normal to see these symptoms during a purging phase, especially if you’re acne-prone. 


Also, you may see an increase in breakouts. It can take weeks or months for the purging phase to run its course. In addition, purging will also highlight any pre-existing skin concerns to the surface.

Flaky Skin

Some people may even experience dry or flaky skin. This could be residual dead skin that has yet to leave the surface of the face. However, it’s crucial to incorporate hydrating and nourishing ingredients into your routine while purging.

How To Use Azelaic Acid 

Using azelaic correctly can also help your skin push through the purging phase. For example, if you apply too much azelaic acid, mix it with the wrong products, or fail to protect your skin, the purging process may be longer and more challenging. 

So, it’s crucial to start incorporating azelaic acid into your routine slowly. Some helpful tips include applying azelaic acid only at night, learning to layer it into your regimen, and more.

Pair With The Right Ingredients 

You’ll want to keep the skin nourished and protected using azelaic acid, especially if you’re experiencing a purge. For example, you may choose a gentle cleanser or a hydrating element like hyaluronic acid.

However, you may want to stay clear of mixing azelaic acid with other chemical exfoliants to avoid an adverse reaction. This will also be extremely helpful for sensitive skin types.

Use It Only At Night

Azelaic acid may be a gentle exfoliant, but it can still increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. The sun’s harmful rays can eliminate all the benefits of azelaic acid and even solidify imperfections like acne, scarring, and discoloration.

So, one way to avoid taking that risk while your skin is purging is by only applying it at night. When you use azelaic acid at night, it has a greater time to work its magic. However, you’ll need to follow it up with a sunscreen application in the morning.

Apply It As A Spot Treatment

Did you know you can use azelaic acid as a spot treatment? This is ideal for those who have specific areas of discoloration or acne to treat. In addition, you avoid risking your entire face from experiencing irritation or the skin purging. 

Apply your azelaic acid to the areas that need it the most and follow it up with sunscreen when you wake up in the morning. 

Save Azelaic Acid For Last

Azelaic acid should be saved towards the end of your routine. However, if you’re using a prescription for azelaic acid, you’ll want to follow your doctor’s or dermatologist’s instructions strictly.

Over-the-counter azelaic acid won’t be as intense as prescriptions. So, it’s best to cleanse and hydrate the face to prepare for azelaic acid. In addition, you may or may not seal it in with a moisturizer. When in doubt, contact a dermatologist. 

Let It Sit 

Avoid jumping straight into bed once you’ve finished your nightly skincare routine. Instead, allow your skin to soak up your products for at least 15 minutes.

You’ve spent time and money to perfect your regimen, so it’s crucial to wait this time, so your pillowcases don’t absorb your skincare. This will ensure your skin has time to soak up all the benefits azelaic acid has to offer.

How To Alleviate Purging From Azelaic Acid

Thankfully, if you’re experiencing a skin purge, you won’t be lost for all hope. You can incorporate multiple nourishing, protecting, and hydrating products to supplement your skin during purging. 

Some important areas to focus on include sun protection, hydration, and barrier repair. Also, it will be wise to keep your routine as simple as possible for at least a few weeks. Overloading the skin with too many products can also cause harm.


If there is only one product you can add to your routine while using azelaic acid, let it be sunscreen. You won’t be able to see the benefits of Azelaic acid without SPF. In addition, if you don’t apply SPF, it can worsen concerns like acne or scarring.

NBC and Zeichner state, “if you are using azelaic acid, you definitely should be religious about applying sunscreen. Even low level of UV light can promote pigmentation and undo what you have accomplished with your azelaic acid.”


You may be experiencing symptoms like dryness or flaky skin. So, it’s crucial to incorporate hydrating elements into your regimen. For example, a simple moisturizer or a hyaluronic acid serum will go a long way.

In addition, you may even want to include a hydrating toner or essence to promote better absorption of your products. It will also combat skin dehydration or remedy flaky dead cells. 

How Long Does Purging Last?

Everyone will have a different purging experience. In addition, it may also depend on if you’re using a prescription-grade azelaic acid or an over-the-counter formula. 

However, the earliest you may see the purge phase slow down is after 28 days, which is one complete skin cycle. It can also depend on the strength of your azelaic acid and how often you incorporate it into your routine. 

It’s possible that you will continue to purge or break out for a few months before your skin slowly starts to calm down. 

When Will You See Results?

You may be wondering, how long do I need to use azelaic acid before I start seeing results? Like most skincare products, it will take time and consistent use before you notice a change in your skin. It also depends on what product you are using.

For example, you may notice quicker results if you use a prescription-strength azelaic acid. In addition, prescription azelaic acid can range from 15-20%. Therefore, you can see results within 6-8 weeks or two months on average.

However, it can take longer if you use an over-the-counter azelaic acid. So, you may start seeing results in 3-4 months with consistent use.

Related Questions

Which Ingredients Should You Avoid While Using Azelaic Acid?

We mentioned which ingredients can support azelaic acid, but which ones should you stay clear of? If you pair azelaic acid with the wrong components, it can cause harm to your skin barrier, and it will be challenging to see any results.

NBC and Paul Jarrod Frank MD state, “Azelaic acid is a more gentle exfoliant than other AHAs…Frank doesn’t recommend layering azelaic acid with beta hydroxy acid like salicylic acid as both BHAs and AHAs will increase the chances of dryness or irritation.” 


While azelaic acid is a mild exfoliant, it can still induce a purging period. Azelaic will promote cell turnover and treat skin concerns like acne or rosacea. However, it will also bring sebum, debris, and imperfection to the surface during purging. 

You’ll need to use azelaic acid consistently at night with a religious sunscreen application each morning to see results. In addition, this will help you get through the purging phase while also adding hydrating elements to your beauty regimen.

Ask a dermatologist for advice on how to include azelaic acid in your skincare routine! 

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