Azelaic acid has some excellent benefits for your skin but will it make your skin worse before it gets better? Does azelaic acid cause purging?
What Is Purging?
You may have heard people say that certain skincare ingredients may “make your skin worse before it gets better” – usually when referring to acne-fighting ingredients.
What they’re talking about is skin ‘purging’.
Skin purging is a term used to describe breakouts that happen soon after you start using a new skincare product that increases your skin’s natural exfoliation rate.
Purging only happens on the areas of your skin where you would usually experience breakouts.
This is due to the fact that up to 30% of your pores that appear acne-free actually contain microcomedones. This is in comparison to a maximum of 0.25% of your pores that are active pimples (even in severe cases of acne).
Microcomedones are tiny little pouches filled with oil, bacteria, and dead skin cells, that eventually grow, clog your pores, and lead to acne breakouts. They are the starting point of an acne pimple.
It usually takes around 8-weeks for a microcomedone to come to the surface of your skin and cause a pimple but if you use skincare products that increase your skin’s natural exfoliation process, they are able to surface and resolve faster.
In the long-run, this is a good thing and maintaining these skincare products can prevent new microcomedones and pimples from forming. However, in the short-term, it means that a lot of pimples are going to come to the surface at the same time and cause a breakout that may be worse than what you’re used to.
It’s tempting to stop using these types of skincare ingredients when you experience purging but continuing use will clear the breakout quicker and you will experience fewer breakouts once you’ve got through the initial purge.
Does Azelaic Acid Cause Purging?
Azelaic acid is a dicarboxylic acid that is found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye, and has excellent benefits for your skin, including:
- Reducing inflammation
- Improving redness and rosacea
- Preventing the growth of bacteria
- Treating acne and acne marks (post-inflammatory erythema/hyperpigmentation)
- Preventing melanin synthesis to brighten skin and reduce dark marks/hyperpigmentation
- Reducing skin sensitivity
- Improving skin texture
It also acts as a mild exfoliant to clear your pores of dirt, bacteria, and oil which means that it is likely to cause purging when you first start using it.
Purging vs Breaking Out
While a breakout experienced shortly after you’ve introduced azelaic acid into your routine is highly likely to be down to purging, there’s always a chance that it’s not.
Breakouts can also occur due to skin irritation caused by a skincare product.
It can be a bit tricky to determine whether your skin is purging or breaking out due to an irritation but here’s how you can work it out:
- Breakouts due to purging should only happen on areas of skin where you would normally experience breakouts and the breakouts should clear faster than usual as long as you keep using the product.
- Breakouts due to irritation happen on areas of skin where you wouldn’t usually experience breakouts, take longer to clear up, and won’t clear up (they may even get worse) if you continue to use the product.
Skincare ingredients and treatments that increase your skin’s natural exfoliation process and are likely to cause purging include:
- Retinoids (e.g. retinol, retinal, retin-a)
- AHAs (e.g. glycolic acid, lactic acid, etc.)
- BHAs (e.g. salicylic acid)
- Lasers and chemical peels
- Physical exfoliation (e.g. facial scrubs, microdermabrasion)
- Acne treatments (e.g. benzoyl peroxide)
- Azelaic acid
How To Reduce Azelaic Acid Purging
You may not be able to prevent azelaic acid from causing skin purging entirely, but there are some ways that you can reduce its severity:
- Start slowly – use azelaic acid less frequently to begin with and increase use as your skin tolerates. This will also help prevent skin barrier damage and sensitivity and is always a smart move with any skincare ingredient if you have sensitive skin.
- Use soothing skincare ingredients alongside azelaic acid to boost its anti-inflammatory effects (the size of acne pimples is generally down to how inflamed they are).
How To Reduce The Risk Of Reactive Breakouts
The best way to reduce the risk of experiencing breakouts from irritation or a reaction is to patch test products before you use them. You can do this by applying the product to a small area of your skin once or twice a day for five days. Such areas of skin include your inner arm, behind your ear, or just below your jawline – somewhere that isn’t too visible incase you do experience a reaction.
Summary – Does Azelaic Acid Cause Purging?
Azelaic acid is a great skincare ingredient for skin concerns like acne, hyperpigmentation, and rosacea. However, it has a mild exfoliating effect which means that it may cause an initial breakout that’s often referred to as ‘skin purging’. You can reduce the severity of skin purging by introducing any skincare products that contain azelaic acid into your skincare regimen slowly.
Laura is a skincare addict and sunscreen enthusiast with more than 10 years of experience working in healthcare and over 5 years of experience working as a nurse. She has experience in plastic and reconstructive surgery, dermatology, and aesthetics and has received training in laser treatments. Laura is currently working in healthcare education and writes for ScienceBecomesHer in her spare time. Read More.