This review is an update of the literature accumulated over the past 6 years following the original observation that topically applied azelaic acid, a non-toxic C9 dicarboxylic acid, has a beneficial therapeutic effect on acne vulgaris. These studies have shown that azelaic acid has a modulating influence on the process of keratinization, and that it acts as a keratolytic and anti-comedogenic agent. There is evidence that it inhibits mitochondrial and microsomal oxido-reductases, including 5-alpha-reductase, and that it may interfere with the process of sebogenesis. It has a spectrum of antimicrobial activity, both in vitro and in vivo, against aerobic microorganisms and is effective against the anaerobic Propionibacterium acnes. Extensive multi-centre clinical trials have established that topical azelaic acid (a 20% cream) is an effective treatment for all types of acne. It compares well with other agents, such as topical tretinoin or benzoyl-peroxide, or oral tetracycline. It is non-irritant, and does not give rise to allergic or photo-toxic reactions. Its use is not associated with teratogenicity, possible endocrine unbalance, or the disadvantages of antibiotic treatment. It can be applied for long periods, in recurrences, and as maintenance "spot" therapy against individual lesions.