A systematic review to evaluate the efficacy of azelaic acid in the management of acne, rosacea, melasma and skin aging

J Cosmet Dermatol. 2023 Oct;22(10):2650-2662. doi: 10.1111/jocd.15923. Epub 2023 Aug 7.


Background: Topical azelaic acid (AA) is indicated for acne and rosacea, but there is some evidence for its use for other dermatological conditions.

Aims: To assess the effectiveness and safety of topical AA for acne vulgaris, rosacea, hyperpigmentation/melasma, and skin aging.

Methods: RCTs of at least 6 weeks' treatment duration were eligible for inclusion. Databases including MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL, and ClinicalTrials.gov were searched up to December 2022. Two reviewers were involved in all stages of the systematic review process.

Results: Forty-three RCTs met the inclusion criteria. Meta-analyses within 20 rosacea studies demonstrated that erythema severity, inflammatory lesion counts, overall improvement, and treatment success (achieving skin clarity) were significantly improved with AA compared with vehicle after 12 weeks. AA was more effective than metronidazole 0.75% for improved erythema severity, overall improvement, and inflammatory lesion counts. Sixteen acne studies suggest that AA is more effective than vehicle for improving global assessments and reducing acne severity. AA 20% also significantly reduced more lesions than erythromycin gel. Within seven melasma studies, AA 20% was significantly better than vehicle for both severity and global improvement. AA 20% demonstrated significantly better results compared with hydroquinone 2% for global improvement. Very few significant differences between AA and comparators were observed for commonly reported adverse events. No eligible RCTs were found that evaluated skin aging.

Conclusions: AA is more effective than vehicle for rosacea, acne and melasma. Comparisons between AA and other treatments were often equivalent. Where there is equivalence, AA may be a good option for some clinical situations. RCT evidence is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of AA on skin aging.

Keywords: acne; azelaic acid; dermatology; melasma; rosacea.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acne Vulgaris* / drug therapy
  • Dermatologic Agents* / adverse effects
  • Erythema / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Melanosis* / drug therapy
  • Rosacea* / drug therapy
  • Rosacea* / pathology
  • Skin Aging*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • azelaic acid
  • Dermatologic Agents

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