Salicylic acid is one of the most important substances you should be aware of in the over-the-counter fight against breakouts. Simply said, it is one of the main foes of acne. The instant you see a pimple on your face, you rush for a spot treatment. If you apply it to a spot overnight, you can wake up with a dried-up, much less apparent pimple in the morning. But what does salicylic acid do to the skin, and how can you use it to your advantage?

What Is Salicylic Acid?

It is a naturally occurring chemical that is generated from willow tree bark. It belongs to a group of acids known as beta-hydroxy acids, or BHAs, and is renowned for its capacity to assist in exfoliation and the removal of dead skin cells from the surface of the skin.

You’ll either come across Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) or Beta Hydroxy Acids when it comes to skincare (BHAs). Salicylic acid and other BHAs are more oil-soluble, while AHAs are more water-soluble. BHAs more readily penetrate the lipid layers of skin cells and reach the skin at a deeper level than water-soluble compounds.

What does salicylic acid provide for the skin?

It may work deep inside your skin. This characteristic makes it a very effective component for treating acne, especially blackheads and whiteheads.

It, once it enters the skin, dissolves skin debris that clogs pores, as an anti-inflammatory, and also aids in the quicker healing of red, inflamed pimples and pustules.

The chemical may permeate the skin so deeply that it actually weakens the bonds between skin cells. The acidic portion of the molecule may dissolve some of the intracellular “glue” that binds skin cells together after it has entered the skin.


Exfoliation is aided by the shedding of dead skin cells. Because of its keratolytic properties, salicylic acid provides superior exfoliation. The outermost layer of skin is loosened and shed with the use of keratolytic drugs.

Desmosomes are also loosened and broken apart by salicylic acid (attachments between cells in the outer layer of skin). This “desmolytic” property aids in skin exfoliation and follicle unclogging.

Acne’s causation is still debated, although one theory proposes that abnormal skin cells, rather than sloughing off during a healthy skin cell cycle and leaving the pores unblocked, instead clump together and cause cysts and blackheads. Blackheads may be more easily eliminated with the use of salicylic acid, which helps loosen and exfoliate the affected skin cells.

Treats whiteheads and blackheads

Acne is caused by three factors: an overproduction of oil, an abnormal shedding of skin cells, and the activity of P. acnes bacterium. To address the first reason, salicylic acid may be used to the skin to break down the debris that can block pores and lead to acne.

For this reason, it is the best option for eliminating both blackheads and whiteheads. The keratin plugs may be dissolved immediately by salicylic acid, which also controls the skin cells. Due to its antibacterial properties, it helps with cystic acne, albeit not as much as with the more common forms of the condition like blackheads and whiteheads.

Who Should Use Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic acid, however, is beneficial for all skin types. Since this substance contains anti-inflammatory characteristics that help to relieve irritation, battle acne issues, and prevent new breakouts, those with oily skin and acne-prone skin will benefit the most from using it.

How Often Should You Use Salicylic Acid?

Its dosage varies depending on the product being used. It is okay to use your cleanser every day if salicylic acid is one of the ingredients.

To prevent over-exfoliating and drying out the skin, experts suggest using an exfoliant with salicylic acid in the composition no more than three times a week.

Side Effects

It is generally safe for usage on all skin types and shouldn’t result in any harmful side effects. At first, you could feel a little irritated, but this should pass quickly. I advise discontinuing use of the lotion and seeing a dermatologist if inflammation persists.

Can salicylic acid be used with vitamin C?

It’s crucial to think about how a new skin-care item will work with the others in your regimen before including it. Vitamin C and salicylic acid may be combined “in the right order.”

Depending on your skin type and the results you want to accomplish, you could not use both at the same time. But you might, for instance, scrub your face with salicylic acid if you’re prone to acne, and then apply topical vitamin C as an antioxidant at two different points during the day.

Vitamin C may lighten skin and lessen dark spots, including hyperpigmentation from acne scars, so the two components go together naturally in a face-care regimen for those who are prone to acne.

Top 5 Skincare Products with Salicylic Acid

1.La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Facial Cleanser

This straightforward face cleanser with 2 percent salicylic acid helps to get rid of excess oil and clear pimples while humectant glycerin moisturizes the skin.
Salicylic acids are quite potent and quickly dissolve the oils that cause acne.

2. CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser

It is perfect for dry, acne-prone skin because, according to the manufacturer, the formula’s three moisturizing ceramides “balance out the drying impact of the salicylic acid.”

Cerave’s Acne Control Cleanser is spelled explicitly as having 2 percent salicylic acid if you feel more at ease with a clear percentage. The recipe includes three different kinds of ceramides to fortify the skin’s barrier as well as oil-absorbing technology to minimize oil and visual shine.

3. The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

This blood-red chemical exfoliant, one of the most well-liked and TikTok-viral products from the budget Canadian company, imitates the results of a professional peel for less than $10. If you have skin that is somewhat sensitive, use this product with extreme care as the high concentrations of glycolic, lactic, tartaric, citric, and salicylic acid are not to be trifled with. But neither are the polished, smooth texture and resulting shine.

4. Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash

The experts advise using Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash, which is oh-so-classic. Salicylic acid at a 2 percent dosage exfoliates the skin by dissolving skin oil and eliminating [dead] cells that clog pores.

5. Cocokind Postbiotic Acne Serum

Beta-glucan and postbiotics are also included in Cocokind’s Probiotic Acne Serum to hydrate and calm skin in addition to 1.5 percent salicylic acid, which works hard to clear your complexion and unclog pores. The postbiotic in issue is lactobacillus ferment, a non-living postbiotic created during fermentation that aids in the reduction of redness, promotes your microbiome (a phrase that is more popular than ever), and shields skin from external stimuli. For optimum effects, gently pat two to three drops onto skin morning and/or evening after cleaning and toning.

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