Salicylic Acid For Skin – The Comprehensive Guide

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Salicylic acid has received so many acclaims by individuals and dermatologists on its efficacy on acne. Infact, there have been millions of success stories on the internet when it comes to treating acne with salicylic acid. This is so because, their has been lots of rigorous research backing salicylic acid, making it one of the best ingredient to tackle and treat acne for good. But because of different in skin types and acne being a vast and complicated topic, there haven’t been one-fit-all, when it comes to treating acne, other ingredients like retinoids (vitamin A derivative), benzoyl peroxide, and alpha hydroxy acids also plays a good role. Keep reading to know more about salicylic acid for skin, and to find out if salicylic acid will work for you, your skin type, or your type of acne.


What Is Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic acid is a BHA (beta hydroxy acids), it is derived from White willow (salix alba). Not only does it help the skin shed dead skin cells from the top layer and decreasing redness and swelling (inflammation), but also treats acne as it unclog the hair follicles (pores) of dead skin cells and other pore-clogging impurities and nasties. Unlike AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) which are water-soluble and ideal for surface exfoliation, salicylic acid is oil-soluble, due to that, it penetrates deeply into the skin and cuts through oil/sebum to deliver its potentials by deeply exfoliating and decongesting the pores of grime and gunk.

Salicylic acid is present in so many over-the-counter products, you can find it in cleansers, serums, creams, toners, peels, which can easily be outsourced without prescription unlike retinoids. Although there are some salicylic acid products which are available in prescription-strength too.

Skin Benefits Of Salicylic Acid.

Exfoliates Dead Skin Cells.

Salicylic acid sloughs of dead skin cells on the top layer on the skin. As an acid-exfoliant, salicylic acid works by softening and dissolving keratin. Keratin is the protein found in our skin that causes cells to stick together. So, the acid makes these dead skin cells much easier to slough off. Salicylic acid also exfoliates the pore and encourages cellular turnover which in turn enhances skin radiance and texture. [1]

Decongest The Pores.

The skin pores gets clogged due to oil build-up and dead skin cells stucked in it, and salicylic acid being an oil-soluble and exfoliating acid penetrates easily into the pores, to dissolve oil build-up, deeply but mildly exfoliate pores of congestion, thereby keeping the pores clean which in turn prevents future acne occurrences.

Gets Rid Of Acne, Whiteheads & Blackheads.

Salicylic acid penetrates into your skin and works to dissolve the dead skin cells clogging your pores, not only does it address acne breakouts but also targets and treated blackheads and whiteheads by preventing them from returning to the surface level of your skin. [2]

Removes Excess Oil.

Salicylic acid alleviates the skin of excess oil because of its ability to cut through oil — as an oil-soluble acid — to clean out excess sebum from the pores and reduce oiliness which in turn helps refine and improve the appearance of pores. Making salicylic acid best suitable for oily skin.

Reduces inflammation.

Salicylic acid belongs to a class of drugs known as salicylates (aspirin). When applied to the skin, because of salicylic acid’s anti-inflammatory properties, it helps to calm down redness and irritation associated with inflammation. Salicylic acid may work by helping the skin to shed dead cells from the top layer and by decreasing redness and swelling (inflammation). This helps decreases the number of pimples that form and speeds healing. [3]

Treats Psoriasis.

Salicylic acid It is a common and effective treatment for a wide variety of skin problems. It extends it potentials to treating psoriasis. It is used on the skin to treat psoriasis and other dry, scaly skin conditions. Salicylic acid is classified as a keratolytic, or peeling agent. It works by causing the outer layer of skin to shed. As a psoriasis treatment, it acts as a scale lifter, helping to soften and remove psoriasis scales. [4]

Treat Warts.

Over-the-counter salicylic acid is a commonly used medication to treat your warts. Due to its acidic and exfoliating nature, salicylic acid is slowly and painlessly absorbed into the skin causing peeling of dead skin cells and the skin cells that contain the wart virus. In a comparison research study where 50% salicylic acid and cryotherapy where used on 240 patients with plantar wart proved that both salicylic and cryotherapy were equally affective in getting rid of planter wart.

Salicylic Acid Side Effects.

Salicylic acid is considered safe to the skin, but best suitable for individuals with oily or acne-prone skin. That being said, for those with dry, eczema-prone, or sensitive skin, the drying ingredient could be too harsh and lead to irritation.

However, as a new beginner you may experience slight dryness due to the fact salicylic acid may remove too much oil, resulting in dryness and potential irritation which may result to skin tingling or stinging, itching (contact dermatitis), peeling-skin and hives. These side effects are common to new salicylic acid users, and should stop when the skin have built tolerance to it.

However, If side effects continues, it could be a sign you need to use a lower concentration or contact your board-certified dermatologist to let them know how your skin is reacting. If you’re new to alpha and beta hydroxy acids, ensure to start from the lower concentration, when your skin must have gotten accustomed or built tolerance to the acid, you can move up to higher concentrations (if need be).

How to Use Salicylic Acid For Skin.

The recommended concentration of salicylic acid to be used varies on individual differences, as skin differs so shall prescription strength differ too. Therefore, salicylic acid concentration to be used should be discussed with your board certified dermatologist as well as how often it should be applied.

In general, it’s advised to ease your way into acids, use salicylic slowly until your skin built tolerance to it. Start off by applying it twice or thrice weekly and watch how your skin reacts to it after each application. The key is to pay close attention to your skin, if it’s getting irritated, you’ll need to take a day or two days off and also to be diligent with applying your moisturizer after each use. Don’t apply too much, apply just enough salicylic acid to cover the affected area and rub it into the skin gently.

While salicylic acid is a reliable option for treating superficial acne, prescription medications, like oral treatments, may be necessary for targeting cystic acne, so it’s best to have a derm evaluate your skin to decide which treatment would be most effective.

Having said that, there are many over-the-counter products containing salicylic acid at a reasonable concentration which can be used at-home, but endeavor to consult your derm on your options.

The Best Products With Salicylic Acid.

The Inkey List Salicylic Acid Cleanser.

Salicylic acid for skin

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A non-drying, lightly foaming cleanser from The Inkey List brand, which helps removes makeup and dirt, while helping to reduce blackheads and breakouts. As well as effectively cleansing the skin, this 2% salicylic acid cleanser has an added zinc compound. Together they help with oil-control, reducing blackheads and breakouts and promoting a more even looking complexion.

Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash.

Salicylic acid for skin

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An oil-free acne wash, suitable for all skin types but more especially for individuals with oily skin. Contains 2% salicylic acid to penetrate deeply into your skin, cut through oil and cleanse the walls of the skin of pore-clogging impurities by decongesting the pores and delivering skin-surface exfoliation for a clearer and even tone skin.

CeraVe SA Cream for Rough & Bumpy Skin.

Salicylic acid for skin

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If you’re struggling with skin texture irregularities such as bumpy skin and large pores, then this cream comes to your rescue. With the combination of salicylic acid and lactic acid for adequate deep and surface exfoliation. It contains hyaluronic acid for intense skin surface hydration, it also contains 3 different essential ceramides to protect skin barrier.

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid.

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid.

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A leave-on exfoliant, containing 2% salicylic acid for a gentle but thorough exfoliation, to quickly unclogs pores, smoothes wrinkles, brightens and evens skin tone. This leave-on gentle salicylic acid exfoliator helps decongest the skin pores of congestion (which may lead to breakouts), thereby preventing the occurrence of breakouts, ensures a refined and rejuvenated skin texture.

Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Spot Treatment.

Salicylic acid for skin

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If you’re on budget, and you’re on a quest for a potent salicylic acid topical, then give this drugstore formula a shot. It combines 2% salicylic acid and witch hazel to reduce oil, soothe inflammation and treat superficial breakouts.

Origins Super Spot Remover Acne Treatment Gel.

Salicylic acid for skin

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People with oily skin will find this product more suitable, as it’s a gel formula which contains 1.5% salicylic acid, witch hazel, and other plant extracts not only to fight blemishes and clear pore-clogging debris but also fade the spots.

Glamglow Supermud Clearing Treatment.

Salicylic acid for skin

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A fan of face mask? Then try out this charcoal and powerhouse of AHAs and BHA formula (lactic acid, salicylic acid, glycolic acid, mandelic acid, tartaric acid, pyruvic acid) for detoxing the skin pores of gunk and grime for an acne-free, smoother and brighter-looking skin.
Note: You must be a long-term acid user before using this treatment as this formula contains 6 exfoliating acids.

Possible Questions & Answers.

Q: Is salicylic acid safe for pregnant women and nursing mothers?

A: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists notes that topical salicylic acid is safe to use while pregnant.

However, you should talk to your doctor if you’re considering using salicylic acid and are pregnant — or breastfeeding — so you can get advice specific to your situation, especially in regard to other medications you’re taking or medical conditions you may have.

Q: Is salicylic acid suitable for all skin types?

A: Salicylic acid is suitable for use on all skin types, but it’s especially effective on blemish prone and uneven skin as it helps to prevent pore blockages and contains anti-inflammatory properties.

UP NEXT: Lactic Acid – The AHA For Sensitive Skins.
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