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Ingredient Spotlight: Salicylic Acid

If you’ve ever treated acne or looked for a chemical exfoliator, you’ve probably happened across salicylic acid. It’s one of the most commonly used ingredients in skincare, and it can be very effective in treating certain types of acne and other skin care conditions. But what is salicylic acid? Why is it so powerful? Should you be concerned that it’s an acid? We’ve got all the answers below!

Willow bark

What is salicylic acid? 

Salicylic acid is derived from the chemical compound Salicin, which is found naturally in willow tree bark. Salicylic acid actually contains the same anti-inflammatory ingredients that you find in Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) and this is the same property that gives the skincare hero ingredient its antibacterial and drying effects — two important factors when it comes to treating acne.

The ingredient is also a keratolytic, which means that it dissolves or breaks down keratin, the protein that makes up the outer layer of skin.

What makes salicylic acid such a go-to skin care ingredient?

Salicylic acid is excellent at effectively unclogging our pores, and this is why it tends to be great for blackheads and whiteheads. The acid is able to penetrate into our pores to clear out bacteria and the dead skin cells that get trapped in our skin’s sebum (our natural oils). When these three culprits mix together, that’s what creates a blackhead or whitehead! 

Salicylic acid can also be helpful for more inflammatory and bacteria-based cystic acne because of its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

In addition to treating all sorts of acne, salicylic acid can also be used to treat everything from dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, keratosis pilaris, and psoriasis to calluses, corns, and other conditions related to the build up of excess skin cells. That’s because of those keratolytic properties — salicylic is so helpful because it’s so great at helping to detach dead skin cells from our live ones. 

How can I find salicylic acid?

Salicylic acid can be found in so many products — acne cleansers, lotions, and spot treatments, to name a few. Salicylic can be used as a cleanser when scrubbed into pores, but also as a leave on treatment in masks, lotions and spot treatments, to help really sink into the skin.

When opting for a salicylic acid-based product, the amount of salicylic acid in that product is important to note. A common mistake people make is immediately choosing the product with the highest percentage of the ingredient. Over-the-counter salicylic acid products will contain anywhere between 0.5% and 2%. If you are just beginning to use salicylic acid products, remember that it has drying effects on the skin so starting with a mild dosage is best — and often just as effective.

Who benefits most from using salicylic acid?

Anybody who wants a gentle exfoliator can benefit from salicylic acid! It’s best for tackling acne and as a pore de-gunker, but as mentioned before, it can also be used to treat dandruff, seborrhea, psoriasis, and to remove corns, calluses, and warts.

1 Comment
  1. I’ have every kind of comedone possible across my
    T zone but mostly on my chin/jawline. I’ve used sacylic acid in the past but it always left my face with small red spots all over! I think I may be allergic. I’ve also tried glycolic acid but this tends to inflame my comedones and make the situation worse. What do you recommend? I’m 27 very fair skinned Caucasian and easily prone to scarring. I have hormonal acne as well the cyclical cystic type.

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