5 Benefits of Salicylic Acid & How to Use It

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5 Benefits of Salicylic Acid & How to Use It | Salicylic acid is a key part of an acne-fighting skin care routine. It's an oil-based chemical exfoliant that's available in various over-the-counter products, from cleansers and moisturizers, to pads, peels, serums, and toners. It helps dissolve skin debris that clogs pores and causes acne, and has exfoliating effects that can revitalize a dull complexion. Click to learn how to use it, side effects to look for, and the best drugstore options.

Salicylic acid is a key part of an acne-fighting skin care routine. It helps dissolve skin debris that clogs pores and causes acne, plus it has exfoliating effects that can revitalize a dull complexion. If you’re yet to dabble in this ingredient and want to know more about it, we’ve rounded up five key benefits of salicylic acid, its potential side effects, and how to use it for glowing results.

What Is Salicylic Acid?

A member of the beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) family, salicylic acid is an oil-based chemical exfoliant that works on and below the skin’s surface to remove dead skin cells and clear pores. It’s available in various over-the-counter products, from cleansers and moisturizers, to pads, peels, serums, and toners. Salicylic acid is derived from willow bark and belongs to a class of ingredients called salicylates.

When it comes to skin care products, there are two classes of acids you’ll often notice: beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) and alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). Both alpha and beta hydroxy acids exfoliate the skin, but AHAs are water soluble, whereas BHAs are oil-soluble. Oil-soluble ingredients can penetrate the skin at a deeper level than water-soluble ones. While AHAs work well on the skin’s surface, BHAs work deeper and are able to penetrate into the pores to unclog them. This is why salicylic acid is so great for fighting acne.

What Is Salicylic Acid Used For?

Salicylic acid is well-known for reducing acne by exfoliating the skin and keeping the pores clear. It tends to work best for mild acne and can help prevent future breakouts. When your pores get clogged with dead skin cells and oil, blackheads, whiteheads, or pimples often form. Salicylic acid penetrates your skin and works to dissolve the dead skin cells clogging your pores, plus it reduces redness and inflammation thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties.

5 Benefits of Salicylic Acid

1. Great For Exfoliation
Salicylic acid works by breaking up bonds between dead skin cells, making it easy to peel them off the skin’s surface. This promotes exfoliation. It’s considered a keratolytic medication, which cause softening and sloughing of the top layers of skin. This makes salicylic acid incredible for exfoliation.

2. Works on Blackheads and Whiteheads
Salicylic acid helps dissolve the type of skin debris that clogs pores and causes acne. This makes it ideal for treating blackheads and whiteheads. It can directly dissolve the keratin plugs and regulate the skin cells. While it does have some effectiveness against cystic acne due to its antibacterial properties, it works best on blackheads and whiteheads.

3. Helps Reduce Inflammation and Redness
Salicylic acid has anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce swelling and redness, especially if you have acne-prone skin. In addition, it has antimicrobial properties that can help kill bacteria that cause acne. Salicylic acid is known to be very gentle on your skin, so is generally safe for all skin types, even sensitive skin.

4. Reduces Sebum Secretion
Salicylic acid can also help reduce the amount of sebum that’s produced by the skin. Sebum is an oily substance that, on one hand, can protect and hydrate the skin’s surface, but too much sebum can contribute to the development of acne. By reducing the amount of sebum that’s produced by the skin, salicylic acid can help keep pores clear and reduce the risk of acne developing.

5. Can Help Dandruff
Salicylic acid isn’t just for your face. It’s proven to be amazing at clearing dead skin cells and other pore-clogging impurities, and that goes for your scalp too. It effectively removes scaly skin by breaking down cell-to-cell adhesion, minimizes scalp irritation and itching, and eliminates oil and product build up for a healthy scalp. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t use it more than twice a week on your scalp to avoid irritation.

18 Risks & Side Effects of Salicylic Acid

Topical salicylic acid is generally safe to use, but it can cause side effects in some cases. Stop use and contact your doctor if either of these side effects is severe or do not go away:

  1. Skin irritation
  2. Stinging in the area where applied

Although rare, some side effects can be serious. If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your health care provider immediately:

  1. Confusion
  2. Dizziness
  3. Extreme fatigue
  4. Headache
  5. Fast breathing
  6. Ringing or buzzing in the ears
  7. Hearing loss
  8. Nausea
  9. Vomiting
  10. Diarrhea

If you experience the below symptoms, you may be having an allergic reaction. Stop use and call your doctor or get emergency medical help:

  1. Hives
  2. Itching
  3. Throat tightness
  4. Difficulty breathing
  5. Feeling faint
  6. Swelling of the eyes, lps, face, or tongue

How to Use Salicylic Acid

Different skin types need different concentrations of salicylic acid. If you’re unsure where to start, you can ask your dermatologist. They’ll be able to recommend the correct concentration and dosage for your skin type.

How you use it will also depend on what form it’s in.

  • Cleanser: Once or twice a day, depending on what your skin can tolerate.
  • Toner: Swipe on with a cotton pad once or twice a day after cleansing.
  • Serum: Smooth onto clean skin. Don’t layer with other potent acids like AHAs and retinoids.
  • Moisturizer: Apply to clean skin. Again, be mindful of any actives you’ve already used on your skin.
  • Mask: Use once or twice a week for deeper action on spots and blemishes. Follow with a moisturizer to hydrate the skin.

Salicylic acid products are safe to use daily if used as directed and tolerated by your skin. If your skin is super sensitive, it’s possible it could cause irritation, so try testing it on your skin every other day before using it on a daily basis.

Make sure to follow the directions on the label or as prescribed by your doctor. Using more than what is recommended will not make it more effective, and may cause serious side effects.

5 OTC Salicylic Acid Products We Love

1. Naturium BHA Liquid Exfoliant Salicylic Acid
2. QRxLabs Glycolic/Salicylic Acid Acne Control Pads
3. COSRX Salicylic Acid Gentle Daily Cleanser
4. e.l.f. Skin Blemish Breakthrough Acne Calming Water Cream 1% Salicylic Acid
5. Revolution Skincare Blemish 2% Salicylic Acid Mask with Charcoal Powder

Salicylic acid is a supreme ingredient to add to your skin care routine, especially if you deal with mild acne. Try these tips and products to keep pimples and inflammation at bay!

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5 Benefits of Salicylic Acid & How to Use It | Salicylic acid is a key part of an acne-fighting skin care routine. It's an oil-based chemical exfoliant that's available in various over-the-counter products, from cleansers and moisturizers, to pads, peels, serums, and toners. It helps dissolve skin debris that clogs pores and causes acne, and has exfoliating effects that can revitalize a dull complexion. Click to learn how to use it, side effects to look for, and the best drugstore options.

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