All You Need To Know About Salicylic Acid

Acne’s biggest enemy has earned top place in skincare products, and for good reason too. 

Salicylic acid is one of the most widely used ingredients used in skincare due to its myriad of positive effects. It is an FDA-approved ingredient best used for acne and is the only beta hydroxy acid that has taken root in the skincare industry. 

To know more about this not-so-secret but important ingredient, keep reading.

Before we move forward, let us look at what it actually is. This particular ingredient is derived from willow bark and belongs to a class of ingredients named rightfully as salicylates. Being a beta hydroxy acid, salicylic acid is very oil-soluble which makes it easier for it to penetrate into the pores of the skin and deposit active ingredients. This can also allow it to successfully unclog pores. It can be used on any skin type and shows the best results when there is a 2% concentration in skincare products. 

Best known for its ability to keep pores clean and unclogged, it has been shown to be the most potent ingredient for targeting and preventing the development of whiteheads and blackheads. It is also a good exfoliant as it has deep penetrating power.


  • Prevention of acne: salicylic acid is from the comedolytic category of ingredients meaning it prevents future whiteheads and blackheads from popping up. By keeping the pores clean there would be less propensity of dirt and dead skin cell buildup and consequently prevention acne formation. 

  • Cleans excess oil: being oil-soluble, salicylic acid has the capability of exfoliating the pore lining and preventing excess oil buildup. This is because it can get underneath the oil and dead skin cell layer deep inside the pores and gradually thaw at it to remove the excessive accumulation. Besides being a fantastic deep cleaner, it can also prevent the sebaceous glands from producing too much oil. 

  • Exfoliation: salicylic acid can also function as a peeling agent capable of exfoliating dead skin cells and accelerating skin cell renewal. It is a desmolyte, meaning it can loosen the bonds between the skin cells on the surface and serve as a potent exfoliant. 

  • Soothes inflammation: naturally found in willow bark, it contains salicin. Because it contains salicin, it has very good anti-inflammatory properties that can calm inflamed and irritated skin. In the context of acne, it has a commendable impact on papules and pustules and reduces soreness, puffiness, and redness. 

  • Weakens acne bacteria: this is good news for people suffering from constant acne breakouts. The thing is, acne bacteria are not fond of oxygen which is the reason why they flourish inside of clogged pores where there is an absence of it. Since salicylic acid unclogs and exfoliates the skin pores, fresh air makes its way inside of the skin to create an oxygen-rich environment hostile to the acne bacteria. It is important to realize that it may weaken the bacteria, not kill them entirely. 

    There are two skincare regimens involving salicylic acid that you can put to use:

    Option A: after cleansing your face, you can use an exfoliant consisting of salicylic acid. This can be in the form of gel, masks, serums, or creams. It is good practice to use it once or twice a week only in the evenings as too much of it can irritate or dry your skin. 

    Option B: after cleansing your face, you can also use toners and targeted treatments consisting of salicylic acid. It is good practice to use a salicylic acid toner first and then a salicylic acid targeted treatment option. Targeted treatments can involve anything such as creams, gels, or serums. You should use this two times a day every day.


  • Take your time: before using any products involving salicylic acid, ALWAYS RUN A PATCH TEST! Apply a little to your forehead first and wait 24 hours. If there is no visible irritation after 24 hours, then you can proceed towards applying a thin layer of it to your entire face- as directed on the package of the product. 

  • Apply it to your entire face: being a potent exfoliant, it is best to apply salicylic acid to your whole face except the eyes, lips, and mouth. This is because it removes dead skin cells from the pores and cleans out excess oil. This will help prevent future breakouts.

  • Less is more: use only a pea-sized or dime-sized amount of it to your entire face to prevent irritation of the skin. 

  • Do not scrub: salicylic acid is a chemical-based exfoliant having the ability to loosen dead skin cells without rubbing it in to make it work. Let it sit and soak into your skin for the best results. 

  • Follow the application of salicylic acid up with moisturizer and SPF. use moisturizer each time after applying salicylic acid to combat the dryness that might follow after application. During the day, despite anything, use SPF. Salicylic acid might have a lot of positive impacts but beating UV rays is not its forte, so remember to apply sunscreen every day! 


  • Stay consistent: results do not take place in one day. Salicylic acid is not a magic potion with immediate healing properties. Like any other product you need to stick to it and let it work its magic slowly and gradually. It will at least take 6-8 weeks for it to begin showing visible impact, that too with regular and consistent use. 

  • Tingling is fine: being a chemical exfoliant, application of it will have some tingling effects and there might be a slight burning sensation. This is absolutely normal and should ideally go away in more or less 5 minutes. This, however, is not proportional to effectiveness i.e., more tingling does not equal better effects. If you do feel like your skin is actually on fire, be smart and rinse it off as quickly as you can! 

    In conclusion, salicylic acid is a fantastic ingredient to ensure your skin stays smooth and blemish-free. Keep in mind that to see results you should have patience. Be judicious with salicylic acid usage and maintain consistency to get the skin you desire! Wish, work, and you shall receive! 

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