Benefits of Salicylic Acid: It Fights Acne, Removes Dead Skin Cells and More

Benefits of salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is a key ingredient in many skincare products, and for good reason! This powerful compound offers a host of benefits for the skin, from reducing inflammation to fighting acne.

If you’re not already using a product that contains salicylic acid, now is the time to consider adding one to your skincare routine. Here are just some of the benefits of salicylic acid.

What is salicylic acid?

There are many different kinds of exfoliating products to choose from depending on skin type. Salicylic acid is an extract from the leaves of Willows which is referred to as its chemical exfoliant beta-hydroxy acid or BHA.

Before describing the exact use of salicylic, let’s refresh your knowledge of how breakout occurs when bacteria, dirt, sebum, and dead skin clog your pores. Contrary to other exfoliating chemicals called Alpha-hydrazides (AHAs), water-soluble and ideal for surface exfoliations, salicylic is oil-soluble. It cuts out oils as well as penetrates deep into pores to eliminate blockages.

Benefits of salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is one of the most potent ingredients for targeting acne — especially for blackheads and whiteheads. This powerful chemical exfoliator sinks deep into your skin to tackle these issues at their source while keeping redness at bay, paving the way for luminous, clear skin.

Great acne treatment

Salicylic acid is often used as a key ingredient in acne treatments. This is because it helps to unclog pores and remove dead skin cells, two things that can contribute to the development of acne. If you have acne-prone skin, using a product that contains salicylic acid can help to keep your skin clear. Also, if you have acne scars, using a product with salicylic acid can help to reduce their appearance.

Still, if those acne and pimples are too stuborn, you can always try ESPADA, the most powerful weapon that prevents acne before it even happens. 

Fights whiteheads

Salicylic acid targets whiteheads, which are a type of acne that forms when dead skin cells and oil become trapped in the pores. This can cause the pores to become clogged and result in the formation of whiteheads on the skin. Using a product that contains salicylic acid can help to fight whiteheads by preventing dead skin cells and oil from becoming trapped in the pores.

Removes dead skin cells

In addition to helping to unclog pores, salicylic acid also helps to remove dead skin cells. This is important because dead skin cells can contribute to the development of acne and other skin problems. By removing dead skin cells, salicylic acid can help to keep your skin looking and feeling its best.

Fights inflammation

Salicylic acid is also known for its anti-inflammatory properties. This means that it can help to reduce swelling and redness, especially if you have acne-prone skin.

In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, salicylic acid also has antimicrobial properties. This means that it can help to kill the bacteria that can cause acne. Also, salicylic acid is very gentle to your skin, even if you have sensitive skin.

Reduces sebum secretion

Salicylic acid can also help to reduce the amount of sebum that is produced by the skin. Sebum is an oily substance that can contribute to the development of acne.

Clogged pores are also one of the main causes of acne. By reducing the amount of sebum that is produced by the skin, salicylic acid can help to keep pores clear and reduce the risk of developing acne.

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Soothes sunburns

Salicylic acid can also help to soothe sunburns. This is because it has anti-inflammatory properties that can help to reduce the swelling and redness associated with sunburn, which you can also treat with FOREO’s UFO 2. Namely, this iconic device features full-spectrum LED lights that are going to help you after sun exposure. All you have to do is to turn UFO 2 on, choose the red light therapy, and watch high-tech work its magic.

And regading salicylic acid and sunburns, it can help to prevent peeling and blistering by keeping the skin hydrated.

Is it OK to use salicylic acid every day?

Yes, it is perfectly fine to use salicylic acid every day. In fact, many people who use this ingredient in their skincare routine find that their skin looks and feels better when they do so.

If you are new to using products containing salicylic acid, you may want to start by using them every other day. Once your skin has become accustomed to the ingredient, you can increase to using it every day.

When using products containing salicylic acid, it is important to use sunscreen. This is because this ingredient can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. If you are going to be spending time in the sun, it is important to apply sunscreen regularly and to avoid prolonged sun exposure.

Side effects of salicylic acid

When used as directed, products containing salicylic acid are typically well-tolerated. However, there are a few side effects that you should be aware of. The most common side effect of using products containing salicylic acid is skin irritation. This can include redness, dryness, and flaking.

If you experience any of these side effects, you may want to reduce the frequency with which you use products containing this ingredient. If the irritation persists, you should stop using the product altogether.

In rare cases, people may be allergic to salicylic acid. If you experience any symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as swelling, hives, or difficulty breathing, you should seek medical attention immediately.

Bottom line

Salicylic acid is a key ingredient in many acne treatments. This is because it helps to unclog pores, remove dead skin cells, and reduce inflammation. It is also gentle enough to use on sensitive skin.

If you are looking for a product to help treat your acne, you may want to consider one that contains salicylic acid.

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— Update: 19-03-2023 — found an additional article Why Salicylic Acid Is Recommended For Clear Skin Too from the website for the keyword benefits of salicylic acid.

Unlike some of the questionable acne remedies found on the Internet, an exhaustive amount of research exists to support salicylic acid as an effective acne treatment, which is why this is probably not your first time hearing about the ingredient. If you’ve ever dealt with acne, we’d be willing to bet you’ve even tried a salicylic acid-based product before, some of which include our favorite face washes. But because acne is a very complicated topic, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to treating it.

So to find out if salicylic acid will work for you, your skin type, or your type of acne, you first have to understand how it works. We took all our questions about salicylic acid straight to the experts to find out what makes the ingredient so impressive and how it contributes to clear skin.

Keep reading to see what they had to say about all things salicylic acid.

What Is Salicylic Acid?

In the world of skin exfoliants, you’ve got more than a few options to choose from based on what your skin needs. Salicylic acid, an ingredient extracted from willow tree bark, is one type of chemical exfoliant called beta-hydroxy acid (aka BHA). Before explaining exactly how salicylic works, here’s a quick refresher on how breakouts form: when bacteria, debris, sebum, and dead skin cells mix together, a clog forms inside your pores. Unlike the chemical exfoliants called alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), which are water-soluble and ideal for surface exfoliation, salicylic is oil-soluble, which makes it capable of cutting through oil and exfoliating deep within your pores to remove blockages.

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Marmur explains it further: “It works by increasing the amount of moisture in the skin and dissolving the substance that causes the skin cells to stick together. This makes it easier to shed the skin cells.” It now makes sense why the ingredient is a longtime favorite for those with oily, acne-prone skin, right?

You might be most familiar with salicylic acid as an acne spot treatment, but the ingredient is also found in many other forms, like cleansers, toners, serums, and peels, which can all be beneficial to the skin in their own right. “Each vehicle uses salicylic acid in its own special way and is targeted for certain use in specific people, depending on their skin issues,” Marmur explains. The caveat is that some cleansers, peels, and toners can be too harsh, according to Marmur, and should be avoided.

Benefits of Salicylic Acid

Thanks to its unique properties, salicylic acid is used to treat a range of skin conditions outside of acne, from warts to dandruff. Here's a breakdown of exactly how salicylic acid works to benefit the skin:

  • Exfoliates dead skin: Marmur points out that salicylic acid is a keratolytic, and as such, it encourages cellular turnover and helps to slough off dead skin cells, which in turn can improve skin dullness and texture.
  • Softens the contents of clogged pores: The oil-soluble ingredient is able to penetrate the pores, loosen the “glue” that causes the skin cells to stick together, and remove the contents of clogged pores that lead to superficial acne, like whiteheads, blackheads, and small red pimples.
  • Removes excess oil: Marmur says since salicylic acid is oil-soluble, it can penetrate beneath the skin’s surface to clean out excess sebum from the pores and reduce oiliness. This can, in turn, also lead to an improvement in the appearance of pores.
  • Prevents whiteheads and blackheads: Not only does salicylic acid treat existing breakouts, but Marmur also says because salicylic acid targets whiteheads and blackheads directly, it prevents them from returning to the surface level of your skin.
  • Combats acne: Because it is lipophilic, salicylic acid can penetrate deep into pores to prevent acne from forming in the future.
  • Minimizes pores: As an astringent product, salicylic acid can tighten the skin, thereby reducing the appearance of pores.
  • Available over-the-counter: Unlike some super skincare ingredients, salicylic acid products are available in most beauty and drugstores.
  • Reduces inflammation: As Marmur points out, salicylic acid belongs to the same class of drugs as aspirin (salicylates). Because of salicylic acid’s anti-inflammatory properties, it helps to address irritation and redness related to breakouts.

Salicylic Acid vs. Benzoyl Peroxide

One ingredient that rivals salicylic acid’s popularity in the OTC acne treatment department is benzoyl peroxide. But this ingredient takes a different approach when targeting breakouts. While salicylic acid removes pore blockage, benzoyl peroxide is an antibacterial ingredient that kills the acne-causing bacteria inside the pores. Infamous for bleaching pillowcases and towels, benzoyl peroxide is also less suitable for sensitive skin than salicylic acid, as its drying properties can lead to flakiness and irritation.

Side Effects of Salicylic Acid

According to Mudgil, salicylic acid is best suited for those with oily skin and superficial acne. For those with dry, eczema-prone, or sensitive skin, the drying ingredient could be too harsh and lead to irritation.

Marmur says that some of the most common side effects of salicylic acid include dry, burning, and overall irritated skin in the areas of application but adds that these side effects are more common at the start of treatment and should not continue. “If they continue or get worse, you should definitely contact your board-certified dermatologist to let them know how your skin is reacting,” Marmur says.

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Additionally, Marmur says salicylic acid can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight and cause sunburn easily. Although you should always protect your skin from the sun, it’s especially important when using salicylic acid to limit your sun exposure as much as possible and always use and reapply sunscreen.

How to Use It

The recommended concentration of a salicylic acid product varies from person to person and should be discussed with your dermatologist, and the same applies to how often you use a salicylic acid treatment. In general, Marmur says to use salicylic acid in moderation until you know your skin can tolerate it. Start off applying it every few days, and take note of how your skin reacts after each application. “The key is to listen to your skin,” Mudgil advises. “If it's getting irritated, you'll need to take a day or two off and perhaps be a bit more vigilant with moisturizing.” As far as the amount used, Marmur stresses the importance of following the direction of your doctor. “Don’t do more or less, and don’t use it for longer than recommended,” Marmur says. “Apply just enough salicylic acid to cover the affected area and rub it into the skin gently.”

Although salicylic acid is a common ingredient that’s easily accessible and found at the drugstore, a lot of variables are at play when it comes to using the acne-fighting ingredient to treat breakouts, so it should still be approached with caution. According to Mudgil, the use of salicylic acid depends on one’s skin type, the underlying indication, and how severe the acne is. While salicylic acid is a reliable option for treating superficial acne, Mudgil says 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. “Incorporating salicylic acid isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ situation,” Mudgil says. “It’s best to work with your dermatologist to optimize your regimen.”

The Best Products With Salicylic Acid

If you have oily skin and you’re looking for a budget-friendly option, both Marmur and Mudgil recommend this classic favorite cleanser, which uses 2 percent salicylic acid to wash away dead skin cells. Dealing with back acne? You can also use this face wash as a cleanser for pesky body breakouts.

If texture is your main skin concern, Marmur suggests this moisturizing cream, which also contains ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide. “The cream is salicylic acid-based and can aid in hydration for dehydrated skin,” Marmur says. “It can also improve the texture of your skin.”

This exfoliating liquid might be simple, but it’s effective. It relies on 2 percent salicylic acid combined with soothing camellia oleifera leaf extract (green tea) to treat a number of skin concerns, like dullness, wrinkles, and acne. Not only is it one of Byrdie’s favorite salicylic acid treatments, but it’s also the top-selling product by Paula’s Choice. Are you sold yet?

For the days when you wake up to find a spot has popped up on your face, turn to this acne spot treatment gel. It’s a Byrdie favorite because it contains 1.5 percent salicylic acid, witch hazel, and other plant extracts to not only fight blemishes but also fade the spots.

If you're on the hunt for a more affordable spot treatment, try this classic drugstore option, which uses 2 percent salicylic acid and witch hazel to reduce oil and superficial breakouts.

This Byrdie-approved primer doesn’t just make your foundation look more matte—it also contains salicylic acid to gently buff away the top layer of dead skin cells throughout the day.

If your skin can tolerate multiple exfoliants, try Glamglow’s cult-favorite mask made with charcoal and a combination of AHA and BHAs. Byrdie editors especially love it for targeting pimples, stubborn blackheads, and oily T-zones.