Salicylic Acid


Salicylic acid is a substance naturally derived from plants and fruits, and belongs to the beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) group which is commonly known as “fruit acids”. It is a primary ingredient in many over-the-counter acne products.

Salicylic acid is an exfoliant or an agent that peels off dead skin cells by loosening the binding substance that make the surface skin cells stick together. It combines well with oil and can penetrate deep inside clogged up pores. By doing this, it helps hasten the growth of new skin cells, keeps the pores clear and prevents future acne outbreaks.



Over-the-counter products which use salicylic acid as their chief ingredient are not so effective in fighting non-inflammatory acne such as whiteheads and blackheads. Although it can’t control excessive oil production which triggers acne, it does work effectively in removing oil on the skin’s surface to give it a smoother feel.

Salicylic acid alone which is sold in many non-prescription low strength formulations isn’t effective enough to treat acne. In combination, however, it works synergistically and helps in the absorption of benzoyl peroxide and other essential acne-fighting chemicals in the skin.

Many skin specialists occasionally choose formulations with higher salicylic acid concentrations for acne treatments, skin rejuvenation and age lines removal procedures. The stronger formulations are reported to be much better in eliminating blackheads and whiteheads compared to the weaker over-the-counter treatments.

Salicylic acid is available in various preparations and can be found in known brands such as Neutrogena, and Clearasil, as well as in cheaper brands. It is sold in varying strengths usually from 0.5% to 2%, usually in the form of astringents, lotions, creams, cleansers and washes. It is available as a single component or in combination with other ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and sulfur. It sold as creams and lotions is said to work better than in other form.



Salicylic acid-based formulations are suitable skin care for pre-teens and teenagers who are starting to experience mild acne breakouts such as blackheads. Moderate to advanced acne, however, require a much stronger formulation than salicylic acid alone.

Many skin care companies offer benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid as two separate products in their merchandising lines. To boost sales, the two components are often combined in one “complete acne solution” package. When salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are combined as active ingredients in a preparation, they work more effectively together than when sold separately.

TV infomercials that market high-priced non-prescription combination formulas often don’t live up to their products’ claims and result in a lot of customer complaints, such as Proactiv. If you consider using one, get a more affordable and proven product backed by good reviews, such as Exposed Skin Care.



Before applying a salicylic acid, consider the dosage you need. Typical acne products contain a dosage of this ingredient ranging from 0.5% to 2%. If you only experience light acne, you should use something with a lighter dosage. For persistent acne, consider a treatment with a higher amount of salicylic acid in it. When making your choice, also consider the instructions on the product. A typical product is only applied once per day. If your product requires multiple uses per day and you have sensitive skin or are using other acne medications, you may want to consider an alternative.

Apply to the Entire Face

Wash your face thoroughly with a moisturizing soap or other cleanser that is free of alcohol. Once your face is clean and dry, apply the salicylic acid over the entire area. Typically, this will involve passing an acne pad over your face or rubbing cream on with a clean finger. While more concentrated treatments sometimes involve focusing only the the affected area, rub the salicylic acid over the entire face. This will eliminate oils before they build up and become acne. Be sure to pay special attention to the corner of your nostrils and other areas that are hard to reach normally while washing your face.

Be Aware of Side Effects

The most common side effect of this kind of acne treatment is irritation and dryness of the skin. Keep an eye out for white flakes of skin or redness around your acne, which may indicate that you are experiencing these effects. They can be prevented by using a facial moisturizer, but be sure that you do not use one with an oil base. Oil-based moisturizers will clog pores and lead to acne problems down the road. If you experience more severe effects such as a painful stinging, discontinue use and consult a healthcare professional before going on.

Rinsing After Application

It is okay to wash your face after using salicylic acid, but be sure to give the medication time to work first. Waiting an hour is usually appropriate. Wash as you do prior to using the treatment with a mild cleanser, and spend extra time during the rinse process. It is worth noting that unlike harsher treatments, most products that use salicylic acid as an active ingredient do not require rinsing afterward, so giving your face an extra wash is completely optional.

For mild or recurring acne, salicylic acid is the best way to put an end to the bothersome condition. Almost anybody can benefit from the medication, and a typical product is mild enough to keep side effects to a minimum. If you have acne problems, this treatment will make them a thing of the past.