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Does Your Skin Need Salicylic Acid? What Studies and Experts Say

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Whether you’re trying to rejuvenate your dull skin or seeking to get rid of skin problems such as acne or blackheads, salicylic acid is one power-packed substance that can be the solution you didn’t know you needed. Actually, salicylic acid is one pretty common ingredient you might have probably seen on your skincare products’ ingredient label without paying much attention to it. But this ingredient has exfoliating, revitalizing, healing and bacteria-fighting powers; if you didn’t know, now you do. It is considered relatively safe, and there are little or no side effects of using it; one of the reasons it’s a people-favorite. Here’s everything you need to know about this multi-purpose ingredient that’s salicylic acid and why you need to slot it into your skincare routine. That’s if you haven’t already.

What is salicylic acid?

Salicylic acid is a naturally occurring compound that can be isolated from the willow tree’s bark, and its derivatives are found in fruits, particularly berries and vegetables. A type of beta-hydroxy acid (BHA), salicylic acid belongs to the salicylate class of ingredients.

This structure gives salicylic acid the property of being oil-soluble, meaning it can penetrate into the skins’ pores, being able to unclog them. Once it penetrates the skin, salicylic acid “dissolves skin debris that clogs pores, acts as an anti-inflammatory and also helps red, inflamed pimples and pustules go away faster,” explains Naissan O. Wesley, a board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles.


Use salicylic acid to treat acne

Salicylic acid works wonder for whoever has acne, reducing the amount of sebum produced and the growth of acne-causing bacteria. In fact, studies have shown that salicylic acid can effectively prevent acne from forming by limiting the proliferation of the P. acnes bacteria. For those suffering from acne, using salicylic acids is often the first dermatologists’ recommended course of action. Its efficacity mostly lies in its ability to unplug clogged pores. The salicylic acid will then proceed to dry up the infected area as well as eliminate all bacteria-free dirt and oil trapped in your skin pores. Because salicylic acid has the ability to penetrate deep down into your skin, it removes the toxins that contribute to unwanted sebum build-up. This will ultimately lead to the toxins being excreted out and the enlarged pores drying up. What’s more, salicylic acid doesn’t only work on face pimples; but for body acne too!

It clears blemishes faster than many other ingredients

Salicylic acid is one of the most effective skincare ingredients to help eliminate acne while also preventing scarring. Research shows that salicylic acid can effectively treat blemishes, dark spots, and blotches on the face and body, acting like a peeling agent. Exfoliating the skin, salicylic acid takes away the dead cells, clearing black spots and blemishes. Additionally, by working as an antibacterial, salicylic acid helps kill the bacteria that lead to pimples and acne. Because it also depletes moisture in your skin, salicylic acid gives blemishes the needed nutrients to heal faster. 

Salicylic acid works as an exfoliator, revealing better skin

As already mentioned, salicylate works as an exfoliant helping to slough off dead skin cells, leaving a smoother appearance to your skin. This exfoliating property unclogs the pores and remove dead skin cells, which leads to the production of new, healthy skin cells. When new skin cells are generated, they tend to look healthier and smoother than those that have been there for some time. As you may have guessed, there are also astringents used in conjunction with salicylic acid. Astringents work in much the same way by drawing out impurities and eliminating dirt and oil from pores. Hence, salicylic acid works exceptionally well when combined with other astringents such as glycolic acid, but not if your skin is super-sensitive, as this combo might be too harsh.

It helps clear blackheads and whiteheads

Most times, blackheads and whiteheads are stubborn and difficult to get rid of, but thankfully, salicylic acid is useful for removing them. It does that by helping dissolve skin debris and oil that clog pores and cause whiteheads and blackheads. Also, it eliminates black/whiteheads residue and dead skin cells, reducing the chances of new blackheads or whiteheads forming.

Salicylic acid removes fine lines and reduces wrinkles

One of the most exciting benefits of salicylic acid is its ability to reduce fine lines and wrinkles. It does that thanks to its exfoliative properties. which in time boosts collagen production. Also, since salicylic acid exfoliates dead skin cells, it helps your moisturizer or serum penetrate your skin more effectively. Anyway, for greater anti-aging benefits, salicylic acid should be used in combination with antioxidants.

It brightens and evens the skin

Need your skin tone brightened and even? Salicylic acid can brighten your skin complexion as it’s a BHA that helps remove dead skin cells, clear blemishes, and highlight the skin. It can also clear up any skin discolorations that may be caused by sun exposure. And you don’t have to worry; it’s not a bleaching agent. It won’t whiten your skin, but it might brighten it. So it’s the exfoliating ability of salicylic acid that helps brighten the skin, giving you a more even complexion.


When using salicylic acid for brightening, it’s best not to apply it every day as your skin might get overly accustomed to it. Instead, apply it with day intervals.

Are there any side effects when using salicylic acid?

Some people may experience dryness, peeling, and cracking not long after applying salicylic acid or products that contain it. This is typical among people with sensitive skin. Allergic reactions may be another possible side effect of salicylic acid. If you are prone to allergies, you should find out first if salicylic acid is safe for your use before applying it to your skin. However, even if you aren’t prone to allergic reactions, you may experience slight side effects such as itchiness and redness. This is normal, and you will probably only feel this if you used too much or worked your skin too hard while using the product. So, your skin type, salicylic acid’s concentration, and how often you use it are essential factors in this regard.


Salicylic acid is extraordinary and can help reduce your skin concerns while promoting its overall health. From clearing acne and blackheads to promoting new cell growth down to exfoliating, salicylic acid is a power-packed skincare substance. You can start incorporating it into your skincare regimen today to enjoy all its benefits.

Products with salicylic acid

Vichy Normaderm Phytosolution

Vichy Normaderm Phytosolution

Vichy created an excellent product — a hydrating moisturizer that targets blemishes-prone skin. It is lightweight, easily absorbed, enriched with salicylic acid to exfoliate, hyaluronic acid to enhance hydration, probiotics, and Vichy Mineralizing Thermal Water, rich in 15 minerals to boost antioxidant defense. Its goal is to leave skin smoother and radiant by protecting its barrier and control excess oil.

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid Mask

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque

Once weekly, remove facial impurities and unclog your pores with The Ordinary’s mask, formulated with 2% salicylic acid, vegetable charcoal, Amazonian clays, and squalane. This product targets lackluster tone, textural irregularities, and aging signs aiming to smoothen and clarify the skin. 

Paulas Choice Exfoliant with Salicylic Acid

Paulas Choice Facial Exfoliant

Salicylic acid as an exfoliator and green tea as an antioxidant do a great job in this leave-in facial exfoliant. It unclogs pores, smooths wrinkles, brightens, and evens out skin tone. The fluid, lightweight texture absorbs quickly and is gentle enough to be applied twice daily on all skin types and the eye area too!


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