Benefits of Salicylic Acid

There are many benefits of salicylic acid when it comes to using it for acne treatment. Not only does it help your skin exfoliate, but it is anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory as well. All of these properties help clear existing blemishes and prevent new acne from forming.

What is it?

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that originally came from white willow bark, but is now more often synthesized from aspirin (aspirin's scientific name is acetylsalicylic acid).

This mild acid breaks down blackheads and whiteheads by peeling the top layer of skin and clearing blocked pores. It's also a keratolytic agent, which means that it has both exfoliating and antiseptic properties and can assist in shedding dead skin cells that can cause acne when they mix with dirt and sebum.

Major Benefits of Salicylic Acid:

Because salicylic acid clears acne without over-drying, it's well tolerated by most people, including those with dry or sensitive skin. Those who notice uncomfortable redness or drying from other acne medications like benzoyl peroxide will most likely be able to use salicylic acid without any problem.

One of the best benefits of salicylic acid over other exfoliants is that it is oil-soluble. This property allows it to get inside the oil of the pore to help clear out any sort of dead skin cells inside.

When used in combination with other treatments, salicylic acid also helps active ingredients get absorbed into the skin. Additionally, salicylic acid softens keratin, a skin-forming protein and helps break down dry skin.

Since salicylic acid is a derivative of aspirin, it mimics aspirin's anti-inflammatory effect. This means applying salicylic acid will reduce redness and swelling of blemishes. As a result, your skin will heal faster, scarring will be prevented, and the chance of more acne is reduced.


Cleansers, toners, moisturizers and spot treatments containing salicylic acid in strengths of 0.5% to 2% can all be purchased over the counter. Those with sensitive skin should start with a lower strength and work their way up to higher strengths if needed. For especially stubborn acne, a dermatologist can prescribe stronger formulas from 5% up to 35%, as well as topical treatments that combine salicylic acid with other ingredients.

What to expect:

Be aware that using other products in conjunction with salicylic acid (or other acne-fighting medications) may increase skin sensitivity. While using salicylic acid products, avoid using abrasive facial cleansers, products containing alcohol or other topical acne products. And finally, because these products increase sun sensitivity, make sunscreen application a daily habit.

Salicylic Acid Downsides:

We've gone over the many benefits of salicylic acid, but what about the downsides?

Well, people with oily skin might need to try additional acne treatments, because salicylic acid has no effect on sebum, the skin's natural moisturizing ingredient.

For people with normal skin, sebum rarely leads to breakouts. However, oily skin types may find that excess sebum production leads to shiny skin and can also clog pores, leading to breakouts. In this case, salicylic acid might need to be combined with additional treatments that absorb oil and reduce shine.

Because the chemical composition of salicylic acid is very similar to aspirin, people who are allergic to aspirin shouldn't use salicylic acid. Pregnant women and anyone with specific medical concerns should see a doctor before starting any acne treatment.

If you have rosacea, consult a dermatologist before trying salicylic acid, because it can actually worsen your condition.

Finally, don't forget to continue using salicylic acid even after your skin has cleared up. The benefits of salicylic acid do not remain if you stop using the product. Your acne could easily return after the treatment is discontinued.

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