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What Is Salicylic Acid? Our Guide To This Superstar Ingredient

What Is Salicylic Acid? Our Guide To This Superstar Ingredient

If you’ve ever dealt with acne or oily skin, chances are you’ve used a product formulated with salicylic acid. This ingredient has been used as a treatment to help address skincare concerns for more than 2,000 years. Its efficacy as a topical acne treatment was discovered by scientists in the late 1800s, and it has been used for that purpose ever since. Though it is one of the most commonly-recommended topical treatments for acne, salicylic acid has additional skincare benefits, thanks to its exfoliating and skin-softening properties. Read on to learn more about salicylic acid, how it works, and why it can help you achieve a clearer, brighter-looking complexion.

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What Is Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic acid is a naturally-occurring molecule derived from the bark of willow trees. It’s part of a class of acids called beta-hydroxy acids, or BHAs, and is known for its ability to help exfoliate the complexion and slough away dead skin cells from skin’s surface. Additionally, when used topically, salicylic acid helps to keep acne at bay. Research indicates it works best to treat mild breakouts.I

How Does Salicylic Acid Work?

Salicylic acid is primarily used as an exfoliant. Though it’s commonly thought that salicylic acid dissolves dead skin cells, that’s not entirely true. In reality, salicylic acid is a desmolytic agent, meaning it actually dissolves the proteins that hold skin cells together. This ability to loosen dead cells helps to keep the skin’s surface free of buildup. In lower concentrations, like what’s in over-the-counter salicylic acid skincare products, this helps keep pores from clogging and provides a smoother, brighter-looking complexion.

Unlike many other acids used in skincare (such as alpha-hydroxy acids, or AHAs), salicylic acid is lipid-soluble, meaning it can dissolve in oil. In skincare terms, it penetrates pores to clear most acne blemishes acne, including blackheads or whiteheads.

How Does Salicylic Acid Help With Acne?

It’s crucial to know what causes acne in the first place if you want to understand how salicylic acid can help minimize breakouts. Though there are several reasons people may get acne (such as genetics, hormonal imbalances, and lifestyle), the most common cause is clogged pores. When a pore becomes clogged, the oil that your skin naturally produces can mix with dirt and bacteria and cause the area to become inflamed (making you the proud owner of a shiny new pimple). Salicylic acid interrupts this process by helping to exfoliate the skin’s surface, reducing the likelihood of pores getting clogged in the first place.

If a pore does become clogged, a spot treatment, such as Blue Herbal Spot Treatment, can help clear it up. This targeted formula features 1.5 percent salicylic acid to help clear blemishes, blackheads and whiteheads.

Does Salicylic Acid Help Fade Post-Acne Marks?

Not only is salicylic acid popularly used to address active breakouts, but it can also help with what comes after acne: post-acne marks. Studies show salicylic acid can be used as an effective treatment for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. If acne marks are a concern for you, try Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution. This dark spot corrector formula combines salicylic acid with Activated C and white birch extract to help minimize the appearance of acne marks and promote radiance for a glowing, healthy-looking complexion.

What Does Salicylic Acid Do Besides Help Treat Acne and Improve the Appearance of Post-Acne Marks?

Salicylic acid also has benefits that go beyond acne and post-acne marks. Research indicates salicylic acid can be used to improve the appearance of photodamage, freckles, and melasma in addition to acne.

How Long Does It Take For Salicylic Acid to Work?

While skincare is a science in many ways, everybody is different, and there is no real way to predict how your body will respond to any given treatment. How quickly a salicylic acid treatment works also depends on the strength of the formulation, the frequency of use, and your desired outcome.

When it comes to Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution, a 12-week study showed a 39% reduction in dark spots, 49% reduction in hyperpigmentation, and 27% reduction in post-acne marks.*

Is It Safe To Use Salicylic Acid Every Day?

While salicylic acid skin products are relatively safe for most skin types, there’s also a chance that they can irritate your skin, especially if you are using more than one exfoliating treatment at a time. If you’ve never used salicylic acid before, start slow, using one formula containing salicylic acid once or twice per week (either during the day or at night). If your skin handles it well, you can increase your usage. If you develop redness, excessive dryness, or itchiness, stop using exfoliating products and consult a dermatologist.

Typically, treatments with lower concentrations of salicylic acid, such as Blue Herbal Acne Cleanser Treatment, may be used more frequently. This foaming facial cleanser, which features salicylic acid and frankincense, helps to gently purify pores and can be used daily to help keep breakouts at bay.

More potent targeted formulas, including prescription-strength acne treatments, should be used according to product directions and in consultation with your dermatologist.

It’s also important to note that salicylic acid can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun and leave you more susceptible to sun damage. Keep your skin protected every day with a broad-spectrum sunscreen, such as Super Fluid Daily UV Defense SPF 50+, to minimize the risk of burns, sun spots, and other side effects of sun damage.

How Do You Use Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic acid is a versatile ingredient that can be found in everything from facial cleansers and spot treatments to prescription-strength relief for skin conditions. The frequency and directions for use are indicated on each product.

Formulas with a low concentration of salicylic acid, such as Breakout Control Acne Treatment Lotion, can be applied all over the face on a daily basis. This daily moisturizer formula features salicylic acid and vitamin B3, it gently reduces rough texture and dull skin while diminishing acne breakouts.

Stronger formulas, including prescription-strength acne treatments and peels, should be used sparingly and more carefully. With these, the concentration of salicylic acid is generally high, which, while effective, can cause unpleasant side effects like peeling and redness. For concentrated salicylic acid treatments, read and follow the directions on the product or your doctor’s recommendations to reap the benefits of these products without suffering from too many of the negative side effects.

Next: The Skincare Secret of Squalane

I Cobb, Cynthia. "Can Salicylic Acid Help Treat Acne?" Healthline. 12 December 2019.
*Results based on expert grading in a 12-week clinical test on 19 subjects.

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