Your Guide to All-Things Salicylic Acid

April 20, 2021
2 min read

Ever take a good look at your acne-fighting skincare products and wonder what it is that they’re actually doing for your skin? Been there. Ingredient kweens, this one’s for you. Salicylic acid is an ingredient that we know you’re going to come face-to-face with — if you haven’t already. This Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) is best known for treating mild acne and general exfoliation, but what is salicylic acid and what does salicylic acid do?

You can count on us to spill the tea.

Salicylic Acid for Your Skin

Before you cringe at the word “acid,” let us explain. Salicylic acid is a safe ingredient that offers skin gentle chemical exfoliation. Hence the word “acid.” Clogged pores lead to breakouts, so unclogging them is the first step toward clearer skin. Salicylic acid works by reaching deep into your pores to remove dead skin and extra oil.

According to the National Library of Medicine, this ingredient is commonly extracted from white willow bark and wintergreen leaves.

It’s super easy to add to your skincare routine, too. (More on that soon.)

Salicylic Acid for Acne

If you’re wondering how to use salicylic acid for acne, we have you covered. It’s good for all skin types and especially ideal if you have mild blackheads or pimples as well as bumpy, red skin. It’s not strong enough to combat severe or cystic acne.

You can find this active ingredient in topical acne spot treatments as well as cleansers, toners, and oil-free moisturizers. Over-the-counter salicylic acid medicine strengths vary and usually range from 0.5% to 2%, which is the max. Anything higher will require a prescription. When it comes down to what percentage of salicylic acid is good for acne, here’s our rule of thumb:

  • Most skin types, especially normal to oily, can get away with using 2%.
  • If your skin tends to be on the dry or sensitive side, start with a lower percentage or opt for the 2% but use it 2-3 times a week instead of daily.

Salicylic acid leave-ons work most effectively when you apply a thin layer over your face or the whole affected area after cleansing skin. Most people can use products formulated with salicylic acid without any side effects. That said, it could cause:

  • Dryness
  • Peeling
  • Flaky skin
  • Stinging
  • Irritation

This is especially true if you’re also using skincare with ingredients such as retinoids or benzoyl peroxide. If this happens, rinse it off pronto and reduce how often you use it. You could also opt for a gentler application method like using a salicylic acid cleanser or scrub instead.

And finally, we know choosing the right acne treatment can be confusing. Especially since salicylic acid’s close relative, benzoyl peroxide aka BPO, helps treat acne, too.

While salicylic acid is top-notch at clearing pores, treating blackheads, and smoothing rough patches, it’s not so great at treating inflamed acne bumps. This is where BPO really shines. The reality is, though, you can use both salicylic acid and BPO products in the same skincare routine. Just remember, this could cause skin irritation, so proceed with caution and consider using one active in your morning skincare routine and the other at night before bed.

Blemish-free skin starts with the right ingredients and products. Add Clean & Clear® acne-fighting solutions to your skincare routine.

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