What is Salicylic Acid?
Skincare trends come and go, but salicylic acid is here to stay. Unlike those fancy froo froo “all-natural” ingredients that have no scientific backing, salicylic acid has long been a dermatologist’s favorite. Even from my experience, it seems that most skincare products for acne-prone skin actually have salicylic acid as an ingredient.
What is salicylic acid?
Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid a.k.a BHA. Compared to alpha hydroxy acids (AHA), another common acid found in skincare products, BHA’s have two carbon atoms between the hydroxy part of the molecule and acid while AHA’s only have one carbon atom (1). In layman’s terms, the structure of BHA’s makes it that they are more oil-soluble instead of water-soluble. This is significant because oil-soluble ingredients can penetrate the deeper, lipid layers of the skin, reaching into the pores (2).
What are the benefits?
If your skin tends to be on the oily side, like mine, salicylic acid is going to be your best friend. With you have oily skin, it’s rather easy to develop clogged pores, which eventually lead to whiteheads and blackheads. As an exfoliant, salicylic acid breaks down the dead skin cell and oil clumps trapped in our pores to prevent acne from forming. For existing whiteheads and blackheads, salicylic acid will help them go away faster, reducing inflammation.
Is it safe to use?
Salicylic acid is generally safe to use once or twice a day (3). However, using too much of a good thing is not a good thing at all. Too much salicylic acid can lead to dryness, peeling, irritation, and redness (1). Be sure to check the concentration of salicylic acid in a product. As a rule of thumb, a 2% concentration should be the maximum amount for a-home treatments (2).
Another common mistake I see is people have salicylic acid in every single skincare product they use (and even in their makeup products). You run the risk of drying out and irritating your skin, which may make your acne worse. Furthermore, please use spot treatment only on your spots. Common sense right? Spot treatment tends to have a higher concentration of salicylic acid. You aren’t reaping any benefits by slathering a ton of it all over your face, especially in the places you don’t it (1).
On the other hand, if your skin is already on the drier side and/or sensitive, salicylic acid may not be for you. I would then recommend using an AHA like glycolic acid as an exfoliant instead. Those who are pregnant, on certain medication like blood thinners, or are allergic to aspirin should probably skin on the salicylic acid too (3).
If salicylic acid sounds like a promising ingredient to you, make sure to test it on your skin first before plopping it in your skincare ritual. This is true for any new product on your skin, conduct a patch test and check for any irritation and sensitivity (3).
Awesome products with salicylic acid
Salicylic acid can be an ingredient in any skincare and makeup product. What form this ingredient takes up is up to you and your preferences. And remember, follow the instructions carefully for proper usage.
1. Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
I’ve been hearing glowing reviews over this product. This toner is well-loved by customers and influencers alike. Gentle yet insanely effective with clean ingredients to match.
2. CeraVe SA Renewing Cleanser
This cleanser is my ride or die. It’s affordable, gentle, and keeps my skin fresh.
3. KILLA Kit by ZitSticka
These pimple patches have been generating a lot of buzz in the beauty community. As a spot treatment, these patches will make even difficult pimples disappear quickly.
Salicylic acid is an ingredient that will never phase out. It has wonderful exfoliation, renewing, anti-inflammatory, and acne-fighting properties.
Use salicylic acid if you:
- Have clogged pores
- Have oiliness
- Are in need of deeper exfoliation
Don't use salicylic acid if you:
- Have drier and/or sensitive skin
- Are pregnant
- Are on certain medication such as blood thinners
Written by Jessica Lu
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