You may have noticed the trending skincare ingredient salicylic acid hitting the beauty limelight. The super-ingredient is best known for its exfoliating and bacteria-fighting qualities and is used to combat stubborn acne lesions and blackheads.
Salicylic acid is one of acne’s top enemies. Apply it to your skin the second you see a zit forming, and most mornings you’ll see a pimple that’s dried up and a whole lot less noticeable.
If you’re new to salicylic acid, it’s time to learn a lot more about this skin-loving wonder. Keep reading to discover exactly what salicylic acid is and what it does.
What Is Salicylic Acid?
First, let’s cover what salicylic acid is. While it’s slightly complicated, it’s essential to understand salicylic acid's structure to know how and why it works so efficiently.
When it comes to skincare products, there are two types of acids you’ll often spot. These are beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) and alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs.) Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid, meaning the hydroxy part of the molecule is separate from the acid part by two carbons. In alpha hydroxy acids, they’re separated by one carbon atom.
Salicylic acid derives from willow bark and belongs to a type of ingredients called salicylates. Are you still hanging on?
This is where the fun comes in. The structure of salicylic acid is essential to understand because its what makes the ingredient more oil-soluble so it can penetrate deeply into the pores of the skin.
Generally, oil-soluble ingredients can enter the lipid layers between the skin cells more efficiently. This helps them work deep into the pores to unclog them, gifting you with clear and dazzling skin.
What Does Salicylic Acid Do for the Skin?
As salicylic acid can reach deep into the skin, this makes it ideal for treating acne, especially those unsightly blackheads and whiteheads we all hate to deal with.
Once salicylic acid penetrates the skin, it effectively dissolves skin debris that clogs pores, working as an inflammatory. As well as combatting blackheads and whiteheads, salicylic acid also helps to reduce red and inflamed pimples and pustules.
Salicylic acid is so potent that it breaks down the connections between skin cells. Once it’s penetrated the skin, the acid part of the formula dissolves some of the intracellular ‘glue’ that links the cells.
As well as treating acne, salicylic acid is also used to brighten or rejuvenate dull and tired skin. The ingredient is often used as a milder chemical peel for those with acne-prone skin or people wanting a less intense peel. In high concentrations, salicylic acid is also used to tackle warts and other skin growth issues as it breaks down skin cells.
How Do I Choose a Salicylic Acid Product?
Salicylic is found in many different types of products, so the best formula for you depends on your skin type and what benefits you’re looking for. As salicylic is drying, it’s essential to ensure your skin remains lush and hydrated.
Look for products that contain moisturizing ingredients, including soothing oils, hyaluronic acid, and ceramides. If your skin is dry or sensitive, it’s best to grab a product with a lower salicylic acid concentration that’s closer to around one percent.
A good option for those with dry or sensitive skin is Bioelements Acne Toner. The solution contains 0.5 percent salicylic acid and is packed with oil-absorbing botanicals to keep your skin fresh and hydrated. Use the toner to clear your skin, bidding farewell to unwanted acne pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads.
Another great option is PCA Skin’s Acne Gel. The treatment clears existing blemishes while also preventing any future breakouts, all in good time. The product is versatile too. Use it all over your complexion on oily or combination skin or as a spot treatment on individual breakouts on all skin types.
How Often Should You Use Salicylic Acid?
It may be tempting to rush out to your nearest beauty store to immediately start using salicylic acid, but approach with caution and start slowly. Dermatologists don’t usually recommend using salicylic acid every day. After all, you don’t want to end up with dry and irritated skin, do you?
Start using salicylic once or twice a week, increasing the frequency as tolerated by your skin. Your tolerance for salicylic acid all depends on how sensitive your skin is and what other products you’re currently using.
If your skin ends up peeling excessively or becomes irritated or dry, it’s time to decrease use or stop using it altogether. Although rare, you may break out in hives or experience another unusual reaction if you have an allergy to salicylic acid. In these cases, stop using the product immediately and seek medical help.
Want more skincare advice? Here’s how to wave bye-bye to blackheads.