Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) derived from willow bark. Unlike alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), which are water soluble and work on the surface of the skin, BHAs are oil soluble and can penetrate deeper into the skin to target the acne-causing bacteria, excess sebum and dead skin cells that can cause pimples. BHAs particularly benefit oily and acne-prone skin types and are commonly used to combat breakouts and rough, bumpy skin.
1. Exfoliates dead skin
Salicylic acid is a keratolytic agent that expedites cellular turnover. By helping to slough away dead skin cells and encourage the growth of new cells, it can help to reveal a smoother and brighter complexion.
2. Combats breakouts
Salicylic acid is a chemical exfoliant that works by loosening the bonds between skin cells and clearing pores of blockages and surface debris, thus helping to minimise blackheads, whiteheads and breakouts. Thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, it can also help to soothe irritation and reduce redness.
3. Balances sebum level
Salicylic acid is oil soluble, which allows it to penetrate deeper into the skin to clear pores and regulate sebum production. This can also minimise the appearance of enlarged pores.
Salicylic acid is particularly recommended for oily and acne-prone skin types, as it gently exfoliates pores and helps reduce breakouts whilst balancing sebum. With continued use, skin appears smoother, softer and clearer. Those with sensitive or extremely dry skin may experience skin dryness, peeling, redness and mild irritation when using salicylic acid. To prevent these unwanted side effects, we recommend starting with a lower concentration of salicylic acid or using it in wash-off form until your skin builds a tolerance to it, then slowly building up the intensity or frequency.
As salicylic acid can dry out the skin, it should be used in tandem with moisturising and soothing ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, ceramides or face oils. Salicylic acid works particularly well when used together with niacinamide. Although salicylic acid can be used alongside retinol, it is advisable to alternate between the two actives rather than using them simultaneously.
While salicylic is extremely effective in reducing or eliminating breakouts, overuse can lead to skin irritation and dryness. It is advisable to start by using it once or twice per week and gradually increase the frequency as tolerated.