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How to Use Salicylic Acid for Hair

This skin care ingredient is an itchy scalp's best friend.
December 04, 2023
In this article
  1. What is Salicylic Acid?
  2. What Are the Benefits of Salicylic Acid for Hair?
  3. What Hair Types Should Use Salicylic Acid for Hair?
  4. How to Use Salicylic Acid for Hair?

Salicylic acid
has steadily become a core skin care ingredient due to its exfoliating abilities, but it’s now turning up in hair care and beauty products as well. Based on the endless ingredient-specific videos on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, it’s evident that beauty lovers, novices and experts alike are starting to pay more attention to the ingredient lists of their beauty products. 

While salicylic acid is a known skin care ingredient, it’s also been a core part of clarifying shampoos, anti-dandruff shampoos and some makeup products. This skin care hero has a lot of benefits and could be the secret to tackling limp hair, itchy scalp and other concerns. Here, learn all you need to know about salicylic acid for hair and how to use it in your hair care routine. 

What Is Salicylic Acid?

According to the Cleveland Clinic and National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), salicylic acid is derived from willow bark and is used to break down layers of thick skin while also treating skin concerns like psoriasis, calluses, acne and clogged pores. Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that exfoliates the skin to remove excessive oils, product buildup and other debris that can clog pores. This ingredient is useful for all-over skin care — from a product-buildup-ridden scalp to calloused feet.    

What Are the Benefits of Salicylic Acid for Hair?

As stated before, salicylic acid is a well-known ingredient in skin care, but it’s important to remember that the skin from your face extends to your scalp. So, the scalp on your head can benefit from this ingredient as well. Below, learn more about the specific benefits of salicylic acid that’ll have you reaching for hair care with the exfoliant. 

Removes Product Buildup and Excessive Oils

One of the main benefits of salicylic acid for hair is its ability to eliminate excessive residue like product buildup, oils, sweat and other impurities that coat your scalp and hair. Clarifying shampoos and purifying shampoos are formulated with ingredients like salicylic acid to target these concerns and gently remove buildup without harshly stripping the hair and skin of natural oils. 

If you’re itching your scalp reading this pick up a hair wash like L’Oréal Paris Elvive Hyaluron Plus Pure 72H Purifying Shampoo for Oily Hair, which is formulated with salicylic acid to rid the scalp of all residue while the infused hyaluronic acid keeps hair moisturized.
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Helps Tackle Dandruff

You should check your hair care for salicylic acid (or pick up a product) if your hair is scattered with white flaky dots or a snowfall-like dusting of dandruff comes out every time you shake your head. Dandruff (aka seborrheic dermatitis) is a common skin condition that requires dedicated products — like anti-dandruff shampoos and ointments — to treat. According to the Mayo Clinic, these products may include salicylic acid to eliminate buildup and break down flaky dead skin.

Soothes Scalp Irritation

An itchy scalp may be caused by dandruff and excessive oils in the hair, making salicylic acid for hair a great remedy for scalp irritation from these skin concerns. By using a clarifying shampoo, anti-dandruff shampoo or detoxifying shampoo, you’re eliminating all the bad stuff that could be clogging pores that lead you to scratching and itching it all away.

What Hair Types Should Use Salicylic Acid for Hair?

All hair types can benefit from using hair care with salicylic acid since all hair types can experience dandruff, product buildup and an itchy scalp. The frequency of these concerns will vary based on hair type and your specific hair care habits, but for the most part, at some point in your hair and scalp life, you may have dealt with these issues. Those with curly or coily hair that often use a lot of heavy hair styling products along with anyone who has an oily scalp can benefit from salicylic acid for the hair. 

Additionally, for those who are rocking a shaved or bald head, you can still use salicylic acid for your scalp to target irritation that may be a result of sweat or impurities from the environment like smoke and dirt or. There’s no limitation to who can use products with salicylic acid.

How to Use Salicylic Acid for Hair?

Salicylic acid for hair is a common ingredient and there’s a good chance you’re already using a product with the exfoliant in the formula. Below, learn three tips on using hair care with salicylic acid to restore your scalp and strands to a healthier state. 


Try a Dedicated Shampoo

Avoid using skin care specific products — like a salicylic acid serum — on your hair and scalp, as these types of products are usually formulated only for facial skin. Instead, find salicylic acid for hair in the form of a clarifying shampoo like L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Clarifying Shampoo with Antioxidants which offers salon-quality hair care without the expensive price. This shampoo gently detoxifies hair of hard water exposure and product buildup that may be leaving your hair looking dull and flat. It also offers relief to your itchy scalp from flaky dead skin cells. 

Focus on the Scalp

When using a shampoo with salicylic acid make sure you apply the hair wash directly to your scalp, without coating the rest of your strands with the hair cleanser. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), this is one of the best tips for washing your hair with any shampoo to minimize frizz and avoid drying out your strands.

Since most of the oil-based hair concerns start at the scalp, you’ll want to use a clarifying shampoo like L’Oréal Paris Elvive Extraordinary Clay Shampoo at the scalp before massaging the rebalancing hair wash down the length of your hair. This shampoo is formulated with salicylic acid and detoxifying clays to tackle oily roots and dry ends for refreshed and rebalanced hair. 

If you’re using a topical ointment or treatment, make sure you follow the instructions on the specific product for the best application and results. And whenever in doubt, speak with your doctor or a trichologist for a topical prescription if you’re dealing with constant dandruff, psoriasis or eczema on your scalp

Always Finish With Moisturization

After rinsing your hair of shampoo residue, follow up with a conditioner to add moisture and hydration for healthy tresses. If you’re in need of added nutrients, reach for a nourishing conditioner like  L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Restoring Conditioner with Antioxidants or L’Oréal Paris Elvive Hyaluron Pure 72H Rehydrating Conditioner for Oily Hair

Use Salicylic Acid for Hair Weekly

How often you use salicylic acid for your hair will depend on the specific product you’re using. Always follow the directions on your hair care to determine how frequently you should use that particular product. 

For the most part, if you’re looking to rebalance your scalp and use salicylic acid as a part of your routine, use products like a clarifying shampoo once a week or twice a week if you have an extremely oily scalp. Washing your hair too frequently (with salicylic acid shampoos or your regular shampoo) can dehydrate your scalp and dry out your hair. 


Next: What Is a Hair Cuticle and Why You Need to Seal It

Photo Courtesy of L'Oréal Paris

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