If you’ve ever dealt with acne, you probably know a thing or two about salicylic acid because it’s a very common ingredient in acne-fighting skin care. But knowing what it is and knowing how it works are two very different things. If you’re curious to learn more about what salicylic acid does for the skin and how it can be helpful in fighting acne, then you’re in the right place. We tapped Michelle Henry, MD FAAD, NYC-based board-certified dermatologist and L’Oréal Paris consultant for more insight on this acne-fighting ingredient. So keep reading to learn more about salicylic acid, including expert tips for adding it to your routine.
What Is Salicylic Acid?
“Salicylic acid is an anti-inflammatory ingredient, it also exfoliates the skin,” says Dr. Henry. She adds that it can also brighten the skin, reduce dark spots and smooth rough texture. According to the Cleveland Clinic, salicylic acid’s ability to exfoliate the skin leads to less dead skin cells which promotes a brighter, smoother skin tone.
Furthermore, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that salicylic acid is a type of beta hydroxy acid (BHA). In case you need a refresher, BHAs act as exfoliants, meaning they remove dead skin cells from the skin’s surface and unclog pores. Per the FDA, salicylic acid is the most commonly used BHA in topical skin care products.
What Are the Benefits of Salicylic Acid for Skin?
Now that you know that salicylic acid is a BHA that can help exfoliate the skin’s surface, it’s time to get down to what makes this rockstar ingredient so special. “Salicylic acid is a pore buster that helps deep clean small blemishes (also called microcomedones) that can lead to acne,” says Dr. Henry. “Since BHAs are a smaller molecule, they can penetrate deeper into the pores to kill bacteria.”
Furthermore, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) reports that salicylic acid is a common treatment for acne because it can target the buildup of dead skin cells on the skin’s surface that lead to clogged pores, and later down the line, breakouts. The FDA states that BHAs such as salicylic acid can also help improve the overall appearance of skin with continued use over time.
How Can You Add Salicylic Acid Products to Your Routine?
If you’re new to salicylic acid, Dr. Henry recommends starting with a low concentration and gradually building up usage as your skin can tolerate it. If you have oily skin, you can probably get away with using it more frequently. You can find salicylic acid in facial cleansers, moisturizers, face scrubs, cleansing cloths, body wash, and cleansing pads. Note that salicylic acid can be used with ingredients like hyaluronic acid and ceramides to boost hydration and repair the skin barrier, but Dr. Henry recommends that you skip on pairing it with retinol or AHAs because this can cause irritation.
Another thing to keep in mind is that salicylic acid products don’t work overnight. The AAD states it can take time — anywhere from four to eight weeks — for mild acne to start clearing up after adding salicylic acid to your skin care routine. The same applies for the rest of salicylic acid’s benefits, so know that patience is key.
Also, it’s important to make note that you must take proper sun protection measures when you use skin care products formulated with BHAs like salicylic acid, as they can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater daily (we suggest L’Oréal Paris Bright Reveal Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Daily UV Lotion), limit your amount of time in the sun (especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., which are the sun’s peak hours), seek shade when you’re outside, and cover up exposed areas in long-sleeved shirts, pants, a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
Is It Okay to Use Salicylic Acid Everyday?
“If you’re dry or sensitive, [salicylic acid] can be irritating [with daily use], especially in higher concentrations,” Dr. Henry shares. However, if you have oily skin, she recommends daily usage. “Use the most robust regimen your skin can tolerate, especially if you’re acne-prone.”
Always consult your dermatologist before adding a new product or ingredient to your routine. They can help determine what will work best for your unique skin type.
Our Best Skin Care Products Formulated With Salicylic Acid
If you’re looking to add a salicylic acid product to your skin care routine, we have two options you may be interested in.
This glycolic acid and salicylic acid cleanser helps cleanse and resurface the skin by gently exfoliating to remove dirt, oil, debris and dead skin cells. The formula also contains soothing aloe vera to prevent it from drying out your skin. With consistent use, it gently works its magic to reveal a smoother, brighter complexion.
How to use it: Lather a small amount of cleanser into wet hands and gently massage it onto skin using light circular motions. Rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water and pat dry.
With a mix of purifying salicylic acid and brightening vitamin C, this facial serum works to even skin tone, increase radiance and reduce the appearance of fine lines and enlarged pores. The potent formula is suitable for all skin types, from new salicylic acid users to self-proclaimed BHA loyalists.
How to use it: Apply three to four drops to clean skin and gently pat it in. Follow up with moisturizer and SPF if you’re applying it in the morning.
Photo Credit: Chaunte Vaughn
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