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What Is Salicylic Acid?

Skin Care Essentials

What Is Salicylic Acid? What Is Salicylic Acid? What Is Salicylic Acid?

If you have acne, then you’ve likely heard of salicylic acid, as many skin care products that address breakouts are formulated with this ingredient. But how much do you really know about it? If you’re curious to learn more about salicylic acid, its skin care benefits, and what skin care products you can find it in, then you’re in the right place. Keep reading to learn the ins and outs of salicylic acid and how to add it to your skin care routine.

What Is Salicylic Acid?

Before we get into the skin care benefits of salicylic acid and tell you where to look for it in skin care products, we’re here to explain what salicylic acid is. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), salicylic acid is a type of beta hydroxy acid (BHA). In case you need a refresher, BHAs can act as an exfoliant, meaning they can help remove dead skin cells from skin’s surface. According to the FDA, salicylic acid is the most popularly used BHA found in skin care products.  

What Are the Skin Care Benefits of Salicylic Acid?

Now that you know what salicylic acid is—a BHA that can help exfoliate skin’s surface—it’s time to get to what you’re really interested in: the skin care benefits of salicylic acid. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), salicylic acid is commonly found in acne skin care products. Why? Well, that’s because it can exfoliate dead skin cells on skin’s surface. The buildup of dead skin cells on skin’s surface can clog pores—and clogged pores can lead to 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 to Your Skin Care Routine?

Lots of different types of skin care products are formulated with salicylic acid. According to the AAD, you can find this ingredient in facial cleansers, moisturizers, face scrubs, cleansing cloths, and cleansing pads. As far as using skin care products formulated with salicylic acid goes, the FDA recommends testing any skin care product on a small area first to see how your skin responds. Keep in mind that the AAD says that 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. Patience is key!

Plus, make sure to 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 higher daily as directed, 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 sleeve shirts, pants, a broad-brimmed hat, and UV-blocking sunglasses.

In addition to adding salicylic acid to your skin care routine, there are a few other steps you can take if you have mild acne. According to the FDA, it’s a good idea to use skin care products and makeup that are noncomedogenic or nonacnegenic, which means that they are formulated to not clog pores.

Ready for another skin care lesson? Now, it’s time to up your knowledge about alpha hydroxy acids. Head on over to our article What Is Glycolic Acid? next to get the scoop.