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Salicylic Acid: Skincare Benefits, Uses & More



Madi Cardoso

Madi Cardoso

#TeamGorgeous walks you through everything you need to know about the super ingredient.

Everyone’s talking about salicylic acid, from beauty addicts to dermatologists. But what exactly is it? And what does it do for the skin? Here’s our complete guide to the popular organic compound, covering its unique properties, skincare benefits and much, much more.

What is Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) obtained from the bark of white willow and wintergreen leaves.* It acts as an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory agent, being known for its exfoliating and peeling action.

Because of its ability to penetrate deep into the skin and unclog pores, salicylic acid is commonly used in the treatment of acne, psoriasis and dandruff. As such, it’s mostly recommended for people with combination or oily skin.

This powerful ingredient can be found in all sorts of lotions, ointments, cleansers and shampoos. It can even be found in certain medicines – like aspirin.

Did you know? The medical use of willow bark can be traced back to the Ancient Greek civilization.**

beauty product splodge with salicylic acid

AHAs & BHAs – What’s the Difference?

While BHAs stand for beta hydroxy acids, AHAs stand for alpha hydroxy acids.

AHAs (like glycolic and lactic acid) are soluble in water so they work at the skin-surface level. On the other hand, BHAs are oil-soluble, so they’re able to penetrate deeper into the skin.

Both alpha and beta hydroxy acids are useful in their own way. AHAs can be found in many treatments for fine lines and uneven skin tone. BHAs are primarily used to combat acne, blackheads and excess sebum.

When choosing between the two acids, it’s a good idea to think about your skin type and what results you’re trying to achieve.

Salicylic Acid: Benefits for the Skin

The much-loved organic compound has lots of great benefits for the skin.

With superb exfoliating properties, salicylic acid allows cells to unstick from one another, dissolving acne-causing blockages***. It also helps reduce the production of sebum, preventing the appearance of more spots.

This BHA can be incorporated into your skincare routine at different stages, including cleansing, toning and moisturising.

Key Benefits

  • Unclogs pores
  • Helps clear acne
  • Exfoliates the skin, removing dead cells, debris and excess oil
  • Helps control production of sebum
  • Promotes a clearer complexion

Don’t forget: Sometimes you won’t be able to see the results immediately – and this is normal. Some treatments take a while to work, so make sure to check the product label and information.

water background

Is it Safe to Use Salicylic Acid?

Different people need different dosages of this BHA. Make sure to follow the directions on the label of your exfoliator, cream or treatment. If you’ve got any questions or doubts, make sure to check with your dermatologist.

It’s a good idea to do a patch test before applying the acid for the first time. Simply apply a small amount of the formula as directed – if discomfort or irritation occurs, discontinue its use. This super ingredient is usually recommended for people with oily or combination skin, so take extra care when trying it if you’ve got a sensitive or dry complexion.

Skincare Products with Salicylic Acid

From the best salicylic acid cleansers, toners and peels to anti-ageing facial moisturisers and body washes, discover skincare must-haves which contain the wonder ingredient.

> Cleansers

If you are looking for a gentle, fragrance-free formula, try the CeraVe Cleanser with salicylic acid. Free of physical exfoliants, this skin-smoothing marvel helps improve skin texture while removing oil, make-up and impurities.

For a refreshing, purifying alternative, go for the Caudalie Vinopure Gel Cleanser. Enriched with organic water, this salicylic acid gel ensures your skin stays hydrated and nourished.

> Moisturisers

If you’ve got oily skin prone to suffering from breakouts, moisturisers with salicylic acid are an essential. The Green People Beauty Boost Skin Restore, for example, helps stimulate collage production for added skin elasticity and firmness.

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> Exfoliators

The super ingredient can, of course, be found in many face exfoliators from trusted brands – like the AGE Smart® MultiVitamin Thermafoliant from Dermalogica.

An exfoliator works deep into the skin to remove impurities and deliver a polished finish. For something lighter, you can opt for a toner with salicylic acid instead such as Liquid Radiance Glycolic Toner from Evolve Beauty.

BHA Skincare: Keep Discovering…

*Compound Summary: Salicylic Acid, PubChem Open Chemistry Database, Accessed June 2020

**Aspirin: Turn-of-the-Century Miracle Drug, Science History Institute Distillations Magazine, Accessed June 2020

***Salicylic acid vs. benzoyl peroxide: What to know, Published in Medical News Today in 2019, Accessed June 2020

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