Skincare products containing salicylic acid can cure acne, irritation and an an uneven texture. Here's what you need to know about this multi-tasking beauty ingredient...
Applying acid to your skin to treat inflammation or irritation might seem counter-intuitive, but salicylic acid is one of the best guys for the job – although it sounds scary, it could well be your new skin saviour. Found in a number of the best spot treatments and beauty products for acne-prone skin, it can treat a number of skin concerns. But what exactly is it, and how does it work? Read all about it below.
What is salicylic acid?
A type of beta hydroxy acid (BHA), salicylic acid is a multi-tasking ingredient that can tackle skin’s many problems. Often prescribed by doctors, you’ll find it in most of the best acne treatments due to its exfoliating nature and structure, which allows it to get deeper into the skin and encourage pores to de-clog. As an anti-irritant, it also has the ability to soothe stressed skin, reduce redness and work as an anti-inflammatory to calm breakouts and angry skin. It’s also a keratolytic medication, which in layman’s terms means it encourages skin exfoliation.
How does salicylic acid work?
Essentially it breaks down the bond that keeps dead cells clinging together. If not broken down, this bond can clog pores along with oil, leading to blackheads and whiteheads. The acid part of the molecule can dissolve some of the intercellular ‘glue’ that holds skin cells together. It’s also been proven to have renewing properties, helping to firm and plump the skin by promoting new cell turnover.
The reason salicylic acid is able to give such a deep clean is because it can penetrate deep into the pore lining – while alpha-hydroxy acids only treat the surface layer of the skin. It’s therefore able to exfoliate inside the pore as well as the surface of the skin, helping to clear congested skin. On top of that, it can reduce sebum secretion, another way to treat acne.
Salicylic acid can also help combat dandruff; in much the same way as it helps rid your skin of dead cells, so too does it rid your scalp of dry, flaky skin.
How to use salicylic acid
When you first apply it (most importantly to clean and dry skin) you’ll probably experience some stinging and perhaps a little peeling or slightly reddened skin. But it’s actually safe to use on sensitive skin because of its anti-inflammatory properties.
Over time, your skin will become accustomed to it and any side effects will lessen; the maximum concentration is a 2% solution, so start with a smaller concentration if you’re apprehensive. You’ll also notice that your skin is smoother and clearer, due to the exfoliation.
Now that you’ve wised up on how it works, shop the best salicylic acid products in our edit of the best below.
Not only does it work to get rid of existing blemishes, but this treatment gel, designed to be slathered on problem areas, works to prevent future breakouts too. It’s without a doubt one of the brand’s most popular products, and the entire Anti-Blemish range is worth checking out if you struggle with spotty skin.
As well as targeting all over skin concerns, a strong dose of salicylic acid can reduce a huge spot in just a day or two. Origins’ is one of the best we’ve tried, enriched with plant extracts to treat a problematic pimple. Plus, the anti-inflammatory properties will stop it from being so painful in the process.
An acne-emergency must-have, the Mario Badescu Anti Acne Serum will become your go-to product for bad breakouts. Apply before bed on a particularly bad day to reveal healed skin by morning. Constant sufferer? Make this part of your nightly ritual to help prevent eruptions before they start. Use before your regular night cream in a thin layer to calm and unclog your troubled complexion.
Great news: Salicylic acid can also be used to treat bacne by exfoliating the pores and getting rid of the blocking substances that cause it. Murad’s bacne-banishing formula comes in a handy spray bottle, (although you still might need a hand applying it). To avoid excessive skin drying, start with spraying problem areas once a day, then build up to 2-3 times to curb that bacne for good.
Is there anything salicylic acid can’t get to work on? We think not. The very clever L’Oreal Professionnel Serie Expert Volumetry Anti Gravity Shampoo is a must for fine or lank hair. Using salicylic acid to slough away dead skin cells – the cause of flat hair – this clarifying shampoo purifies the hair to leave you with voluminous, ultra-clean locks.
Salicylic acid can benefit you from head to toe, and that includes your feet. Bliss Foot Patrol is tougher on hard skin than any exfoliator, renewing cell turn over and hydrating for silky soft soles. Apply before bed to allow the blend of alpha hydroxy and salicylic acid to slough away dry skin, so you can wake to beautifully smooth feet. Peppermint cools tired toes and aloe soothes and hydrates to give a well rounded (and effortless) pedicure.