Why salicylic acid could be your new skin saviour

Skincare products containing salicylic acid can help with 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 inflammatory 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.

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