A guide to salicylic acid and the best skincare products

Inflammation? Clogged pores? Breakouts? Meet the wonder ingredient that can banish them all

When you think of acids, you probably think of dangerous substances and not something you’d apply to your skin on the regular. But chemical exfoliants like salycilic acid have a whole host of skincare benefits.

With skin ailments like acne, blackheads and inflammation, for example, applying an acid might seem counter-productive. But salicylic acid is a great anti-inflammatory agent and blemish treatment, which is why you’ll find it in many of the best spot treatments and skincare products for oily skin.

But what exactly is it, where does it come from and what are the best forms? Read on to find out all about it.

What is salicylic acid?

‘Salicylic acid is a natural plant hormone to help them fend off environmental nasties,’ explains Mark Curry, co-founder of The Inkey List. ‘However, we can use this to remove dead skin cells and sebum from our skin and pores. It’s effectively an exfoliant, removing old skin cells and debris (like sebum and oil) ensuring new skin cells can thrive. It therefore supports acne-prone skin and helps it look more evenly toned.

How does salicylic acid work?

One of the biggest benefits of salicylic acid is its ability to de-clog pores, making light work of blackheads and blemishes over time. ‘Unlike AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids like glycolic acid), BHAs like salicylic acid are oil-soluble,’ Mark explains. ‘This means that they are able to get deeper into the skin and remove dead skin cells, excess sebum and oil that are the primary cause of breakouts and issues’

‘Alongside this, salicylic acid is also able to calm our skin, as it kick-starts cells to produce anti-inflammatory products at the same time.’ Redness and irritation, be gone.

If you’re using acids for the first time your skin might feel a little tingly, but over time it’ll become accustomed to salicylic acid and its benefits. ‘Both launching 7th February, our salicylic acid cleanser can be used morning and night to wash the day away, and our BHA serum can be used as a leave on product to ensure a more lasting effect, either morning or night.’ If you’re using acids in the morning, always follow up with an SPF.

Keep reading for the Marie Claire-approved list of salicylic acid products below.

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