Our Guide to Salicylic Acid for Skin
Wondering how does salicylic acid work on the skin? Our guide to salicylic acid for skin teaches you everything you need from salicylic acid cleanser to serum.
Salicylic acid is a longstanding staple ingredient when it comes to skincare for oily skin and skin prone to mild acne, although it’s also suitable for most skin types. Products enriched with this potent ingredient can take different forms such as cleansers and serums, which means it’s possible to find a salicylic acid product that works for you and your skin. But before you incorporate this ingredient into your regular skincare regime, it’s important to understand how salicylic acid for skin works and how to choose the right product for you.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about salicylic acid, acne-prone skin and how the two work together. We’ll explain what salicylic acid is and how it benefits your skin from within, before providing some targeted salicylic acid product recommendations from our Clearly Corrective and Blue Herbal collections.
What is salicylic acid?
Salicylic acid is a chemical exfoliant ingredient that can also be classified as a hydroxy acid. There are two subcategories of hydroxy acids, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). Salicylic acid falls into the latter category, which means it’s oil soluble rather than water soluble.
In terms of where salicylic acid comes from, this ingredient has plant-derived origins. Salicylic acid is extracted from sugars found in the bark of the willow tree.
How does salicylic acid work?
Salicylic acid acts as keratolytic agent, which means it acts on keratin, the protein found in your hair and nails that also forms a tough outer layer of the skin. Keratolytic agents such as salicylic acid can help loosen stubborn keratin to aid the shedding of dead skin cells.
As a beta hydroxy acid, salicylic acid is also capable of penetrating deep within your pores to clean them. Unlike water soluble AHAs, BHAs are oil soluble. This quality allows salicylic acid to penetrate and soften hardened sebum plugs within clogged pores. Salicylic acid is also known to have anti-inflammatory properties and the ability to help remove excess oil from the skin’s surface.
Salicylic acid benefits
Sub-optimal skin cell turnover and oily skin are key contributors to acne-prone skin and salicylic acid targets both these causes directly by helping to slough away dead skin cells and removing excess sebum. This can result in visible skin benefits including reducing clogged pores, minimising the occurrence of blemishes (especially blackheads and whiteheads) and helping to re-establish a healthy skin cell replacement cycle. There are also benefits of salicylic acid for acne scars. Blemishes can resolve more quickly with salicylic acid application, which decreases the risk of a scar forming.
How to use salicylic acid in your skincare routine
While using products containing salicylic acid can have many benefits, this ingredient can also be quite drying to the skin. We’ve recommended our best salicylic acid product formulations below, with tailored advice for application to help you avoid drying out your skin. .
Blue Herbal Gel Cleanser
Using a salicylic acid cleanser is a highly efficacious way to thoroughly clean your complexion, especially if your skin is prone to excess oil. We recommend trying out our Blue Herbal Gel Cleanser, an effective non-drying face cleanser designed for skin prone to mild acne.
This high-foaming cleanser is enriched with frankincense, ginger root and salicylic acid. This formula goes beyond targeting existing blemishes to also help minimise the chance of new blemishes forming. Building on decades of skincare expertise, this cleanser is inspired by the famous Blue Astringent Herbal Lotion formulated in 1964.
This formula is suitable for everyday use, but you should ensure you follow up with a hydrating moisturiser.
Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution
Using a facial serum formulated with salicylic acid is another way to incorporate this ingredient into your skincare regime. For example, our Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution is a salicylic acid serum designed to provide deep, visible correction and breakthrough clarity. This serum combines salicylic acid with Activated C, peony extract and white birch extract to target the uneven skin tone often seen in acne-prone skin. White birch comforts the skin and promotes hydration to counteract any drying effects from salicylic acid.
Blue Herbal Spot Treatment
If you have active blemishes, you may wish to introduce salicylic acid into your routine in the form of a spot treatment. Our Blue Herbal Spot Treatment contains cinnamon bark extract, glycolic acid and salicylic acid to target acne-prone skin blemishes. This gentle yet effective gel should be used on blemish areas only, to help manage acne-prone skin without drying out the surrounding areas. Antibacterial glycolic acid helps minimise future blemishes, while salicylic acid and cinnamon bark extract work together to remove excess oil.
Breakout Control Targeted Acne Spot Treatment
If you experience sensitivity alongside blemishes, we recommend opting for a salicylic acid product that also contains comforting ingredients. For example, our Breakout Control Targeted Acne Spot Treatment pairs salicylic acid with vitamin B3, also known as niacinamide. This formula blends evenly and works to help reduce the appearance of blemishes while also comforting and illuminating the skin. As always, we recommend following up any salicylic acid products with an ultra-hydrating moisturiser. If in doubt, start using salicylic acid a couple of times per week before gradually increasing the frequency as your skin adjusts.
After utilising salicylic acid to help manage your mild acne-prone skin, it can be useful to introduce a brightening ingredient such as vitamin C to help even out any post-blemish uneven pigmentation. Read our guide Mythbusters: The Truth About Vitamin C Skincare to learn more.