Pick up any cosmetic product or skincare product off the shelves, and you will most likely find salicylic acid mentioned in the list of ingredients.
It is recommended by dermatologists and used extensively in the cosmetic industry. You will find it in tonics, toners, leave-in treatments, rinse-off treatments, and everything from make-up removers and shower gels to shampoos and conditioners.
You will also find it in peels, face washes, cleansing gels, and more. Understanding salicylic acid benefits and what it can do for you can help you choose your skincare and hair products.
Here’s a look at all you need to know about salicylic acid and more.
Table of Contents:
- What is salicylic acid?
- Salicylic acid benefits for skin
- Gets rid of oiliness
- Unclogs pores
- Keeps pores clean
- Fights acne-causing bacteria
- Fights psoriasis and other inflammatory conditions
- Removes dark spots
- Salicylic acid benefits for hair
- Cleans the scalp thoroughly
- Reduces buildup on the scalp
- Controls hair loss and promote hair growth
- Gets rid of dandruff
- When to use salicylic acid
- How to add salicylic acid to your skincare routine
- Products that go well with salicylic acid
- Salicylic acid safety tips
What is salicylic acid?
Salicylic acid is a skincare ingredient used in skincare products. It is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) and, like all BHAs, is an oil-soluble acid. This naturally-occurring compound is derived from nature – and can be isolated from sweet birch bark, wintergreen leaves, and even will tree bark.
Some fruits (apple, cherries, grapefruit, peaches, prunes, plums, raspberries, figs, strawberries, and grapes) contain salicylic acid.
Vegetables that contain salicylic acid include spinach, broccoli, mushrooms, eggplant, peppers, cauliflower, and radish.
It is naturally produced as a part of a plant’s defense mechanism against environmental stress factors and pathogen attacks.
Salicylic acid can also be synthetically made from phenol or phenylalanine biosynthesis.
Salicylic acid benefits for skin
Salicylic acid is the only BHA found in skincare products, found both in its natural and synthetic forms. It’s one of those ingredients with multiple advantages and cannot be ignored.
Here’s a look at its myriad benefits for your skin.
Gets rid of oiliness
If you have oily skin, it’s high time you made salicylic acid your best friend. Salicylic acid is an oil-soluble acid, meaning that it gets rid of all the excessive oil (sebum) buildup from your skin. But that’s not all – it also discourages more oil from building up.
Salicylic acid seems deep into your skin, gets into the pores, and gives them a thorough clean, unlike other ingredients that merely clean pores on the surface. Then, it suppresses sebum-producing cells that create excess oil, so you sport fresher, cleaner skin.
Salicylic acid is a boon to sensitive skin. It is a gentle exfoliator that unclogs pores and helps the skin shed dead cells from the top layer without causing skin irritation.
With clean pores, you can say goodbye to future blackheads and whiteheads. Although salicylic acid does not shrink pores, your clean pores will look smaller.
Now it’s true that exfoliators like benzoyl peroxide and azelaic acid provide deeper exfoliation.
However, these are keratolytic and potential irritants. On the other hand, Salicylic acid is a desmolytic – gentler and definitely sensitive-skin friendly.
Keeps pores clean
Salicylic acid cleans pores by dissolving the glue that makes skin cells stick together and clog pores.
As well as being a desmolytic that gently exfoliates pores, salicylic acid is also a comedolytic.
So, if you have acne-prone skin, it can keep your pores clean, prevent future acne breakouts, and give you lighter and brighter skin.
Fights acne-causing bacteria
Acne bacteria thrive pretty happily in clogged pores because of a lack of oxygen. When salicylic acid unclogs blocked pores, your skin and pores get a burst of fresh, oxygen-rich air that makes your skin less acne-bacteria friendly.
The best part is that salicylic acid can penetrate the skin much deeper than many other ingredients and tackle the problem at the source.
Salicylic acid fights and weakens acne bacteria but does not kill them. For severe acne breakouts, ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and azelaic acid are more effective but harsher ingredients.
Fights psoriasis and other inflammatory conditions
Salicylic acid is found in nature in willow bark, wintergreen leaves, and sweet birch bark and contains salicin, a chemical with potent anti-inflammatory properties.
Thanks to these properties, salicylic acid can calm inflamed and irritated skin and reduce redness associated with conditions like psoriasis and acne.
In fact, salicylic acid is the chief ingredient in most topical treatments for psoriasis flares. It also treats other thickened skin conditions like calluses, corns, warts, and keratosis pilaris.
Removes dark spots
Salicylic acid is an exfoliator. When used as a face cleanser and spot treatment, it can also slough away dark spots along with dead skin cells.
Since it is a gentle exfoliator, removing dark spots from the skin will take time. According to dermatologists, you can expect to see results anywhere between four and six weeks.
Salicylic acid benefits for hair
Salicylic acid is not only a fantastic ingredient in some skincare products – it makes an excellent ingredient in many hair care products as well. This super powerful synthesizer can give you a clean and fresh scalp.
Here’s more on salicylic acid benefits for the hair and scalp.
Cleans the scalp thoroughly
Nothing can penetrate the scalp skin and clean it properly like salicylic acid. It safely dissolves and strips away dead skin cells present on the surface of your scalp while increasing its moisture level simultaneously.
Reduces buildup on the scalp
If you have an oily scalp or hair, salicylic acid can remove oily, waxy sebum that makes your hair look dull, limp, and lifeless.
Controls hair loss and promote hair growth
Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is a hormone found mainly in men. It prevents follicle growth and, as a result, minimizes hair growth. Salicylic acid can remove or reduce the amount of this enzyme on the head, giving your scalp a chance at more hair growth with less hair fall.
Gets rid of dandruff
As mentioned earlier, salicylic acid can clean up your scalp, so it is absolutely free of dead skin cells. It also rids your scalp of dry skin and dandruff. With a clean, dandruff-free scalp, you have no or reduced irritation and itchiness.
When to use salicylic acid
Salicylic acid is best when you need specific improvements in your skin and hair. Here are some reasons to use salicylic acid.
- When you want clear, smooth, and bright skin.
- For acne-prone skin that is also sensitive.
- Works best for mild forms of acne – whiteheads and blackheads.
- To prevent future acne breakouts and pimples.
- If you have an itchy scalp or suffer from dandruff.
How to add salicylic acid to your skincare routine
Salicylic acid is safe enough to use every day in small quantities. However, if you are not careful, daily use could cause irritation.
Dermatologists recommend using it just thrice a week until you are sure your skin can handle it without irritation.
Once you are certain your skin is okay with the acid, you can increase applications. Start by using it only once a day (thrice a week).
The next step then would be to increase that to twice a day. If you know you will be out in the sun, apply the product only at night.
Use salicylic acid with ingredients that will soothe the skin if your skin develops an irritation from the acid.
If you use more than one exfoliant, there is a high likelihood of developing skin irritation. Worse, you won’t know which exfoliant causes the irritation.
Dermatologists suggest sticking to one exfoliant at a time to avoid irritation.
Products that go well with salicylic acid
When you skip using salicylic acid, you can use safe products with natural ingredients that mimic salicylic acid benefits.
If you use salicylic acid as a topical treatment, the rest of your skincare and haircare regime must be gentle. That will ensure your skin does not break out into another acne breakout or worsen whatever skin condition you are trying to treat.
Here are some gentle products that you can try – all made up of safe, natural botanicals and sulfate, paraben, and silicone-free.
WOW Skin Science Coconut Hydrating Foaming Face Wash with Brush is designed to gently exfoliate your skin. It gets rid of pore-clogging impurities and pollutants and then replenishes your skin’s moisture. Coconut water, aloe vera extract, vitamin E, and hyaluronic acid are the active ingredients in this gentle face wash and are safe to use with your topical salicylic acid regime.
WOW Skin Science Aloe Vera Face Wash (Gel Type) is a hydrating face wash with aloe barbadensis leaf juice, hyaluronic acid, and pro-vitamin B5. While aloe vera refines your pores and brightens your skin, green tea extracts neutralize free radicals and restore your skin’s pH balance. Calendula, which is a soothing botanical, fights acne-causing bacteria.
WOW Skin Science Ubtan Face Wash is infused with secret Ayurveda ingredients to promote clean, unclogged pores and a brighter complexion. Chickpea flour, turmeric, saffron, almond extracts, rose water, and sandalwood oil are botanicals making up this gentle and yet very potent pore-unclogging complexion-brightening face wash.
WOW Skin Science Coconut Water Full Cream with Hyaluronic Acid delivers deep hydration and a youthful softness and glow. Coconut water is very rich in vitamins, amino acids, and minerals and provides sensitive skin with luxurious hydration without excess oil. Hyaluronic acid is safe to use with salicylic acid and fights wrinkles while simultaneously locking in water molecules. Vitamin B5 and E contain potent antioxidants that repair and hydrate the skin’s natural barrier.
WOW Green Tea and Tea Tree Shampoo is an anti-dandruff shampoo that clarifies your scalp and refreshes your hair with its powerful pH-balanced formula. Packed with the goodness of botanicals like tea tree oil, sweet almond oil, and green tea, this is perfect for your dandruff-prone hair. The formula is also designed to fight dryness and improve blood flow simultaneously.
Salicylic acid safety tips
- Unless prescribed by a dermatologist, salicylic acid is best used when it is present in cleansers.
- You can also use serums that contain salicylic acid. However, these serums should be used only on the affected area that needs treatment.
- If you have sensitive skin, using salicylic acid-containing products every day can dry out your skin or damage the skin barrier. So, keep an eye on how often you use these products and watch out for signs of dry skin or irritation.
- There is a high possibility that you develop a tolerance to salicylic acid and notice a reduction in its benefits. In that case, you might have to increase the usage of the product.
Avoid using salicylic acid with other acid-containing products.
- Avoid using salicylic acid with ingredients like antioxidants and retinol. Some of these ingredients can heighten or intensify the effects of certain acids and cause scarring and burning. Using only salicylic acid as the single active ingredient reduces these risks.
- Always consult a dermatologist before adding a chemical exfoliant or peel like salicylic acid to your skincare routine.
- When using topical salicylic acid to treat your skin, avoid abrasive cleansers, soaps, and skin or hair care products containing alcohol.
- Salicylic acid is a salicylate that belongs to the aspirin family. So if you are allergic to aspirin, it is best to avoid salicylic acid.
Salicylic acid has fantastic skin and hair benefits, but it must be used carefully and correctly. Some ingredients work fantastically alongside salicylic acid in your skin and hair care routines, but others must be avoided.
For instance, salicylic acid works well with hyaluronic acid. Still, it should never be paired with products that contain vitamin C.
Understand how this acid works, and you get to make the most of the salicylic acid benefits outlined here.
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