Hey fam! Ever wondered why salicylic acid is such a great skincare ingredient? It’s the trusted OG of skincare, used a lot both by dermatologists and in regular skincare for decades. And it’s here to slay as your problem-skin BFF, calming existing acne and preventing future breakouts. Oh, and it’s an anti-aging superhero.
Where does salicylic acid come from?
Salicylic acid (aka beta-hydroxy acid or BHA) is found in many plants, and it’s often extracted from willow bark. Did you know it’s the main player in aspirin? And it’s nature’s gift to your skin.
Image: Pexels.com/Petr Ganaj
How does salicylic acid work?
So, how does salicylic acid do its thing in your skin? This superhero dissolves in lipids (fats and oils. Hmmm, our skin has lipid layers…
- Salicylic acid dives in deep to sweep out those pesky blocked pores. If you have oily skin, skin cells and oil build up in pores and block them, leading to whiteheads and blackheads. And if bacteria crashes the party, you also get pimples. Enter salicylic acid – it swoops in, melts the blockage and breaks down skin cells to clear the pores
- But wait, there's more! Salicylic acid is also an anti-bacterial and inflammation-fighting champ. So, when pimples decide to show up, it kicks in to speed up the healing process, soothing irritation and redness and making the pimple disappear faster
- Used regularly, it also helps control excess oil and prevent blocked pores and future pimples
- Keeping pores clear helps to improve pore size, so they look less visible
- Oh, and did we mention that it has anti-aging benefits as it breaks down the connections between skin cells? Yup, it's dissolves the intracellular 'glue' holding skin cells together to speed up exfoliation of dead skin cells – hello improved skin texture and radiance and a youthful appearance
But listen up before you start using salicylic acid
Before you dive in, there are some key deets you ought to know.
- You’ll find it in cleansers and exfoliators, toners, peels, moisturizers and night treatments, and serums
- Regular skincare contains between 0.5% and 2% salicylic acid, while dermatologists can use up to prescription-strength 20% for acne and anti-aging treatments, or to remove things like warts
- Salicylic acid isn’t for every skin. If your skin is very sensitive or irritated, if you have eczema, or Gobi Desert-level dryness, salicylic acid might be a bit much for you. You’ll have to find the right formula, or speak to a dermatologist or professional esthetician to get the 411 on whether it's your skincare soulmate or not
- For over-the-counter skincare, choose a smart product that’s paired with other gentle exfoliators and soothing ingredients (like allantoin or cica), that are well tolerated
- Just like retinol and benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid is all about exfoliating. So, heads up! Depending on the strength of the salicylic acid used, and what it’s paired with in the formula, it can stir up some irritation like dryness, stinging or burning when you start using the product
Image: Pexels.com/Anna Nekrashevich
The game plan for introducing salicylic acid into your skin routine
- If you’re prone to redness or sensitivity, do a patch test on the delicate skin on your inner elbow or behind your ear before you start using it. Wait 24 hours and see if you develop a rash or irritation. Don’t use it if you do, and speak to a dermatologist about other options
- For others, start slow, using it every 2-3 days, and level up when you see how your skin copes. It should get used to it in a couple of weeks
- Pair it with a soothing serum, if you need to, and always use it with a comforting moisturizer, which acts like a calming cloak and strengthens your skin barrier
- If it starts acting up by stinging or burning, take a break for a few days
- Once your skin’s become used to it, crank it up to nightly use
- Caution! Salicylic acid can make your skin sensitive to the sun, so you burn easily. Avoid those UV rays and slather on an SPF 50+ broad-screen sunscreen every day – no exceptions
- If the irritation won't quit after all this, drop the salicylic acid and try other ingredients like niacinamide, PHA (poly-hydroxy acid), or bakuchiol and, natch, see your dermatologist
There you have it, superstars
Salicylic acid isn't just your average ingredient; it could just be the skincare VIP your skin's been waiting for. From battling acne to exfoliating like a boss, it’s here to slay. But remember, start slow, be sun-smart, and if irritation persists, call in the dermatology squad.
Get ready to unleash that happy-skin glow!