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The Benefits of Using Salicylic Acid for Acne

January 31, 2018

Using Salicylic Acid for Acne

Using salicylic acid for acne might be the best way to tackle a negative that holds you back! If you have oily or combination skin, acne can be a daily issue, and even if you have dry skin, you can still experience the occasional unpleasant pimple.

Curious about using salicylic acid for acne? This is one of the most popular ingredients in both prescription strength and over-the-counter products designed to fight blemishes, and this is no surprise considering its cleansing properties.

Read on to learn more about salicylic acid, where it comes from, how it works and which skintypes will likely see the most benefit from including it in a skincare routine. Let’s look at how to use salicylic acid safely and effectively!


It is a wonder that something derived from the rough bark of the white willow tree has been used effectively for thousands of years to soothe and smooth out skin issues. You may be thinking of aspirin, and that's correct: salicylic acid is the main active ingredient in aspirin, the one responsible for treating the inflammation. Considering that a pimple is an inflamed pore, it makes sense that we choose salicylic acid as an acne treatment.

In addition to reducing inflammation and redness, salicylic acid is a very effective pain reliever which can be beneficial topically for those experiencing painful acne. It can also improve blood circulation, which can assist skin in the process of breaking down fatty compounds that lead to clogged pores.


This powerhouse ingredient is highly beneficial for oily or acne-prone skin, especially when incorporated into a skincare regimen that includes exfoliation. When you scrub your face, you remove the dead skin cells and other impurities from the surface of your skin and help to clarify the pores.

This prompts skin to start growing normally, filling the indentations with a fresh production of collagen. While this is a process that occurs naturally in skin, salicylic acid helps speed things up by aiding exfoliation of dead cells and killing the acne-causing bacteria so pores can function in a normal, healthy way.

Salicylic acid also contains some components that contribute to all-around skin health which can help to “peel” away unwanted pigmentations like the discoloration associated with past acne scars. Used at a low concentration on a regular basis even after any visible acne has cleared, salicylic acid can contribute to skin you’ll be proud to show off.


Here are some of the benefits you can reap from regular use of salicylic acid:

Exfoliation: It chemically exfoliates the skin, dissolving dry, flaky skin and dead cells. There are different types of exfoliation - this is a chemical rather than physical exfoliation, which is preferable for people sensitive to the micro-abrasions that may occur during physical exfoliation if the exfoliating component is too sharp. This way, impurities are dissolved chemically and then rinsed away.

Fights Acne: It fights the most common family of bacteria that causes acne. It also relieves pain and redness association with breakouts.

Evens Skin Tone: It minimizes blemishes and acne scars. When used at the correct concentration, salicylic acid can have a positively influence on melanin production in skin. It also reduces skin inflammation and redness due to blemishes and irritation over time.

Balances: It reduces excess oil by breaking down the fatty compounds, bringing the skin’s pH to a normal level.

Deep Cleans: It opens the clogged pores, allowing the dirt, oil, and blackheads to come out.


Salicylic acid is clearly beneficial for oily or acne-prone skin types, but it can be useful for occasional deep cleansing for those with normal or even dry skin since it stimulates circulation and helps remove oil from pores. Just don’t forget to follow with a toner and moisturizer!

When used at the right concentration, salicylic acid can improve the tone of your skin, allowing inflammation to heal and helping to lighten discolorations from acne in the past. Even as it helps you diminish breakouts, you shouldn’t quit the treatment immediately after the acne is gone as the bacteria fighting and exfoliating benefits can also work proactively, helping you maintain a clear complexion.


Though salicylic acid is effective for the treatment of acne, it does come with some cautions.

Obviously, if you are allergic (or even just sensitive) to aspirin, you will want to avoid salicylic acid. Consult a doctor before using products containing salicylic acid if you are pregnant or nursing.

Avoiding Drying Side Effects

Some people see salicylic acid skincare products as harsh or overly drying, but with most of these the problem is that they don’t have the proper pH level to go with the salicylic acid concentration. This may cause an imbalance in your skin that can lead to dryness, irritation, or overproduction of sebum (skin’s own protective secretion). Also, if you have sensitive skin, you may want to avoid using products from the drugstore that contain very high amounts of salicylic acid.

Look for Complementary Ingredients in Products

For more sensitive skin types, look for products with a low concentration of salicylic acid (.5% is ideal for a daily use) or choose products that “buffer” the power of the salicylic acid with nourishing or soothing ingredients like aloe vera or chamomile extract. Salicylic acid can dry your skin out, so you may want to pair it with ingredients that are hydrating (like almond or avocado oil) to avoid dryness or discomfort.

Wear Sunscreen and Avoid Overuse for Darker Skin Types

Salicylic acid may darken or discolor your skin if overused, so you may wish to use other cleansers when you do not need the power of salicylic acid. In addition to carefully controlling the strength of the salicylic acid and noting how your skin reacts to it so as not to overuse it, always protect your skin from further discoloration by using sunscreen with a high SPF.

Doctors do advise for caution when it comes to certain types of skin. On the Fitzpatrick scale, there are three skin types that require the most care:

  • Type IV: Hispanic/Mediterranean brownish beige skin that tans gradually and generally doesn’t get sunburns
  • Type V: Dark brown skin that easily gets tanned and rarely gets sunburned.
  • Type VI: Black skin that gets tanned easily and never gets sunburns.

Since these types of skin are highest in melanin, they are highly prone to hyperpigmentation. Salicylic acid can slightly inflame the skin before it heals it, which may increase the production of melanin. Generally, when melanin production goes too high, acne can be replaced by dark spots. However, using salicylic acid for acne carefully over time can help diminish scars and discolorations.