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Curious About Salicylic Acid? Discover What It Is And How To Use It

Written by: Swisse Wellness
Swisse Wellness
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If you have oily skin or are prone to breakouts, then you’ve probably heard of salicylic acid before. This skincare ingredient is widely used in a range of products for oily, acne-prone skin. As a mild chemical exfoliant, salicylic acid can be used to address a range of skin concerns, from minimising the chance of breakouts to supporting smoother skin.  

We’re here to answer all your questions from what is salicylic acid and how to use it to what does salicylic acid do to skin? 

What is salicylic acid?  

Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that’s derived from the bark of the willow tree, but it can also be synthetically produced.  

Thanks to its range of skin loving properties, salicylic acid is often incorporated in skincare products, like cleansers, toners, spot treatments and creams. It’s typically used to help balance oil production, exfoliate dead skin cells, improve skin texture and even visibly reduce redness, irritation and swelling. 

How does salicylic acid work?     

So, what does salicylic acid do? Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) with lipophilic (oil-attracting) properties. Stay with us here. Salicylic acid can target pores and helps to refine their appearance1. Once inside the pores, it gets to work by dissolving any dead skin cells, oils and other debris. It also helps to balance the amount of oil that’s being produced, helping to prevent clogging.  

However, Salicylic acid’s work doesn’t stop there. It also helps reduce the appearance of redness and irritation associated with acne at 0.5% - 5.0%2. It can ease irritated skin and contribute to an overall improvement in the appearance of your skin. 

The benefits of skincare with salicylic acid  

Skincare products containing salicylic acid can offer several benefits, particularly for those dealing with oily, acne-prone or congested skin. Here are some of the key benefits of incorporating salicylic acid for skin into your routine: 

  • Controls acne and breakouts: Thanks to its ability to act as a gentle exfoliator, it helps to dissolve the build-up of dead skin cells and debris.  
  • Regulates oil production: Salicylic acid can help to regulate excess oil production3, making it an ideal choice for people with oily skin types. This can help to manage the occurrence of blockages and acne breakouts. 
  • Improves skin texture: Regular use of salicylic acid can lead to a more even skin tone and improved texture2. It can address rough or uneven skin, leaving it feeling smoother and softer. 
  • Reduces redness: Salicylic acid can help visibly calm redness and ease irritation associated with acne.  
  • Enhances absorption of other products: Salicylic acid's exfoliating properties can enhance the action of other skincare ingredients, allowing them to be more readily available to the skin for use. 

How to use salicylic acid in skincare  

Salicylic is a common ingredient in a range of different skincare products, so it can be easily incorporated into your daily routine. You’ll want to look out for products that are specifically formulated for oily and acne prone skin.  

Here’s a quick rundown on when to apply salicylic acid and how to use salicylic acid on your face and body. Remember to always patch test before use and read the instructions on the product and follow accordingly. 

Salicylic acid: morning or night?  

The question of when to use salicylic acid depends on which skincare product contains it. For example, if your cleanser has been formulated with salicylic acid, you would use your cleanser as the first step in your skincare routine. Alternatively, if your moisturiser contains salicylic acid, then you would apply your moisturiser after cleansing, toning and using your serums.   

Salicylic acid can be used as part of your AM and/or PM skincare routine. However, due to salicylic acid’s exfoliating properties, it can lead to skin becoming more sensitive to UV rays4, so it’s important to apply SPF30 or higher each morning.  

Is it okay to use salicylic acid every day?  

It’s generally okay to use products that contain salicylic acid every day unless otherwise specified on the packaging or by your healthcare professional. If you experience dry or sensitive skin or if your skin doesn’t tolerate salicylic acid, then opt to use it every second day instead. We recommend you do a patch test with your skincare on a small section of your face before applying it to a larger area. That way you can gauge your tolerance before incorporating it into your skincare routine.  

Whether you’re looking to banish breakouts, improve your skin texture or control excess oil, salicylic acid can help with a range of different skin needs.  

For more information on tending to blemish-prone skin, check out our Wellness Hub for tips and tricks that support and nurture your skin.  

References 

  1. Salicylic Acid [Internet]. acne support. Available from: https://www.acnesupport.org.uk/treatment/salixylic-acid/ 
  2. Arif T. Salicylic Acid as a Peeling agent: a Comprehensive Review. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology [Internet]. 2015 Aug;8:455–61. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4554394/ 
  3. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/diy/adult-acne-treatment. Published 1/10/2023 
  4. The Skin Cancer Foundation. (2018). When Beauty Products Cause Sun Sensitivity. [online] Available at: https://www.skincancer.org/blog/when-beauty-products-cause-sun-sensitivity/. 
Swisse Wellness

Swisse Wellness - Swisse Wellness

The copywriting team at Swisse Wellness plan, research and generate blog content with inputs from multiple teams across the business. With access to our industry-leading Science team, Product Development team, Customer Service team as well as informative Brand Managers, we have the contacts to deliver a well-rounded suite of blogs tailored to an array of wellness interests....

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