formula for salicyclic acidWhat is salicylic acid?

It is a beta hydroxy acid, that is very effective at drying out zits and pimples. Since skin is made up of layers of cells that are connected by fat tissue and oils, the oil is the substance that keeps skin smooth. Sometimes oil gets trapped. Too much oil accumulation leads to zits and pimples. This is where salicylic acid works best because the chemical composition of salicylic acid makes it oil soluble. This means that it can effectively penetrate pores better and kill blackheads, whiteheads, zits, pimples and acne breakouts.

Why is salicylic acid better than benzoyl peroxide for treating acne?

Benzoyl peroxide is an antibacterial that gets inside the zit and kills the bacteria that causes the inflammation and hence the acne break out. It should be used as a spot treatment and with caution.

Benzoyl peroxide can be too harsh on the skin, and unlike salicylic acid it can cause irritation and inflammation, 2 things you don’t need when you already have acne. This chemical should be used at a small amount until the skin gets used to it then you can work your way up.

Salicylic acid on the other hand, is known for its calming effect. It does dry up the oil found in the zit but also has a soothing and calming effect on the infected area. Benzoyl peroxide can also be too over drying if not used at the right amount of concentration. It can irritate skin, can cause dry flaky patches in addition to redness and itchiness.

What can salicylic acid do to my skin?

salicylic acid vs glycolic acid chartOur skin is subject to a lot of pollutants and irritants that affect its health and cause serious infections. Salicylic acid exfoliates the skin perfectly. Exfoliation gets rid of the old skin cells that are full of debris and pollutants to reveal a new layer of healthy skin that is clean and fresh, and of course zits free.

Breakouts happen when the skin cells start to behave abnormally. They stick together or accumulate on top of each other and clog the pores creating black heads, white heads and cystic acne on the long run. The salicylic acid dissolves the fat that holds the skin cells glued together so it unclogs the pores and makes the skin appear and feel fresher.
It also deep cleanses the skin by removing the excess fats. These fats react with the air and trap dirt and debris into the pores, clogging them even more and giving your skin a dull look.

Does salicylic acid work for all kinds of acne?

Citrus Clear Spot Treatment
Organic spot treatment with salicylic acid and grapefruit. From Citrus Clear.

People get acne for different reasons and of course one medication or treatment might work for one type but not for the other. That is why it is very important to understand they type of your acne before you start treating it with salicylic acid.

Acne caused by the inflammation of white heads and black heads can be effectively treated with salicylic acid since it is anti-inflammatory. It also dissolves the excess oil which originally builds up in the pores and causes the white heads and black heads to form.

Bacterial acne that is caused by harmful bacteria that attack skin doesn’t benefit much from a salicylic acid regimen since the acid doesn’t kill the acne causing bacteria. This acne needs a special antibiotic that is specifically addressed to treat this kind of bacteria. The acid can reduce the inflammation and dry out the break out a bit. But the effect will not be as effective and profound.

As for hormonal acne, this type needs to have all hormones levels checked. A hormonal medication is the only way to have this type of acne regulated. Once you have your hormonal levels stabilized you start to see your skin clearing over time.


It is always better to use the benzoyl peroxide at the lowest concentration and you have to do a patch test first, as some people might be allergic to the chemical. Benzoyl Peroxide is also a very strong bleach. It can damage clothes, furniture and dark fabrics if it gets accidentally spilt, so use with caution.

How should I use salicylic acid?

Salicylic acid takes time to work, unlike benzoyl peroxide which can kill the acne causing bacteria immediately, improving the acne condition within several days. Because the salicylic acid is less harsh, it takes time for the skin to adjust to it and it takes time to break the oil trapped in pores.

It works best in products that are meant to be left on the skin for a while, like toners, gels and creams. If it is found in a cleanser or a facial wash, then it needs to be left on the skin for a while to get the benefits.

best products with salicylic acidCan I use too much salicylic acid?

Unfortunately yes. Salicylic acid should not be used in excessive amounts as it can over dry the skin. Some people have very sensitive skin that doesn’t tolerate salicylic acid.
Very high concentration of salicylic acid can be too much for some skin types. Salicylic acid exfoliates the skin so shouldn’t be used every day. It should not be used over very large areas of the skin as it can cause salicylate poisoning, but this happens only in very extreme cases.

Salicylic acid is the brother of aspirin which is a blood thinner, so it should be used with caution. It can sometimes interfere with the action of some medications and must be administered under the doctor’s supervision.

Salicylic acid shouldn’t be used by pregnant women as it can affect the pregnancy. Topical salicylic acid doesn’t transfer to your new born while breastfeeding. It is also recommended not use salicylic acid over moles as it can dry them up.

Having said that, we realize that salicylic acid might be one of the best treatments available for treating acne and break outs. Its calming and soothing effects can be so good for your inflamed and troubled skin.

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