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What is Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic Acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) derived from willow bark. As an anti-inflammatory agent and topical antibacterial agent, it is often used for skin exfoliation and to remove acne, blackheads and whiteheads.

Being a BHA means that Salicylic acid is oil-soluble, which allows it to penetrate through the lipid layers between the skin cells, meaning that it can penetrate into the pores of your skin to unclog them.


One of the causes of acne is that skin cells do not behave normally, and instead of getting shed through a healthy skin cell cycle, they stick together and clog the pores, creating cysts and blackheads.

Topical salicylic acid treats acne by reducing swelling and redness with its anti-inflammatory properties, and unplugging blocked skin pores to allow pimples and pustules to go shrink faster. It treats other skin conditions by softening and loosening dry, scaly, or thickened skin so that it falls off or can be removed easily.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommend using a skin care product containing SA to treat certain types of acne, including:

  • Pustules: Pus-filled pimples.
  • Papules: Small, hard red bumps which may give a rough or textured feel to the skin.
  • Blackheads: A small bump with a black surface, with head of the pore remains open, while the rest of the pore is clogged.
  • Whiteheads: Clogged pores with a little white bump on top of the skin.

How to use

Always use the Salicylic Acid according to the product’s instructions.

When starting a new salicylic acid-based product, start slowly by using the product half as often as the product suggests, then work your way up to the instructed frequency when you know how your skin reacts to the ingredients.

Possible side effects

If you have very sensitive skin, or you are overusing Salicylic Acid products, it may produce mild side effects, such as the following symptoms:

  • mild burning
  • mild stinging
  • peeling skin
  • mild irritation
  • dryness

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