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If you’ve spent time in the skincare aisle, you’ve probably come across salicylic acid on more than a few ingredient labels. But what exactly is this ingredient, and what is it used for?

In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know about salicylic acid – including when and how to incorporate it into your skincare routine.

Let’s learn all about salicylic acid
What is salicylic acid?

To get into why salicylic acid is such an effective skincare ingredient, we have to go back to school for a moment. Let’s break out the notebooks – chemistry class is in session! 

Skincare products usually use one of two types of acid: alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). 

In alpha hydroxy acids, the hydroxy part of the molecule is separated from the acid part by one carbon atom. In beta hydroxy acids, the hydroxy part of the molecule is separated by two carbon atoms. 

What difference does one carbon atom make? The answer is solubility. (Don’t panic, we’ll explain!) Solubility is basically whether or not one thing can dissolve into another. 

The structure of alpha hydroxy acids makes them more water soluble, while beta hydroxy acids are more oil soluble. This means that beta hydroxy acids can pass through the lipid layers of skin cells more easily than alpha hydroxy acids, which tend to stay on the surface of the skin.

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that is found naturally in many plants, including willow bark. This natural organic compound can easily penetrate through the top skin cells. 

So, to put it the simplest way? All of this means that salicylic acid can get deeper into your pores to do its job. 

What is salicylic acid used for?

Ok, so we know that salicylic acid can penetrate the skin deeper than alpha hydroxy acids. But what does it do once it’s in your pores? 

     1. It thoroughly cleans your pores

Once it penetrates the skin, salicylic acid will dissolve any dirt and debris clogging your pores. It helps break up blackheads, whiteheads, and even dissolves excess oils. Salicylic acid is also antibacterial, so it can kill off the bacteria on your skin that causes acne in the first place. 

And that’s not all! Beta hydroxy acids don’t just penetrate pores more deeply. They also disrupt the connections between dead cells so that dead skin cells are easier to wash away. Build up of dead skin cells is what can give skin a dull, dry, or ashy appearance. So washing them away with salicylic acid can help give your skin a healthy glow.

Basically, adding salicylic acid to your routine means you get a deeper clean that will also make your skin appear brighter. Not too shabby, right?

     2. It reduces inflammation

In addition to being an amazing deep-cleaner, salicylic acid also has a number of anti-inflammatory properties. This means that after it clears out dirt and debris, it calms the pores and can reduce irritability.

     3. It exfoliates

Salicylic acid is a type of keratolytic medication, which means it softens and helps the skin to shed its outer layer of skin. By removing dead skin cells, it promotes new cell production, leading to clearer and brighter skin.

     4. It decreases sebum production

Wait, wait, wait, you may be thinking. What’s sebum? Don’t worry. We’ve got you.

Sebum is an oily substance that is produced by skin cells. It mixes with lipids to form a protective barrier on your skin that protects you from UV damage and locks in moisture. Sebum also transports antioxidants to your skin’s surface that protect your skin from free radicals. 

Now why would we want to reduce the production of something that protects our skin? This is because, while sebum is very beneficial, an overproduction of it can actually hurt your skin. It not only leads to oily skin, but can trap dead skin cells inside pores and cause acne. Overproduction can occur for a variety of reasons, including age-related hormone fluctuations. Salicylic acid can correct this by decreasing sebum production and preventing a buildup of oil on the skin.

Can I use salicylic acid every day?

Yes and no.

With so many great properties, you may be wondering how often you can use it. While you can use it every day as part of your skincare regimen, if you are using products that have it in high concentration, you should be wary, because it can be a little harsh. Overuse of the acid can cause irritation and drying out. 

Using salicylic acid that is combined with other calming ingredients such as aloe vera is the best way to incorporate salicylic acid into your daily skincare routine. That’s why we recommend a gentle daily formulation designed to keep your skin in balance and not dry out your skin.

What are some ways to use salicylic acid?

Salicylic acid is in a ton of skincare products. Some of the most common products include:

Acne Cleansing Pads

Because salicylic acid can deep clean so effectively and kill acne-causing bacteria, it is frequently used in acne cleansing pads. Cleansing pads designed for everyday use are a safe way to deep clean and use salicylic acid on the regular while avoiding irritation.

Acne Gels and Creams

These products contain a higher concentration of salicylic acid, and therefore should be used a bit more sparingly. Be sure to test a spot of your skin to make sure you don’t have an adverse reaction before applying too much. 

If you decide to include this as part of your skincare routine, start with three times a week and work from there to ensure you don’t dry out your skin too much. 

Face Cleansers

Many daily face cleansers include salicylic acid in their formulas. This will give you a deep, acne-fighting cleanse that will also gently exfoliate. But if you have sensitive skin, be wary – again, some cleansers can be too drying and harsh.

Anti-Aging Creams

Because salicylic acid gently exfoliates, it promotes new cell production. When new cells are produced, your skin will look fresher and the effects of age are less noticeable. That’s why you’ll sometimes see it in skincare products specially designed for mature skin as well as acne-fighting formulas.

How long does it take for salicylic acid to work?

This is, perhaps, the only downside of salicylic acid: it can take a while for it to work its magic. While you might notice that some of your pimples dry out immediately, getting the full benefits of salicylic acid use can take as much as one to three months in some cases. The acid takes time to fully break down cell connections and promote cell regeneration. Stay consistent with your application routine and be patient, it will be worth the wait to see the clear and glowing skin in the mirror.

Now you know the benefits of salicylic acid!

If you’re looking to clear up your blackheads and whiteheads, or just get a deeper skin clean overall, try incorporating salicylic acid into your routine. 

Adding our gentle, daily use acne cleansing pads is a great place to start! Because they’re formulated with probiotics and moisturizing ingredients, they’re great for daily use – and, to make things better, they outperformed their over-the-counter competitors on just about every metric in clinical trials.

And if you’re ready to really get to work fighting your acne, check out our different kits and find the one that works for you to give those pimples the ultimate heave ho!


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