Salicylic Acid: The Acne-Fighting Wonder Ingredient | SkinQ

Salicylic Acid: The Acne-Fighting Wonder Ingredient | SkinQ

Salicylic acid is considered one of the best ingredients to fight acne and helps prevent further breakouts. It is also one of the key ingredients in anti-acne skincare products. 

But before using it, it is essential to understand its benefits, how exactly it helps treat acne and the right methods to use it. Read on to know all about salicylic acid

In This Article

    What is Salicylic Acid?

    Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) and is naturally derived from the plant willow bark and wintergreen. As a BHA, salicylic acid is more oil-soluble which allows it to penetrate through the lipid layers of the skin and into the skin pores to unclog them. It thus works as an exfoliant to help remove dead skin cells, dirt and grime, sebum, etc. that may have collected in the skin pores. 

    Moreover, salicylic acid has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties and is a common ingredient in several anti-acne products. In some cases, it can also help in the treatment of warts and psoriasis. 

    Benefits of Salicylic Acid

  • Removes Excess Oil from Skin
  • As a beta hydroxy acid, salicylic acid is oil-soluble which makes it possible for the ingredient to penetrate deep within the skin to loosen the dirt and sebum clogged up in the skin pores. Experts consider it one of the best ingredients to reduce sebum buildup in the skin pores.


    Moreover, a recent study has found that salicylic acid can additionally prevent the excess sebum production. 

  • Prevents Blackheads and Whiteheads
  • Salicylic acid is an excellent exfoliant as it penetrates within the lipid layers to remove the dead skin cells from the skin pores. The BHA is also a desmolytic and it works by loosening the bonds of skin cells of the outermost layer of the skin (corneocytes). 

    Compared to other beta hydroxy acids such as azelaic acid and benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid is a gentle exfoliant that helps unclog skin pores and prevents further development of blackheads and whiteheads. 

  • Prevents Acne Breakouts
  • As salicylic acid acts as an effective exfoliant and unclogs skin pores, it allows the skin to breathe and the intake of oxygen. 

    Acne bacteria thrive in environments with depleted oxygen levels. But since salicylic acid unclogs the skin pores, it promotes an increase of oxygen levels in the skin making it an environment less suitable for acne bacteria and thus, prevents acne breakouts.

  • Salicylic Acid is Anti-inflammatory
  • Acne can cause redness, irritation and inflammation of the skin. Salicylic acid consists of anti-inflammatory properties that can help calm skin irritation and inflammation. Its anti-inflammatory properties also make it suitable for use in the treatment of psoriasis inflammation. 

    How to Use Salicylic Acid for Face?

    When using salicylic acid for face, less is always more. Take a pea sized amount of the salicylic acid and apply evenly all over your face except eyes, lips and mouth. Using it only on the target areas will only result in limited benefits. An application of the product on your entire face helps unclog the skin pores of dead skin cells, debris and excess oil as well as manage excess sebum production which helps prevent breakouts. 

    Allow the skin to absorb salicylic acid and refrain from scrubbing your skin. As a chemical exfoliant, salicylic acid naturally breaks down the dead skin cells on the topmost layer of your skin. 

    Once the product is soaked-in, follow up with a non-comedogenic moisturiser to prevent possible dryness caused by salicylic acid, and sunscreen to protect your skin from harsh UV rays. 

    Salicylic acid is available in a variety of formulations including gels, lotions, ointments, topical solutions, etc. The correct dose of salicylic acid differs according to the severity of acne, strength of salicylic acid and formulation of the product. 


    Strength Percentage



    0.5 to 5%

    once a day


    1 to 2%

    one to two times a day


    3 to 6%

    as needed

    Topical Solution

    0.5 to 2%

    one to two times a day

    Alternatively, you can also opt for a salicylic acid serum. A salicylic acid serum with concentrated active ingredients that function by penetrating deep within the skin to remove the dead skin cells, dirt, grime and excess oil to prevent acne and minimise further breakouts.

    Additionally, it also helps reduce acne scars and dark spots to give you healthy, clear skin. Compared to other formulations, salicylic acid serum is also lightweight which makes it easier for the skin to absorb it. You can either choose a salicylic acid serum with the BHA as the main ingredient or select a face serum with salicylic acid as a secondary ingredient. 

    For acne control, we suggest SkinQ’s Acne & Oil Control Serum, which is formulated with Salicylic Acid, Niacinamide,  Azelaic Acid,  Retinol Liposomes, Aloe, Chamomile. Using salicylic acid with azelaic acid helps prevent further development of whiteheads and blackheads. 

    Our Acne & Oil Control Serum has proven to protect the skin from acne bacteria and calm inflamed skin. 

    Can You Use Salicylic Acid with Other Ingredients? 

    While there are a few skin care ingredients that can go well with salicylic acid, there are also some ingredients that you should avoid using simultaneously with salicylic acid

    • Salicylic acid can be paired with benzoyl peroxide to kill the acne bacteria. Using salicylic acid alone only weakens the bacteria. 
    • In some cases, salicylic acid may cause mild irritation and dryness. To reduce skin irritation, you can use soothing ingredients such as Canadian willowherb while for dryness use a non-comedogenic moisturiser.  
    • Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA). Using a BHA product with an AHA product can result in over-exfoliation of your skin which may lead to severe skin issues such as burning, peeling, redness, dryness, stinging and flakiness. It is thus best to avoid using salicylic acid with any product containing AHA. 

    Possible Side Effects of Salicylic Acid

    Salicylic acid may have some common side effects such as dryness, peeling, flakiness, stinging, burning, purging or worsening of acne and skin irritation. These side effects may be noticed during the first few weeks and can be controlled with the help of non-comedogenic moisturiser. 

    A tingling sensation after the application of salicylic acid is normal. But in case the side effects are severe, wash off the product with cold water, followed by an application of a moisturiser. 

    It is recommended to always patch test any product before using it. 

    Can Salicylic Acid Be Used Everyday? 

    Salicylic acid is certainly safe for everyday use given that it is used according to the directions of your dermatologist or on the product.

    For those with dry and sensitive skin, it may cause some irritation but can be managed with the help of a good moisturiser. 

    How Long Until You Can Notice Results? 

    With consistent use of topical salicylic acid, it is possible to see results in approximately 6-8 weeks. While it may not give immediate results, salicylic acid gives you long lasting results. 

    Take Away

    Salicylic acid is a gentle exfoliant that has proven to help clear up acne breakouts. For those with mild breakouts, salicylic acid can go a long way with consistent use. 

    It is always recommended to consult your health expert before introducing your skin to any new skin care product.

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