This blog post was updated on January 10th, 2022
If you’re like us, you’re passionate about the quality of your skin – the way it looks, how it feels, and the quality of its skin health. Which probably also means you regularly explore and research all kinds of skin care products and topics, from the best at-home skin care products treatments to top ingredients you need in your acne-prone skincare routine, and maybe even cutting edge medical esthetics services that can enhance your at-home regimen. And… at some point you’ve most likely come across popular skincare ingredient salicylic acid, which can result in many questions. What is salicylic acid? Is salicylic acid good for acne? If you have asked yourself these questions, you are not alone. There are many salicylic acid benefits for skin that can have a major impact on the overall appearance of your complexion. To help you understand this powerhouse ingredient, our Skin Health Experts have put together this foundational guide to answer, “How does salicylic acid work?” and the numerous salicylic acid benefits for the skin.
Salicylic acid is an ingredient that is commonly found in skincare products, but many individuals do not know what this ingredient is or how it benefits the skin. To understand the overall benefits of salicylic acid, it is first important to learn what salicylic acid is.
What is Salicylic Acid?
Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that belongs to the salicylates class of drugs. Because salicylic acid is a part of the beta hydroxy acid family, it means that the hydroxy part of the molecule is separate from the acid portion of the molecule by two carbon atoms. In an alpha hydroxy acid, the hydroxy and acid portions of the molecule are only separated by one atom. This structure is essential to salicylic acid’s efficacy because its structure allows salicylic acid to be more oil soluble, which makes it easier to penetrate into the pores of the skin.
Once the topical salicylic acid penetrates into the pores of the skin, the acid portion of the molecule dissolves some of the intercellular connection that binds the skin cells together. While an alpha hydroxy acid can only exfoliate the skin's surface, a beta hydroxy acid like salicylic acid, can go deep into the pores of the skin to change the way the skin cells are bound. (Pretty amazing, right?)
Salicylic Acid for Skin
Salicylic acid is an ideal ingredient for deep skin exfoliation, particularly for diminishing the appearance of blackheads and whiteheads. Salicylic acid penetrates the skin, loosening the attachments (called desmosomes) between cells in the outer layer of the skin. These attachments are called desmosomes that hold skin together, dissolving the dead skin cells clogging your pores. With this understanding in mind, it is now possible to explore some of the top skin benefits of salicylic acid.
How Often Should You Use Salicylic Acid
You may be eager to add salicylic acid to your daily skincare routine, but it’s important to start out with minimal application when you’re first using it. Frequent use could potentially lead to side effects including dry skin and irritation, so it’s recommended to use it once or twice a week. As you continue to use salicylic acid and your skin becomes accustomed to it, you can increase the frequency as needed.
Common Products with Salicylic Acid
You can find salicylic acid in many skincare products, but it is most often seen in face toners, cleansers, acne treatments, makeup and masks. You can even find it in certain types of shampoo to help with dandruff concerns. Using salicylic acid in this way helps to remove bacteria in hair follicles and can also help improve the appearance of redness with psoriasis.
The Top Benefits of Salicylic Acid for the Skin
Salicylic acid has a multitude of benefits for the skin. To help you understand why salicylic acid is an ingredient you should be looking for in your skincare products, we have compiled a list of the top benefits of salicylic acid for the skin.
Salicylic Acid Exfoliates the Skin
One of the most remarkable benefits of salicylic acid is its ability to exfoliate the skin. Many skin issues are caused by the build-up of dead skin cells on the surface of the skin. Salicylic acid penetrates into the pores of the skin to dissolve dead skin cells and flaky skin that has built up on the surface of the skin and causes clogged pores. Salicylic acid also helps to remove dirt, bacteria, and grime that has built up on the skin's surface so that pores can remain clear and free from irritants. By removing dead skin cells and bacteria from the skin, salicylic acid helps to purify and exfoliate, which improves skin health and appearance.
Salicylic Acid Helps Combat Acne
Salicylic acid is particularly beneficial for individuals with acne-prone skin. In particular, salicylic acid is effective in getting rid of whiteheads and blackheads, particularly around the nose and in areas prone to blackheads. Salicylic acid is also an effective ingredient for reducing acne breakouts due to its unique ability to break apart the attachments between cells in the outer layers of the skin. This allows salicylic acid to unclog pores that can lead to blemishes.
In addition, salicylic acid is also lipophilic, which means that it can penetrate into oily skin and clogged pores to provide skin with the deep cleaning it needs to reduce severe acne breakouts. Salicylic acid is a key ingredient in skincare for oily skin. Salicylic is also beneficial in combating acne breakouts because of its ability to reduce and regulate sebum secretion. One of the common causes of acne is the overproduction and presence of oil on the skin, which clogs the pores and leads to the build-up of irritants. If you are looking to reduce acne breakouts or have acne-prone skin, utilizing skincare products with salicylic acid can be beneficial.
Salicylic Acid Reduces Oily Skin
Oily skin is a common culprit for blemishes on the skin because it clogs the pores and prevents the natural skin shedding cycle from occurring. In addition, excess oil on the surface of the skin can trap bacteria and irritants that further inflame the skin. When applied, salicylic acid can break down fatty compounds on the surface of the skin, such as the skin’s natural oils or sebum. Adding salicylic acid to your skincare routine for oily skin can help to clear out excess oils and reduce sebum levels .
Salicylic Acid is an Effective Astringent
In addition to its other remarkable benefits, salicylic acid is also a highly effective astringent that can minimize the appearance of pores by tightening the skin and reducing the oiliness of the skin. By minimizing the appearance of pores and tightening the skin, salicylic acid can give the skin a youthful, smooth appearance.
Salicylic Acid Can Help Reduce Blemishes
One of the lesser known benefits of salicylic acid is its ability to help reduce the appearance of blemishes and hyperpigmentation  on the skin. Salicylic acid can be useful in helping to even the skin tone and reduce discoloration due to its astringent properties .
Choosing The Right Salicylic Acid Product
As you can see, salicylic acid has no shortage of remarkable benefits to improve skin health and appearance. Often salicylic acid is best targeted to individuals with acne-prone skin and acne outbreaks. If you are looking for an acne treatment that contains salicylic acid, Kate Somerville's EradiKate® Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment may be the right option. The EradiKate® Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment is an all-over lightweight overnight acne treatment lotion that is formulated with 2% salicylic acid, the highest level allowed, in order to help reduce and prevent acne blemishes, even skin tone and smooth skin texture, minimize the appearance of pores. The EradiKate® Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment is also specially formulated with sodium PCA and sodium hyaluronate to help prevent potential dryness and moisturize the skin.
If you’re looking for a cleanser with salicylic acid, look no further than EradiKate™ Clarifying Acne Gel Cleanser. Expertly formulated with 1% salicylic acid for its skin-clearing benefits PLUS a prebiotic complex that helps balance and restore skin’s protective microbiome barrier to minimize dry, stripped, damaged skin and assist in longer-lasting skin clarity, this effective face wash is ideally suited for people with persistent acne who want to maintain clearer skin protecting the skin barrier without over drying.
Suffer from pesky acne scars and discoloration? In addition to our all-over lotion and gel cleanser, we have one additional product expertly formulated with salicylic acid. That’s our EradiKate™ Acne Mark Fading Gel, a clinically formulated acne gel treatment that works to fade discoloration and post-acne marks while maintaining a balanced microbiome. It’s known to prevent breakouts and fade post-acne marks in just 3 days.
Tips to Keep in Mind Before Using Salicylic Acid
If you are suffering from only minor congestion of the pores on your skin, then salicylic acid may be too strong of a spot treatment option and could potentially lead to dry skin. If this is the case, then it may be useful to look for products that contain ingredients like glycolic acid and lactic acid that can help with your skincare concerns. Below is an overview of each ingredient and how they are beneficial for combating pore congestion.
Glycolic acid is an exfoliant that belongs to the alpha hydroxy acid group, which makes it slightly less potent and penetrating than salicylic acid, which is a beta hydroxy acid. Glycolic acid has the smallest molecule of the acid group, which makes it easily absorbed by the skin. Glycolic acid is extremely effective at exfoliating the skin by clearing away dead surface skin cells that build up and clog pores. When these dead skin cells build up, whiteheads and blackheads will form, which can lead to an acne outbreak. Glycolic acid is ideal for mature skin.
Another ingredient that you should look at if you are suffering from only minor congestion is lactic acid. Lactic acid is a natural acid that can be found in a variety of fruits, vegetables, plants, and in milk. Similar to glycolic acid, lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid. However, the main difference between glycolic acid and lactic acid is that lactic acid is more gentle and may cause less skin irritation compared to glycolic acid. Though it is more gentle, lactic acid still functions as a powerful ingredient that can significantly improve the appearance of the skin.
One of lactic acid’s key benefits is its ability to exfoliate the skin. Lactic acid can improve the skin’s texture through exfoliation by encouraging the skin to slough off dead skin cells that are clogging the pores on the surface of the skin. Once these old, dead skin cells have been shed, a new, healthy batch of skin cells are generated to replace them. This process of skin cell regeneration helps to make the skin appear more youthful and reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. In addition, this process can also help to reduce the appearance of pigmentation, age-related spots, and/or acne scars. Lactic acid also hydrates the skin by increasing the natural barrier lipids in the outer layer of the skin, which can help brighten the appearance of the skin.
For those with young or sensitive skin, lactic acid is a gentler option that still has significant skin benefits to impart. Kate Somerville offers the ExfoliKate® Intensive Exfoliating Treatment which contains lactic acid to exfoliate the skin, aloe vera and honey to soothe and condition the skin, salicylic acid to improve the appearance of the pores, and Vitamins A, C, and E for their antioxidant benefits.
Reap the benefits of salicylic acid by adding products with it in your skincare routine today!