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Why Salicylic Acid Is Your New Best Friend


No, salicylic acid is not as scary as it may sound. Instead, it’s an ingredient that can help clear up your skin. Read on to find out why salicylic acid may actually turn out to be your new best friend.

What Is Salicylic Acid?
Salicylic acid, also known as Betahydroxy acid or BHA, is an exfoliant often found in acne treatments. An exfoliant is an ingredient that removes dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. Exfoliants are often used in anti-aging products as well as skin brightening products.

How It Works on Acne
In general, acne is caused by clogged pores. Hormones can cause the sebaceous glands to produce too much sebum oil, which in turn clogs pores with oil and dead skin cells. Add some bacteria and it’s a recipe for acne. Salicylic acid, on the other hand, can penetrate directly into the pore, clearing out dead skin cells and helping to clear mild to moderate acne without overly drying you out.

What Makes Salicylic Acid Different
The main differentiator between salicylic acid and its acne-fighting cousin, benzoyl peroxide, is that it exfoliates skin as well as decreases inflammation.  Dermatologist Whitney Bowe, M.D explains in an interview with Teen Vogue: “The cells in the lining of the hair follicles of people with acne tend to multiply quickly, and stick to one another. Salicylic acid works by dissolving this cement that holds those sticky cells together in the clogged pores. Most effective acne treatments can make skin a bit red and inflamed while the skin adjusts to them. This ingredient is unique because it’s very effective at fighting acne, but it has a soothing, calming effect on skin. The anti-inflammatory properties of this ingredient are not surprising, given its close chemical relationship to one of the most well-known anti-inflammatory drugs available, acetylsalicylic acid (also known as aspirin!).”

Where Can I Find Salicylic Acid?
Salicylic acid can be found in acne-fighting products ranging from face wash, to spot treatments, and even in makeup. Since the ingredient helps slough dead skin out of clogged pores, using products with salicylic acid will hopefully help clear out pores and minimize acne. But it won’t happen overnight. Remember, salicylic acid doesn’t attack the overproduction of sebum in your skin or the acne-causing bacteria — it simply helps clear out clogged pores. This is why it’s so important to stick with a salicylic acid-based regime.  It’s all about finding the regimen that’s right for you and your skin.

Can it Be Harmful?
Although salicylic acid could potentially be harmful when used in large doses for a prolonged period of time, the concentrations of the ingredient in over-the-counter products are too low to cause trouble. As always, it’s important to listen to your skin. If you’re using a salicylic acid treatment that’s causing your skin to peel like crazy, perhaps consider reducing the application to one or two times a day.

What It Doesn’t Do
The downside? Salicylic acid only works to clear pores, rather than attacking the acne-causing bacteria or the excessive sebum production, which also contribute to acne. Benzoyl peroxide, on the other hand, attacks the bacteria that cause acne, helping to clear skin.

Should I Try It?
Depending on the severity of your acne, it’s always wise to consult a doctor first. That said, clearing skin is a very personal experience that requires tailoring based on your skin’s specific needs. Following best practices and sticking with a regimen will help you get the clear skin you deserve.