Salicylic Acid: What Is It & What Does It Do?

Salicylic acid (SA) is one of the most common and the most effective acne fighting ingredients available over-the-counter (OTC). SA is a plant-based acid that can be found naturally in botanical sources such as the white willow tree. It’s called a beta hydroxy acid, which means the hydroxy part of the molecule is separated from the acid part by two carbon atoms, whereas an alpha hydroxy acid is separated by one carbon atom. Salicylic acid also contains a ring structure which makes it more oil soluble so it can penetrate into the pores of the skin.

Salicylic acid works by breaking apart the intercellular connection that binds skin cells together, helping to loosen dry scaly skin making it easier to remove it and unclog pores. When SA is used in combination with other treatments it helps keep pores clear.

Salicylic Acid provides numerous acne-fighting benefits including:

  • Exfoliates skin – sloughing away layers of dead skin cells
  • Prevents and fights acne
  • Opens clogged pores and reduces pore size
  • Reduces oily skin

OTC salicylic acid preparations come in many forms and strengths including creams, gels, lotions, ointments, pads, cleansers and topical solutions in strengths ranging 0.5% to 2%. Cosmetic skincare formulations can contain salicylic acid to help clarify and smooth skin.

Salicylic acid is ideal for all skin types with higher concentrations often used for oily and acne-prone skin.


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