Salicylic Acid And Your Skin: Works, Usage Tips, Side Effects, Precautions – A Complete Guide


To reduce or even eliminate adolescent acne and adult acne, cream formulations are sometimes as complex as they are mysterious. However, sometimes all it takes is one correctly dosed active ingredient to make the difference. Salicylic acid is a BHA (beta-hydroxy acid), mainly used today for its exfoliating action. Its power? Eliminate cells from the stratum corneum of the skin, and promote their renewal. Tighten pores and impeccable skin texture. Here is everything you need to know to use salicylic acid correctly if you have pimple problems.

Salicylic Acid against acne, blackheads, and skin imperfections?

Salicylic acid is frequently used to treat acne or hyperhidrosis, a condition causing excessive sweating. Indeed, salicylic acid works (almost) miracles on oily, blemished skin, regardless of age. A real star among the active ingredients used in cosmetology. Salicylic acid is recommended for adolescents in cases of juvenile acne, but also as part of a treatment against adult acne. So what are the secrets of this active ingredient that is so effective, both against blackheads and skin imperfections due to an inflammatory phenomenon

What is salicylic acid?

What is salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is an organic compound from the BHA family, beta-hydroxy acids. This family of acids is particularly recommended for oily and acne-prone skin. For what? Unlike AHAs, BHAs are fat soluble and penetrate deeper into pores.

How does salicylic acid work on the skin and what are its benefits?

Salicylic acid helps free pores and refine the skin texture of adolescents and adults, men and women alike. Dull and uneven complexion, spots imperfections, salicylic acid is incredibly effective on problem skin

How does salicylic acid work on acne

Blackheads and blemishes? Against acne, pimples, blackheads, and imperfections, salicylic acid acts at different levels. Salicylic acid first has a keratolytic action: It eliminates dead cells accumulated on the surface of the skin and stimulates cell renewal. Thanks To its exfoliating properties, it reduces imperfections and refines skin texture

It also has a sebum-regulating action: in short, it helps to regulate excess sebum in the skin and to cleanse the skin tissues.

Finally, it has a comedolytic action: It eliminates comedones, unclogs clogged pores, and thus prevents the appearance of new blackheads and microcysts

Salicylic acid in active form

When concentrated at 2% active ingredient, the maximum dose authorized in cosmetics, salicylic acid is an excellent SOS treatment to remedy pimples and blackheads on the face. It is also for this remarkable exfoliating power that it is considered a flagship active ingredient in cosmetology or dermatology for peels.

How to apply salicylic acid to the skin

You can apply salicylic acid once a day, preferably in the evening, to your perfectly cleansed and dried skin, before your moisturizer. Be careful to avoid areas where the skin is thinner, such as the sides of the nose and around the eyes. Focus on the areas affected by imperfections. Salicylic acid may cause slight tingling during the first applications, while the skin adapts to the treatment. The duration of the treatment varies, do not hesitate to use it until there is visible improvement in the condition of your skin.

How to use it on the skin

Salicylic acid is used in many cosmetics. Whether for the face, for the body, or even for the hair, this component can necessarily be of some help. It is found in the forms of cleansing lotion or gel, serum, day and night cream, or of course, peeling. For the scalp, it is with shampoos, hair lotions, or willow bark extracts that we will fight against excess sebum and dandruff. It is also possible to find salicylic acid in makeup in powder forms to reduce imperfections.

Potential Side effects of salicylic acid

Although salicylic acid is generally well tolerated, some people may experience side effects, Including: 

  • Skin Irritation: Using salicylic acid may cause redness, stinging, or a burning sensation in some people, especially those with sensitive skin. It is important to start by using products with a low concentration of salicylic acid and carefully monitor your skin’s reaction.
  • Dryness: Salicylic acid can also cause some dryness of the skin, especially when used in combination with other acne treatments.
  • Allergy: If you experience signs of allergy, such as rash, itching, or swelling, stop using the product and consult a doctor

Salicylic acid is generally well tolerated, even if you have sensitive skin. However, it is an acid. This means that its application must be done carefully and gradually if you experience a tingling reaction.

Salicylic acid can react to the effects of UV rays and cause unwanted effects. We therefore recommend an application in the evening and we recommend that you do not over-apply the acid, following the recommended concentration.

Precautionary measures for using salicylic acid

  1. Start slowly: If you’ve never used products containing salicylic acid, it is best to start with a lower concentration and see how your skin reacts. if your skin is well tolerated with the acid, you can progressively continue to apply it while increasing the concentration
  2. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions: Follow the instructions for use on the product label. As these are designed to minimize side effects and maximize the effectiveness of the product
  3. Make use of sun protectors: You can be more susceptible to the sun using salicylic acid. It is therefore important to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least  SPF 30 when using products containing this ingredient


Salicylic acid is a versatile and effective ingredient in treating various skin conditions including acne, blackheads, whiteheads, warts, and psoriasis. It works by exfoliating the skin, cleaning pores, and reducing inflammation. However, it is important to use salicylic acid carefully and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to minimize potential side effects, such as irritation, dryness, and allergic reactions. Start slowly and adjust your use based on how your skin responds. If you have any concerns or questions regarding the use of salicylic acid for your skin type. It is always best to consult a dermatologist.


  • Swinehart JM (1992) Salicylic acid ointment peeling of the hands and forearms. J Dermatol Surg Oncol 18:495–498 PubMed 
  • Kligman D, Kligman AM (1998) Salicylic acid peels for the treatment of photoaging. Dermatol Surg 24:325–328 CrossRef

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Dr. David G Kiely is a distinguished Medical Reviewer and former General Medicine Consultant with a wealth of experience in the field. Dr. Kiely's notable career as a General Medicine Consultant highlights his significant contributions to the medical field.

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