What Does Salicylic Acid Do to Skin?

What Does Salicylic Acid Do to Skin?

I’ll be the first to admit that the huge selection of skincare ingredients can often feel overwhelming and downright confusing. When it comes to finding the best ingredients to address your skin concerns, especially if your main concerns include acne, spots, and breakouts, then you’ve no doubt heard of salicylic acid.

Whether it’s an over-the-counter product, or a professional peel, salicylic acid is one potent heavyweight of the skincare world. Derived from willow bark and is classed as a salicylate’s ingredient. Known for having a complex structure it can feeling daunting to figure out how it works on the skin will give you a better understanding of what is does for the skin overall. It’s a member of the BHA family, also known as beta hydroxy acid, and is the most common and found in almost every skincare product formulated to combat acne and breakouts.

There are two classes of acids that are used in skincare formulas, AHA and BHA, both groups of acids vary slightly as the molecule is separated from the acid in different ways. Alpha hydroxy acids separate the acid with one carbon atom, compared to beta hydroxy acid which uses two carbon atoms. This results in BHAs basically packing more of a punch and work deeper into the lower layers of the skin. Salicylic acid for example is oil-soluble meaning it can work at sloughing away the layer of dead skin cells whilst penetrating deeply into the pores and clearing them of dirt, bacteria, and excess sebum. As effective and potent as salicylic acid is at helping to improve the skin’s clarity, it is also prone to causing some dryness, especially if you have a skin type prone to sensitivity and redness. Performing a patch test for 24 hours before applying any new products to the face will prevent any unwanted skin reactions.

If you wanted to know more about salicylic acid and what it is, you can check out our dedicated blog post.

Is it OK to use salicylic acid every day?

In a word, yes, but always listen to your skin. If you find your skin is feeling comfortable and looking clear you can use salicylic acid every day, some even find they can use it twice a day once they have built up the skin’s tolerance. 

The percentage of this BHA in each product from different brands varies a great deal. This can sometimes affect how reactive your skin is to be using different products, therefore we find in so important to perform patch test on the skin first. If you still find there are some signs of irritation, its best to stop using your salicylic acid product for a day or two and instead apply liberal amounts of serums enriched in hyaluronic acid. Once the skin has improved with no more signs of irritation you can try reintroducing the product again slowly.

Is salicylic acid bad for skin?

No, not really, but it can be irritating for the skin if you are using it incorrectly. Salicylic acid is a highly beneficial for skin types that are oily and prone to frequent breakouts. If your skin type is drier and prone to sensitivity you may find the BHA is just too harsh for the skin. With salicylic acid working deep in the pores and removing any excess sebum it can become quite stripping and if you find too much oil is removed from the face it could create an overproduction of sebum resulting in more irritation and breakouts.

The best way of reaping the rewards is to introduce salicylic acid slowly into your routine, once a week, preferably in your evening routine. This will help build tolerance and avoid any unwanted reactions.

Will salicylic acid remove dark spots?

Yes, it will! Salicylic acid can remove dark spots because of the exfoliating properties of the BHA. When there is a build-up of dead skin cells sitting on the surface of the skin the complexion begins to look dull and lacklustre. You’ll also find there is an increase of breakouts, flaky patches of skin, and dark spots look more pigmented. The way salicylic acid can remove dark spots is by sloughing away the layer of dead skin the more it removes, the lighter the dark spots become.

Salicylic acid won’t be able to remove dark spots completely, but if you team the potent BHA in a routine that also contains vitamin C, retinol, and hyaluronic acid as well as a daily application of sunscreen, you’ll find your complexion will look brighter, hydrated, with an even skin tone. Bearing in mind of course that these suggested skin ingredients should only be used in your daily routine after you have consulted with a medical professional or dermatologist.

Can I use moisturiser after salicylic acid?

Absolutely, using a moisturiser after applying salicylic acid is a great way of replenishing the skin barrier whilst forming a physical barrier on the surface of the skin. Opting for a moisturiser formula containing ingredients such as hyaluronic acid will ensure the water and oil levels of the protective skin barrier are full and able to prevent any free radicals, such as pollution, UV rays, and harsh weather.

Should I use salicylic acid in the morning or night?

This is down to you and your skin type as some may find using the BHA too frequently will lead to irritation and dryness. If, however, your skin has built its tolerance you could use salicylic acid both morning and evening. Skin experts suggest that you switch the product formulations that contain the acid to help give your skin a full cleanse whilst avoiding unwanted reactions. Try using a salicylic acid enriched toner during your morning routine then opt for a serum containing an active level of the acid for your evening. It’s considered best to apply the serum in the evening as it allows the higher concentrate of the acid to work undisturbed without any exposure to free radicals. 

So, there you have a little more information about what does salicylic acid do to the skin. Don’t forget to come and follow us on Instagram if you have more skincare questions, we look forward to seeing you there!


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