What Strength of Salicylic Acid to Use?

What Strength of Salicylic Acid to Use?

You all know that salicylic acid is one of the most potent skincare ingredients, and some of you may be surprised to hear it comes in a variety of different strengths. This may feel a little overwhelming, but I promise you it’s quite simple.

Before we get stuck in, let’s have a brief run through of what this clever BHA can do for the skin.

What are the skincare benefits of salicylic acid?

  • Salicylic acid works on the outer surface loosening the bonds of dead skin cells that tend to remain on the skin and result in blemishes, spots, blackheads, and other breakouts.
  • Salicylic acid has small molecular size meaning it can penetrate the lower layers of the skin and unclog the pores. It can rid them of excess sebum, dirt, bacteria, germs, and other impurities.
  • Salicylic acid can help regulate sebum production making it a highly effective ingredient for those with an oily skin type and prone to regular breakouts.
  • Salicylic acid is most effective on active breakouts, such as blackheads and whiteheads and can prevent any further blemishes from forming. 

If you are wanting to know more about salicylic acid and the benefits it’s able to provide for the skin, check out our dedicated blog post about it over on The Beauty Insiders. 

What percentage of salicylic acid is effective?

As I have already mentioned, there are different percentages of salicylic acid that can be found in a variety of formulas. You will be able to find effective, everyday percentages in over-the-counter products, such as face washes, toners, and cleansers. Although these are considered the easiest to introduce into your routine, experts still suggest you start slowly, only applying the product 2 to 3 times a week to begin with. This will not only help build the skin’s tolerance but will help you determine if the formula is the best one for your skin.

For higher, more potent percentages these will be found in medical and professional grade products or treatments. These higher concentrates will act more like a peeling agent and are favoured by many for treating specific concerns, such as acne, acne scarring, melasma, age spots, and dark spots.

Here is a rundown of the different formulas containing salicylic acid, their percentage, and how often to use them.

  • Gels and Face Washes- 0.5-5%

These can be used once a day every day, as they are a formulation that is rinsed off the skin.

  • Toners- 0.5-2%

These work in a similar way as the gels and face washes, as they do not remain on the skin, but provide effective exfoliation.

  • Serums- 3-6%

Teaming these with other hydrating ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid will ensure the skin is left feeling moisturised, whilst avoiding unwanted reactions or irritation.

How often should I use 10% salicylic acid?

With a product containing 10% salicylic acid or more, this results in it becoming a skin peel and should be used as instructed to avoid severe side effects. Depending on the concerns you have with your skin, applying a skin peel enriched in 10% salicylic acid every 2-4 weeks will combat the concerns you have and will restore, and revive the complexion whilst performing a deep cleanse.

As I have already mentioned, only use the product as instructed on the packaging or advised by your GP. If you find there is any flare-up in redness, itching, flaky skin, or irritation you must stop using the product. Alternatively, you can avoid this all together by performing a patch test for 24 hours prior to applying it all over the skin.

Can I use 2% salicylic acid daily?

Yes, you can, but only once your skin has built its tolerance to the BHA. If you are still introducing it into your routine the best products to use for optimal results are face washes or cleansers. This is because these formulas are rinsed from the skin and don’t remain on the face long enough to cause any irritation or flare-up.

Once you’ve customised the skin to the strength, you can then move onto using a serum containing 2% salicylic acid. I would suggest you use this during your evening routine as the exfoliation causes the skin to have increased sensitivity to UV exposure. For full protection, always follow your routine in the morning with an SPF of 30 and above, even on days that seem overcast and drizzly as UVA is constantly present and can penetrate through glass, clouds, and water.

Is 2% salicylic acid enough?

Absolutely, in over-the-counter formulas you’ll find that 2% is the average amount used in various skincare products. By enriching products with 2% salicylic acid will result in the product being effective enough on the skin, clearing it of dead skin cell build-up, excess sebum, dirt, and bacteria. 2% is also considered the optimal amount for everyday use as it won’t cause irritation or unwanted side effects. Word of caution, if you have a skin type that is sensitive, dry, or prone to certain skin conditions such as eczema, avoid using salicylic acid. instead, you can use lactic acid or any PHA as these provide gentle exfoliation and are better suited to your skin.

What is the highest percentage of salicylic acid?

For over-the-counter product formulas, you’ll find the highest, most active percentage of salicylic acid is 2%. If you find you are wanting a higher amount, closer to 10% or higher, then this will have to be something you discuss with a trained professional as this will require a skin peel or facial. It is vital you do not use any salicylic acid products containing very high amounts as this will cause severe irritation and side effects on the skin. If you have any concerns, consult with a doctor or dermatologist for peace of mind you will use the best product for you and your skin.

So, I hope that today’s blog has answered some of the questions you have about salicylic acid and the different level strengths. Don’t forget if you have any questions, come, and follow us on Instagram.


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