Skin breakouts or acne: the one ingredient found in common with all products that fight these conditions is salicylic acid. This ingredient is best known for its exfoliating properties. To put it simply, salicylic acid and acne are mortal enemies.

In the complicated world of skincare guides and AM&PM routines, adding another serum to the list seems like overkill. But that’s not the case. Salicylic acid works better than any other serum by penetrating deeper into the skin and reducing dark spots and marks.

TABIIB takes a look at salicylic acid – what it is, and its benefits for your skin.

What Is Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid – meaning that the hydroxy part of the molecule is separated from the acid part by two carbon atoms. It’s important to know the structure of the molecule because that’s what gives it its effectiveness.

Moreover, salicylic acid is derived from willow bark – where it naturally occurs – and is a part of the ingredient group salicylates. These are more oil-soluble than any other active ingredient meaning that it can penetrate the skin deeper and work directly on the problem areas.

Once salicylic acid penetrates the skin, it works to unclog all the dirt and debris lodged in the pores thereby removing acne, blemishes and blackheads.
The breaking down of skin cells also results in deeper exfoliation and cleansing.

Benefits of Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid has multitudes of benefits. Below are the top 3 benefits which makes it a favourite amongst dermatologists and everyday skincare users.

1. Fights Acne
Salicylic acid is effective against fighting acne due to its ability to break down skin cells and the glue between the skin barrier and dirt. The sloughing of cells from the top layer also results in softer, plumper skin.

2. Removes Blackheads
Blackheads are caused due to clogging of the pores that are concentrated in one area. The desmolytic action of this active ingredient helps unclog debris and soften skin. Essentially, it dries out the area near blackheads and acne which helps in easy extraction.

3. Neutralizes Oily Skin
Salicylic acid is a gift for people with acne-prone, oily skin. It is an exfoliator and an anti-inflammatory agent which means that it clears skin by removing excess oil and reducing irritation. It’s an effective ingredient for people with combination skin, as well.

Salicylic acid is also an effective astringent – it reduces the size of the pores by tightening the skin and regulating oil production.

How Do You Use Salicylic Acid?

It’s recommended that all products with active ingredients should be used in the evening. Since this is an exfoliant, it can result in sunburns in the morning if sunscreen is not used. 
Traditionally, the layering goes as follows:
-Cleanser
-Toner
-Active Ingredient Serum
-Hydrating Serum + Facial Oil
-Night Cream
-Night Mask

It is possible to overuse this ingredient which can result in dry, flaky, and irritated skin. It’s best to start with a frequency of 1-2 times a week and then adjusting as your skin gets better at adapting. If you break out in hives or experience any other intense reaction, you may have an allergy to salicylic acid. You should immediately stop using it and seek medical attention.


Active ingredients can be an effective tool towards getting good skin but it’s easy to go overboard. Consult a doctor before using salicylic acid as a daily ingredient in your skincare routine.

I am a writer, covering the sprawling expanse of healthcare, among many other things that I love writing on. I write on healthcare because I want to do my part in informing people about the health industry, When I am not blogging about research and medicine, I enjoy reading, playing squash and backpacking around the world.

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