Acne's Greatest Enemy
Clears and calms active acne breakouts
Helps prevent future comedones forming
Oily skin – can actually slow down your skin’s oil production
Large pores – helps unclog them reducing their size
Softens blackheads, making them easier to extract
Helps prevent new blackheads from forming
Inhibit melanin formation with low risk of irritation to reduce hyperpigmentation
When you think of acids, you probably think of dangerous substances and not something you’d apply to your skin on the regular. But chemical exfoliants like Salycilic Acid have a whole host of skin care benefits. With skin ailments like acne, blackheads and inflammation, for example, applying an acid might seem counter-productive. But salicylic acid is a great anti-inflammatory agent and blemish treatment, which is why you’ll find it in many of the best spot treatments and skin care products for oily skin.
What is Salicylic Acid?
In the skin care world of exfoliants, you’ve got more than a few options to choose from based on what your skin needs. Salicylic Acid, an ingredient extracted from willow tree bark, wintergreen leaves or sweet birch bark, is one type of chemical exfoliant called a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA). Before explaining exactly how salicylic works, here’s a quick refresher on how breakouts form: when bacteria, debris, sebum, and dead skin cells mix together, a clog forms inside your pores. Unlike the chemical exfoliants called alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA’s), which are water-soluble and ideal for surface exfoliation, salicylic oil is oil-soluble, which makes it capable of cutting through oil and exfoliating deep within your pores to remove blockages. It works by increasing the amount of moisture in the skin and dissolving the substance that causes the skin cells to stick together. This makes it easier to shed the skin cells.
There are several salicylic acid derivatives and related ingredients that exert a similar effect on the skin, and you may find these products listed on skin care ingredient lists as: Betaine Salicylate; Willow Bark extract; Salix Nigra Bark extract; Beta Hydroxybutanoic acid; Sodium Salicylate; Trethocanic Acid or Tropic acid.
Salicylic acid is a salicylate, meaning it belongs to the same ingredient family as aspirin. People with salicylate allergies (which are rare) should avoid salicylic acid.
How does Salicylic Acid work?
There are three (3) acids that work well in the fight against acne; Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid and Salicyclic Acid. Both Glycolic Acid and Lactic Acid are water soluble whereas Salicylic Acid is oil based. So, what does that mean? It means whilst Glycolic and Lactic are great at cleaning up the skin surface removing old dead skin and replenishing with new skin, Salicylic Acid can actually penetrate deeply into the pores of the skin to unclog them, targetting blackheads and whiteheads, and acting as an anti-inflammatory that helps red inflamed pimples and pustules go away faster.
But it’s not all just about Acne
Our skin’s natural shedding process can become faulty due to age, sun damage, and problems like acne and excess oil. Exfoliating helps restore this natural ability and Salicylic Acid is the perfect vessel to deliver this exfoliation process.
Salicylic acid is considered a keratolytic medication, which means that it’s also perfect for providing supreme exfoliation on top of the skin surface. Keratolytic medications cause softening and sloughing of the top layer of skin cells. They also loosen and breaks apart desmosomes (attachments between cells in the outer layer of skin). This ‘desmolytic’ action encourages exfoliation of skin and unclogging of pores.
The end result, a smooth new skin surface on which your serums can now start the processes of delivering their skin-replenishing and skin-restoring-ingredients.
In order to exfoliate, it must be within the pH range research has shown is most effective. The best leave-on products have a pH between 3 and 4, ideal for effectiveness but also gentle on skin, whose pH is naturally acidic. Rinse-off products tend to have a higher pH, so you won’t get much of an exfoliation benefit, but your skin will reap soothing and calming benefits.
Along with the pH, concentration matters, too! For exfoliating and dealing with clogged pores and rough texture, use a leave-on exfoliant that contains a 1-2% concentration. If you have more stubborn or advanced concerns around pores and signs of aging, concentrations between 4-9% can make a beautiful difference.
What about products with 0.5% salicylic acid? This amount can provide slight exfoliation if the pH range is right and it’s left on skin for a while, but whether rinse-off or leave-on, you can primarily count on this amount for their skin soothing benefits only.
If you’re using acids for the first time your skin might feel a little tingly, but over time it’ll become accustomed to salicylic acid and its benefits.
NOTE: Salicylic Acid is NOT SUITABLE if you are pregnant or lactating. Persons having an Aspirin allergy should also AVOID Salicylic Acid products.