Salicylic acid can help treat many common skin conditions. Learn what it is, how to use it, and our tips for a smooth and gorgeous complexion.

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Salicylic Acid For Your Skin: Uses, Benefits, And Tips

11/16/20228 min read

Salicylic acid is a common ingredient used to treat many skin conditions. This star additive is well-known for unblocking clogged pores, exfoliating the skin, and leaving it looking smoother and healthier.

If you have psoriasis, acne, or any other skin condition, adding salicylic acid to your skincare routine might finally get you the results you’re looking for.

This article will dive deeper into what salicylic acid is, how it works, and who will benefit most from using it. We’ll also add a few general Bodewell pro skincare tips to help you get vibrant and healthy-looking skin.

Let’s begin with the basics.

Table Of Contents

What Is Salicylic Acid?

Person scratches hands with irritation

Salicylic Acid (SA) is often used to treat skin that has become scaly, flaky, and even thickened. It occurs naturally in plants like willow bark and is also synthetically produced.

Topical use of SA (either in combination with other medications or alone) has been shown to treat several skin conditions, including:

SA also works as an exfoliant and can remove dead skin cells.

You’ll likely hear of two different classes of acids in skincare products: beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) and alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs).

SA belongs to the BHA group. Without diving too deep into its chemistry, the hydroxyl part of the molecule is separated from the acid by two carbon atoms. This helps make it more oil-soluble and allows it to penetrate the pores of the skin and do its job.

As a keratolytic agent, salicylic acid breaks apart the bonds that hold dead skin cells together. When it comes to over-the-counter products that help with breakouts and other common skin conditions, like psoriasis, salicylic acid is one of the best ingredients out there.

Salicylic Acid Uses

Woman gets a facial

Now that you know a bit about what SA is and how it works, let’s discuss in more detail some ways you can use it to help improve your skin.

Psoriasis

If you have psoriasis, you know that this chronic skin condition can be challenging to deal with. But the good news is that SA has been shown to be an effective treatment for plaque psoriasis.

This ingredient can slough off dead skin cells, which can help reduce the build-up of plaques. In addition, SA can help reduce irritation and redness.

Our Psoriasis Calming Cream features a 2% concentration of SA and is specially formulated with clinical-grade botanicals, moisturizers, and other ingredients to help soothe and calm irritated skin.

Scalp Psoriasis

Woman applying Bodewell Psoriasis Scalp Relief Treatment

Just like it sounds, scalp psoriasis is a form of psoriasis that affects the scalp. It can cause red, scaly patches that are itchy and uncomfortable.

SA is often used as a treatment for scalp psoriasis because it helps remove dead skin cells. This ingredient can also help control sebum production, which is essential for those with this condition.

Our Psoriasis Scalp Relief Treatment contains 1.95% SA and other ingredients that help with scalp flaking. It's also easy to apply and can be used a few times a day.

Acne

SA is a popular acne treatment because it helps unclog pores. It’s often used with other ingredients, like benzoyl peroxide, as part of a multi-pronged approach to treating acne.

Melasma

Melasma is a common skin condition that leads to dark, discolored skin patches. Hormonal changes are a common culprit.

While there’s no cure for melasma, SA can help lighten the appearance of dark spots. In addition, SA can help control oil production, an important factor when treating this condition.

Forms Of SA

Topical use of salicylic acid comes in many different forms, such as gel, cream, liquid, ointment, soap, shampoo, lotion, skin patches, and cloth pads. It’s available over the counter or in stronger concentrations with a prescription from your doctor.

No matter what form of SA your doctor prescribes or you choose to use, it’s a powerful ingredient for your skin.

Keep in mind, though, that whenever you add a new product into your skincare routine, it’s important to assess its safety and make sure it doesn’t irritate your skin. We are all unique, and a product or ingredient that works well for one person may not be right for the next.

If you have any questions, always consult your healthcare professional as they'll be able to advise you on the best product for your unique situation.

That said, here's a look at some instances where you may need to speak to your healthcare provider before using salicylic acid.

When To Exercise Caution With Salicylic Acid

If You're Pregnant Or Breastfeeding

The products you use during pregnancy or when you're breastfeeding affect your babies as well as you.

Their little immune systems are fragile, so whether they are still in the womb or in your arms, it's essential to be extra careful when introducing any product, regardless of whether you’re using it topically or ingesting it as medication.

Topical use of SA while pregnant or breastfeeding is generally not a problem. However, it's always best to get more information from your doctor before using it.

If You Have Allergies

Allergic reactions to salicylic acid are very rare. However, if you use a product containing SA and have a reaction, it's best to stop using it and seek medical attention immediately.

Sometimes, you may find that it's not the salicylic acid specifically that's the problem, but rather another ingredient used to formulate the product as a whole.

In this case, your doctor may be able to prescribe another skincare product with SA but without the element that you may be allergic to.

If You Have Pre-Existing Conditions

Products containing salicylic acid may not be safe if you have a liver or kidney condition. The only person who can confirm whether or not you can use a product containing SA is your doctor, so be sure to have a conversation with them before purchasing.

If You're Under 16

A child scratching psoriasis on her neck

Salicylic acid is a type of salicylate, which means it's related to aspirin. Doctors recommend never giving aspirin to children under the age of 16 unless a healthcare provider tells you it's OK. So, it's best to avoid giving children products containing SA.

If You Have Open Wounds

If you have any cuts, scrapes, or open wounds, it's best to avoid using products with SA as it may irritate your skin. However, once your wound has healed, you can start using SA products again.

If You Have Extremely Dry Skin

Suffering from dry skin? Using SA as a part of your skincare routine may cause further irritation. If you have dry skin and want to use products with this ingredient, start slowly so you can watch for adverse reactions.

You can also look for products that contain other hydrating ingredients, such as our Psoriasis Soothing Spray. It uses a lower concentration of salicylic acid along with moisturizers and niacinamide to help lock moisture in.

Benefits Of Salicylic Acid

Anyone, regardless of skin type, can use salicylic acid. However, it is especially useful for acne-prone or oily skin or if you have any of the above-mentioned skin conditions.

When used correctly, salicylic acid can:

  • Clear clogged pores: As we mentioned briefly above, SA is keratolytic, meaning it breaks down the bonds between dead skin cells. This action helps open up clogged pores and clear out the buildup of oil, dirt, and other impurities that can lead to acne.
  • Loosen dead skin cells: Dead skin cells can build up on the skin’s surface, leading to a dull, uneven complexion. SA can loosen these dead cells, revealing the brighter, smoother skin underneath.
  • Help promote a healthy scalp: When used in shampoo, SA can help treat dandruff and other conditions by keeping the scalp clean.

If you're struggling with psoriasis or acne, salicylic acid may be worth considering as part of your skincare routine.

However, like any product, salicylic acid has some potential side effects, including:

  • Mild irritation
  • Mild burning
  • Skin peeling
  • Dryness
  • Mild stinging

If any of these side effects become severe or persist, discontinue use and speak with your healthcare provider.

Skincare Tips For Using Salicylic Acid

If you're looking to include SA in your skincare regimen, you may have a few questions about how to use it. Here’s a closer look at some of the best practices for introducing a new product into your routine.

1) Start With A Spot Test

Woman applying salicylic acid to her hand

It's always a good idea to test any new product on a small patch of your skin before fully incorporating it into your skincare routine.

First, cleanse your skin with your usual cleanser and pat it dry. Next, test a small amount of salicylic acid on a small patch of your skin.

If you don't experience any redness, dryness, or tingling within 24 hours, you are free to use it!

2) Get Rid Of The Retinol

Retinol is a popular skincare ingredient because it has amazing anti-aging properties. However, when used in combination with salicylic acid, it can irritate your skin and cause an increase in both dryness and photosensitivity.

If you are using products containing retinol, speak with your healthcare provider before starting an SA regimen.

3) Focus On Your Problem Areas

Sometimes, only one area of your skin is giving you trouble. For example, you may have pimples on your forehead or psoriasis on your hands. In this case, it's best to use salicylic acid as a spot treatment by focusing on the irritated area.

Using the spot-treatment method is a good strategy if you’re applying a product with a high concentration of SA. If you use this type of formula all over your body, it might dry your skin out.

4) Say “No” To Regular Soap

While soap can effectively cleanse your skin, it also has the potential to strip away your skin’s natural oils. This could lead to dryness, itchiness, and irritation.

If you want to use salicylic acid, switch to a gentle cleanser, such as our Sensitive Skin Moisturizing Body Wash. The vitamin B3 in this product helps lock in moisture, while the citric acid and the guar bean extract work together to gently clean your skin.

5) Moisturize After Use

We’ve mentioned it a few times, but salicylic acid is a potent ingredient that has the potential to cause dryness. That means following up your SA treatment with a good moisturizer is important.

Pick one that locks in moisture and creates a barrier on your skin. This will help protect your skin from further irritation.

6) Don’t Overdo It

As with any skincare product, it’s important to use salicylic acid as directed. Applying too much of the product won’t speed up results and could actually lead to unwanted side effects, like dryness, redness, and itchiness.

To avoid overdoing it, start by using the product every other day. Then, slowly increase frequency as your skin gets used to the ingredient. You’ll know you’re using too much if your skin feels dry, tight, or irritated.

7) Minimize Sun Exposure

Young woman in a hat applying sunscreen

Salicylic acid can make your skin more susceptible to sunburn. So, it's crucial to protect yourself from the sun when using products that contain SA.

Wear sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher and reapply it every two hours or more often if you’re swimming or sweating. And if you’re going to be in direct sunlight, wear a wide-brimmed hat to keep your face shaded.

8) Apply Carefully

When using products with SA, be careful where you apply them. You want to avoid accidentally getting the product into your eyes, nose, or mouth. You should also avoid contact with your groin.

If you get the product into any of these areas, flush the area with water for 15 minutes. Call a poison control center or seek medical attention immediately if you have any concerns.

9) Keep Your Doctor In The Loop

As mentioned above, some conditions could make using SA more risky. In addition, some medications can also interact with SA, so it's always best to check with your doctor before using products that contain this ingredient.

They will be able to help you weigh the risks and benefits and determine whether salicylic acid is right for you.

Other Pro Skincare Tips To Remember

While careful use of SA can help improve your skin, it’s important to remember that there is no “miracle” ingredient. In other words, you also need to take care of your skin in other ways.

If you’re after smooth, clear, and nourished skin, here are a few more tips to keep in mind:

  • Shower daily, and wash your face at least twice a day. This will help ensure that you rid your skin of any dirt and bacteria you may come across during the day.
  • Shower as soon as possible after sweating (i.e., after going to the gym).
  • Always use lukewarm water when showering or washing your face. Some people believe that hot water cleans better, but it doesn’t do your skin any favors. Instead, avoid hot water whenever possible because it strips your skin of its natural oils and can lead to dryness and irritation.
  • Avoid scrubbing your skin. Instead, use your fingertips and a face wash to gently cleanse your face.
  • Avoid touching your face throughout the day, especially when you haven't washed your hands.
  • Always wear sunscreen with at least SPF 15, and keep reapplying it every two hours if you are out in the sun.
  • Eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water. This will help improve your skin from the inside out.
  • Stress less. Stress can lead to breakouts and psoriasis flares, so try to find ways to relax and de-stress whenever possible.
  • Stop picking. When you have pimples, it can be tempting to pick or pop them. But resist the urge! This will only make them worse and could lead to scarring.
  • Get enough sleep. Not getting enough shut-eye can also lead to breakouts, so aim for seven to eight hours of sleep per night.

The above recommendations can help you on your healthy skin journey. However, always see your doctor if you suspect that you may have serious underlying problems.

For example, if you have allergies or a skin disease, a doctor will be able to prescribe the perfect combination of topical treatments and internal medications that are suitable for you and your needs.

Say Hello To Healthy Skin

Woman applies cream to her face

You may know salicylic acid as a common ingredient in acne-treating products, but its different forms and uses aren’t discussed as widely. Whether you use a gel, cream, ointment, or pill, SA can help you get the smooth and healthy-looking skin you’ve been searching for.

Psoriasis is a condition that can truly benefit from this ingredient. And with Bodewell Psoriasis Calming Cream, you can kiss dry, flaky, irritated skin goodbye!

With just the right amount of salicylic acid, coconut oil, Vitamin E, Safflower seed oil, and a proprietary botanical blend, our cream will help your skin stay moisturized and soothed throughout the day.

Just remember to use it as prescribed, and if you have other underlying issues (e.g., you’re pregnant or have allergies), consult your doctor about the best way to treat your skin.

Whether you’re looking to clear those pores, exfoliate your skin, or find relief from psoriasis, salicylic acid is a great addition to almost every routine for better skin days!

References

MedlinePlus
National Health Service
Science Direct

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