Salicylic Acid: An Oil-Loving, Exfoliating Agent

Ingredient Investigation

Salicylic Acid: An Oil-Loving, Exfoliating Agent

By Chrissy Carrano

Filed Under

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA), a category of acids named for its molecular structure. It's naturally derived from the bark of the willow tree, or salix trees. It's a powerhouse acid in skincare due to its exfoliating, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and skin penetrating properties that battle breakouts and congestion.
How it Works

Salicylic acid is an oil-soluble BHA, meaning it penetrates deep into the pores, breaking up dead skin cells and clearing congestion. Because it can penetrate so deep, it's an effective whitehead and blackhead buster. It also acts as an anti-inflammatory, making it a well-rounded acne-fighting ingredient.

As a hydroxy acid that can penetrate the follicle, salicylic acid is best ingredient to battle whiteheads and blackheads. 

Make it Routine

Because of its clear track record in skincare, salicylic acid is an ingredient you'll find across a routine, from cleansers to exfoliants to moisturizers to spot treatments.

Similar to retinol, salicylic acid can be drying. Incorporate it into your routine slowly to see how it works with your skin. Look for salicylic acid products that are paired with hydrating ingredients to balance out the oil-battling, drying action.

Salicylic acid is a great booster ingredient in this tonic. Gently swipe over the face with a cotton pad, or use it as an overnight spot treatment.

Clear Cell Salicylic Clarifying Tonic

Image Skincare

Clear Cell Salicylic Clarifying Tonic

Clarify skin and address active breakouts with this powerful, resurfacing tonic.

Breakouts

Blackheads

Non-prescription products can have a concentration of 0.5% to 2% of salicylic acid, whereas some professional strength peels (used in treatment) can contain upwards of 15%. This is the safe-for-home version of the Heyday Treatment Room favorite.

0.33 oz

Naturopathica

Sweet Cherry Brightening Enzyme Peel

Unclog pores and brighten skin tone with this Skin Therapist favorite.

Rough Texture

Hyperpigmentation

This moisturizer is a go-to for balancing the best of salicylic acid with skin-feeding moisture.

Clear Skin Probiotic Moisturizer

Eminence

Clear Skin Probiotic Moisturizer

Acne-prone skin will drink up this blemish-banishing, anti-inflammatory moisturizer.

Breakouts

Blackheads

Wait—One More Thing!

You may see willow bark extract touted as a salicylic acid alternative. While willow bark is a salicylate, it's not the same chemically as salicylic acid. Willow bark will help with anti-inflammatory and redness, but doesn't have the breakout-busting, pore-cleansing qualities that salicylic acid does.

In ancient times, the bark of the willow tree was chewed as a medicine for headaches and inflammation. Today, perhaps the most famous member of the salicylate family (other than salicylic acid for us skincare-obsessed) is the anti-inflammatory known as aspirin.

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