One of the most common ingredients you’ll see in anti-acne skincare products is salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is often referred to as a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA). What this essentially means is that salicylic acid is oil-soluble as compared to its close “cousin”, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), another class of acids frequently used in skincare products, which is water-soluble.
What does it do?
Here’s why that’s important: Because it is oil-soluble, it is able to penetrate clogged pores to dissolve comedones like blackheads and whiteheads, as well as target sebum glands to regulate the production of sebum. As a result, it makes for an excellent ingredient to clear out congested pores and keep overactive sebum glands in check.
But that’s not all, salicylic acid also has exfoliating properties (like its AHA cousins) to dissolve and lift dead skin cells that have accumulated on the surface of your skin. Plus, salicylic acid also helps soothe inflammation and provides some antimicrobial properties for an all-round anti-acne action. In summary, salicylic acid works on the skin’s surface as well as deep within pores for a clearer, smoother, brighter, and calmer complexion.
Who should use it?
Salicylic acid is safe to use for almost everyone, even those with dry and sensitive-prone skin. This is because most over-the-counter anti-acne products that have salicylic acid content only contain low concentrations of it. However, if you’re using prescribed concentrations of salicylic acid, it is important to stick to the directions of use as advised by your doctor or you run the risk of causing skin irritation if you overuse them.
What else do I need to know about salicylic acid?
It is easy for consumers to confuse salicylic acid with willow bark extract as many skincare companies state that willow bark extract is a natural source of salicylic acid and also indicates the latter in their ingredients list in skin-clarifying products. While they are technically not wrong (since willow bark extract IS a natural source of salicylic acid), it is important to recognise that topical application of willow bark extract will not yield the same efficacy as salicylic acid. For the skin to reap the BHA’s maximum benefits, willow bark extract has to undergo a chemical process before it actually becomes BHA and is able to effectively penetrate clogged pores to clear out comedones, regulate sebum secretion, soothe, as well as speed up cellular turnover.