1. What It Is
One of the most common ingredients you’ll see in anti-acne skincare products, 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.
2. What It Does
Due to its chemical structure, salicylic acid is oil-soluble (unlike water-soluble AHAs so they can only act on the skin surface), which means 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 skin’s surface as well as deep within pores for a clearer, smoother, brighter and calmer complexion.
3. Its Closest Counterpart
Another ingredient that is commonly used for anti-acne skincare products is benzoyl peroxide. While salicylic acid works on penetrating clogged pores to clear out congestion, benzoyl peroxide works by killing bacteria responsible for causing acne. In comparison, salicylic acid tends to be gentler and works better on comedones and for regulating sebum production whereas benzoyl peroxide can be harsh for those with dry and sensitive skin, and is ideal for drying out angry red pustules.
4. Who It’s Best For
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 has salicylic acid content only contains 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.
5. Know The Difference
Moreover, 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 indicate 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.
Here, 6 best products that contain salicylic acid to keep breakouts at bay.