If there’s something we might all universally agree on, it’s the way acne has had a hold over us and our self-esteem at some point in our lives. Be it hormonal fluctuations, nasty reactions to a new product we’re slathering onto our miens or simply a complete lack of sleep, these stubborn zits are prone to popping up at a time when you least anticipate it—leaving us to our own devices and emergency solutions. Thankfully, we’re in the business of finding out exactly how we can keep them at bay, by means of those tried-and-tested skincare products or reliable aesthetic treatments. As of late, the trusty ingredient that seems to be gaining visibility? Salicylic acid.
Whilst its inception into the skincare market is hardly a new affair, it has none other than skincare TikTok to thank for bringing the buzz surrounding the ingredient back onto everyone’s radars. But whilst it is highly lauded for its clarifying properties and how it actively works against breakouts, it stands to reason that there is still a definite cause for caution when it comes to dealing with overt use of a single chemical ingredient in one’s skincare. For one: considering the preventive approach salicylic acid takes towards one’s acne, should someone who doesn’t suffer from breakouts in the first place be introducing it into their routines?
Knowledge is power here—and we’re always ready to dig deeper to find out what works best for our various skin types and conditions. So we got Dr Laura Hui, an Associate Consultant in Dermatology at Singapore General Hospital, to weigh in, where she answers all our pressing questions regarding salicylic acid as a skincare ingredient. Get clued in below, before you cart out on that next bottle for your vanity table.
View this post on Instagram
What is salicylic acid?
There are two main classes of acids that are used in skincare, namely Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) and Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs). Salicylic acid is a chemical exfoliant that classifies as a BHA.
What are the benefits of salicylic acid?
Salicylic acid acts as a chemical exfoliant and has keratolytic properties that breaks down the outer layers of the skin—which aids in the unclogging of pores. This makes it ideal for the treatment of acne and superficial acne scars, improving skin texture and lightening pigmentation.
Why is salicylic acid used as a spot treatment to combat acne?
Various factors result in the production of acne: excessive oil production, the overgrowth of Propionibacterium acnes bacteria on the skin and the abnormal accumulation of skin debris that results in clogged pores. When applied, salicylic acid is able to penetrate the skin and actively dissolve the sebum and skin cells that cause the blockage of pores. It is also anti-inflammatory and can help regulate the bacteria production on the skin, hence reducing the overall appearance of acne.
Can salicylic acid damage the skin barrier?
When it is put to work, the BHA loosens and sloughs away the top layer of skin cells, breaking apart desmosomes (attachments between cells in the outer layer of the skin). So yes, it can harm the superficial layer of your skin especially when too much of it is applied, be it at a high initial concentration or in excess frequency.
What is a good concentration of salicylic acid in our skincare products—and what is too much?
Salicylic acid-based products are chemical exfoliants that can cause skin irritation and dryness. This is especially seen in first-time users or those with dry and sensitive skin. The concentration in over-the-counter salicylic acid products tends to be low usually; ranging from 0.5 to 2 percent.
High concentrations of salicylic acid of up to 20 to 30 percent, which are found in chemical peels, can only be professionally administered at specialist dermatology clinics. In general, we always advocate introducing a new product into your regimes slowly. The negative side effects of salicylic acid can be mitigated by starting with a low concentration of 0.5 percent for example. A reduced frequency is also recommended, before you begin to use it daily.
For first-time users, try to see how your skin reacts to it by applying a small portion of the product on other targeted parts of your body as an initial test over a certain period of time—in controlled frequencies. Serious adverse effects include salicylate poisoning but this usually only happens with the use of extremely large amounts of the BHA.
Can we use salicylic acid-based products daily?
Skincare is always individualised and salicylic acid-based products should be safe to use daily if it can be tolerated by your skin. For those with sensitive or dry skin, always start by using them at a lower frequency and concentration.
@jbvcorrea10/10 Salicylic acid for teens and feeling teens 🙈💖 Oh, may prices na ha 🙂 ✨♬ How`s Your Day – aAp Vision
Are there any other acidic ingredients that might potentially clash with salicylic acid-based products?
Other chemical exfoliants such as AHAs and antioxidants such as vitamin C-based products all have potential side effects of irritation, dryness and increased photosensitivity. We caution against using them all together at the same time as it can lead to serious pain, itch and even redness on your skin. If all the ingredients are a regular part of your regime, try to space them out and use them on alternate days or at different times of the day.
Are all skincare types compatible with salicylic acid?
We caution against the use of salicylic acid for those with underlying skin conditions such as eczema or dry, sensitive skin as it can ultimately result in more irritation. If you’re unsure, the best case scenario would be to consult a dermatologist for advice before attempting to introduce it into your daily routines.