What does Salicylic Acid do when added to your skincare?

What does Salicylic Acid do when added to your skincare?

Acids are becoming an increasingly popular ingredient in skincare, with one for every skin type and concern and for good reason. Unlike their physical counterparts, chemical exfoliants such as acids are quite gentle on the skin and yet they get the job done. So today let us take a look at an acid that has been an oily skin favourite for a very long time - Salicylic Acid.

What is it?

Salicylic Acid is a BHA or a Beta Hydroxy Acid derived from willow bark. It is commonly used to exfoliate the skin, to clear up pores, and to help tackle acne. In fact, we are willing to bet that if you have oily skin or have dealt with acne at some point of time in your life, you have probably used a product containing salicylic acid to remedy the situation. 

As opposed to AHAs or Alpha Hydroxy Acids, Salicylic Acid is oil-soluble. As a result, it penetrates the skin more easily and deeply than its AHA counterparts. To read more about exfoliating acids, head over to our blog

While prescription-strength formulations can have a dosage as high as 30%, most formulations available to us fall between the range of 0.5 to 2%. This is because SA is a pretty strong ingredient so unless you are dealing with severe acne, you do not really need to go beyond the 2% limit. In fact, if you are new to acids, it is always better to start off with the lowest concentration and then slowly work towards building tolerance. 

This is an image of what is Salicylic Acid on www.sublime.in

What does Salicylic Acid Do?

1. Decongests pores

First of all, let us understand how blackheads develop. Over time, the pores of our skin get clogged with dead skin cells and sebum(the oil our skin naturally produces). This clogging of pores results in whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples. 

While AHAs work on the surface of the skin, improving texture, making the skin more bright, and revealing fresher skin, BHAs such as Salicylic Acid go deep into the skin and help unclog pores, dissolving any dead skin cells and sebum build-up. 

2. Helps Reduce Acne

Along with Retinol and Retinoid, Salicylic Acid is the one for you if you have oily and acne-prone skin. Salicylic Acid has a soothing and calming effect on flare ups and it also helps keep your pores clean.

3. Anti-inflammatory

Salicylic Acid also acts as an inflammatory agent, soothing inflammations and pimples with ease. It has naturally soothing properties and it might work for sensitive skin too. 

4. Exfoliant

Salicylic Acid is also a good exfoliant. It essentially dissolves the ‘glue’ that holds skin cells together and helps make the top layer of the skin softer and smoother over time. So if you have somewhat bumpy skin, incorporating a Salicylic Acid-based product might work well for you.

It is also important to point out that Salicylic Acid is quite a gentle exfoliant. You will notice any visible peeling or shedding of the skin. The process happens gradually, as the bonds between skin cells are broken. 

5. Anti-Ageing benefits

As is true with AHAs or Alpha Hydroxy Acids, BHAs such as Salicylic Acid can help smoothen the skins, making fine lines and wrinkles a lot less visible. 

6. Brightening

When dead cells build-up over time in the skin, they can make the skin look dull and lifeless. This is why exfoliation is really important to reveal fresher and brighter skin and that is exactly what Salicylic Acid does!

This is an image of what Salicylic Acid does on www.sublimelife.in

Who is it for?

If you have oily skin and are looking for a chemical exfoliant or something to help with your blackheads and whiteheads, it does not get better than Salicylic Acid. Given its ability to dry up the skin, Salicylic Acid is probably not the best choice if you have dry or sensitive skin. To know more about exfoliating acids, you can head over to our blog

Another thing you may not know about Salicylic Acid is that it works well against dandruff and scalp irritations too! Certain shampoos do contain this BHA as it helps soothe inflammations and clears up dandruff and scaling. 

If acne and blackheads are your main concern, and if you have oily to combination skin, you can give Salicylic Acid a shot. 

Below the age of 2 years, the use of this active is not recommended. It is important to keep in mind that most usage of Salicylic Acid is specifically to tackle acne and other related concerns. 

How can you incorporate Salicylic Acid in your routine?

Salicylic Acid is available in a wide variety of formulations today:

1. Cleanser

Swisse’s Olive Deep Cleansing Gel is a great exfoliating cleanser that gently cleanses the skin, brightens the skin, and unclogs pores without being too drying. It contains Aloe Vera and Glycerin which are hydrating and also has a mix of Salicylic and Glycolic acids.

2. Serum

A serum is a concentrated dose of an active ingredient. It is thicker than a toner and lighter than a face mask. Neemli Naturals Glycolic and Salicylic Acid Serum is a great fit for those looking for an exfoliating serum. It contains both AHAs and BHAs that help give you clearer, brighter and smoother skin. 

3. Moisturiser

Swisse Anti-Blemish Moisturiser contains Willow Bark extract(read Salicylic Acid) which exfoliates and unclogs pores, vitamin B3 or Niacinamide that strengthens the skin barrier, and Green Tea extract that is rich in antioxidants and is hydrating. 

If you are new to actives and exfoliating acids such as Salicylic Acid, it is better to stick to one product and not use too much of the active in your skincare routine. Starting with a cleanser and a face mask is a good idea in the beginning as these products are wash-off formulations. You can then move onto using a moisturiser, toner, or serum. It is largely a matter of personal preference and what concentration you are interested in. Always keep in mind to discontinue usage if your skin starts to become too irritated. 

What to be careful about?

With any active there are a few things you should consider before using it:

1. Mixing with Other Acids

You will often come across formulations that contain a mixture of acids - AHAs and BHAs. So is such a combination safe to use? Yes. But it can be irritating for your skin so always do a patch test before using the product.

2. Do not Overdo It

It is quite easy to go overboard with acids, especially when you do not see immediate results. But be careful with Salicylic Acid as it can be quite drying and you might just end up stripping your skin and compromising your skin barrier.

Be it a serum or even a cleanser, do not start with using the product more than 1 to 2 times a week. See how your skin reacts to the product and then increase the frequency of usage. Also, be sure to patch test a product when you are trying it for the first time. To know more about patch testing, head over to our blog.

3. Not for Expecting Young Moms

If you are expecting or breast-feeding, it is advisable to not use Salicylic Acid in your skincare routine. Or better yet, consult your doctor before adding in such a product.

4. Sensitivity to the Sun

While you should be wearing sunscreen religiously every day, if you are using Salicylic Acid in your skincare routine you definitely need sun protection.

5. Don't use it if you have Dry Skin

For those of you with dry skin, it is preferable to opt for an AHA such as Lactic acid or Glycolic Acid. Salicylic Acid will probably just dry you out further and can irritate the skin. Similarly, if your skin becomes dry in the winter, use your Salicylic Acid product a little less often. 

6. Know when to Consult your Doctor

While Salicylic Acid is soothing and has anti-inflammatory properties, it is not suited to everyone. If you are dealing with something like Eczema or Rosacea, always consult your dermatologist before using a Salicylic Acid-based product.

This is an image what to be careful about of Salicylic Acid on ww.sublime.in

How long does it take to See Results?

It all depends on your skin and on the product you are using. But on average, it takes around 3 to 4 weeks to see any changes in your skin. 


Salicylic Acid is an oil-soluble exfoliating acid. It is a BHA or beta hydroxy acid and works well for oily acne-prone skin. It unclogs pores, clears up blackheads and whiteheads, and is even effective against acne. However, be careful with how much and how often you use this one as it can be drying and irritating. 

- Gauri Sindhu



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