What does salicylic acid do?

Searching for a tried-and-true skincare ingredient that tackles acne and reduces oiliness? Consider your search over. Salicylic acid — a popular beta hydroxy acid (BHA) — just might be the answer to your breakout woes.

If you’re unfamiliar with this exfoliating ingredient, you may be wondering… what does salicylic acid do? Is salicylic acid good for acne? We’ll answer those questions, get into the benefits of salicylic acid for skin, and help break down salicylic acid benefits. Keep reading for our deep dive on salicylic acid.

What is salicylic acid?

So, is salicylic acid good for acne? Before we answer this question in full, let’s arm you with a further explanation of what salicylic acid is, and what it can do for your skin.

Salicylic acid is a type of exfoliating ingredient classified as a beta hydroxy acid, or BHA. It’s derived from plant sources (willow bark, winter green, and sweet birch), and is a common active ingredient in a huge range of skincare products, from spot treatments and cleansers to treatment serums and lotions.

Salicylic acid benefits

Because salicylic acid has anti-inflammatory properties and is stellar at unclogging pores, this star ingredient has benefits that include minimizing the appearance of pores and, yes, treating many kinds of acne.

When applied topically to the skin, beta hydroxy acids help shed dead skin cells that are clogging pores. As a result, salicylic acid can help improve your skin’s overall tone and texture and help your pores appear smaller. Since clogged pores (blackheads and whiteheads) are the building blocks for acne, salicylic acid doesn’t just treat active breakouts, it also helps prevent new breakouts from forming.

BHAs are oil-soluble (as opposed to AHAs which are water-soluble), which means salicylic acid can more easily penetrate your oil-filled pores and the lipid layers between your skin cells.

Salicylic acid watchouts

Like with any new ingredient, you should patch test it and ease your skin in slowly, making sure it can adjust to this exfoliant over time.

Salicylic acid can be drying, especially when you first start to use it. To prevent irritation and dryness, start by using salicylic acid products less often at first (every few days, or every other day), and then increase your usage once your skin builds up a tolerance.

If you’re curious about how to fit salicylic acid into your skincare routine or if it’s the right solution for your skin, it’s always best to check with your dermatologist.

The bottom line

Salicylic acid is an amazing exfoliator and acne treatment because it clears your pores of dead skin cells and sebum. And because of its anti-inflammatory properties, it also helps soothe irritation.

The best news is that salicylic acid products do not require a prescription from a dermatologist, and products containing the ingredient are widely available for purchase in-store and online. If you’re interested in trying salicylic acid, start with Proactiv+, which contains our daily use Complexion Perfecting Hydrator, formulated with salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is also a star player in our Blackhead Dissolving Gel and Acne Body Wash.