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How Much Do You Know About Salicylic Acid?


Though many skincare ingredients rise and fall in popularity, a handful of staples have stood the test of time. Among them are retinol, hyaluronic acid, ceramides, peptides, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). Today we’re focusing on the lattermost category, which isn’t really a category since it consists of only one ingredient: salicylic acid. If you produce excess oil or are prone to developing acne, you may take this ingredient for granted, but today we’re diving into how and why it works, so you can get the most benefit.

What Is Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic acid is an acid derived from willow bark. It acts as a type of exfoliant, which helps weaken the connections between skin cells.

That may not sound like a salicylic acid benefit, but it most certainly is. First, it encourages your skin to “shed” more easily, so dead cells make way for a smoother, brighter, more illuminated complexion. Second, this “ungluing” of skin cells helps to unclog pores which in turn helps prevent and treat acne. It’s especially powerful against comedonal acne, including blackheads and whiteheads.

Another factor that makes salicylic acid special is that it’s oil soluble, making it a particularly useful ingredient for those with oily skin types.

“Molecularly speaking, BHA refers to an acid in which the hydroxy molecule is separated from the acid part by two carbon atoms, as opposed to an alpha hydroxy acid where it is separated by one,” explains Dr. Marisa Garshick, a board-certified dermatologist based in Manhattan. “What that means is that BHAs are oil soluble while AHAs are water soluble. Therefore, salicylic acid can penetrate pores and go deeper than the water-soluble AHAs.”

Incorporating Salicylic Acid Skincare into Your Regimen

The most common uses of this BHA are salicylic acid cleansers, exfoliating pads, toners and acne spot treatments.

For example, bareMinerals BLEMISH REMEDY Acne Treatment Gelée Cleanser is a gentle but effective facial cleanser that helps rebalance and clarify skin. It can be paired with our BLEMISH REMEDY Acne Clearing Treatment Serum, which works overtime to banish acne while calming skin, reducing the appearance of pores, and helping to visibly improve brightness. Both products are gentle enough to be used twice daily.

As mentioned, oily skin types and those prone to acne will benefit most from salicylic acid. However, the ingredient can also be used in makeup products, such as our BLEMISH RESCUE Skin-Clearing Spot Concealer. The creamy and ultra-blendable formula is powered by salicylic acid to help reduce the appearance of blemishes.

We do want to note that some skin types may want to skip salicylic acid in their routines, particularly those with dry or sensitive skin, and those with a compromised skin barrier. Additionally, Dr. Garshick says, “Individuals who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid use of salicylic acid.” If you don’t fall into the above categories, all the salicylic acid benefits have given it a well-deserved place on many a bathroom shelf.