Its use in skin care is on the rise but, despite its popularity, many people remain unsure of what it actually is and what it can do for them.
Whilst for many people, some kind of acid should be vital to their daily skin routine, it is important to know the benefits of each and which is right for you.
There are now a plethora of different products on the market contain salicylic acid in some form or another, and whilst many of them work in similar ways, they are often designed to treat specific conditions.
In order to help you get the most out of using this product, we’ve put together this post to explain what it is and how you can get optimal results from using it on your skin.
What is salicylic acid?
So what exactly is salicylic acid? Also known as a beta hydroxy acid, the substance is somewhat of an all-in-one treatment for a variety of skin conditions.
Due to its hydrating properties and looser molecular structure, it is exceptionally good at unclogging pores and cleansing the outer layers of your skin.
As a potent anti-inflammatory, it is one of the principle ingredients of aspirin. It also features in products designed to settle the stomach and reduce nausea, such as Pepto-Bismol, for the same reason.
Such is its importance and effectiveness at treating skin conditions, that it is ranked in the World Health Organisation (WHO) Model List of Essential Medicines.
What does salicylic acid do?
Beta hydroxy acids have various different functions, depending on what you are using them for. The way it works is generally the same, however.
It’s strong acidic properties allow it to permeate through even the toughest layers of skin, dissolving the bonds that hold each layer together.
Beta hydroxy acid works at softening the ‘glue’ that holds all the dead skin cells together, unclogging all the debris from your pores and cleansing your skin cells.
Not only does it work to cleanse and nourish the skin, it is also very effective at soothing redness and irritation, often caused by inflamed skin that is too dry to secrete many of its natural oils.
Salicylic acid and skin
Salicylic acid is also a fantastic exfoliant, working to slough off any layers of dead skin that are preventing soft and healthy skin from coming through.
It essentially acts to clean and clear your skin as much as possible to try and maintain a healthy level of moisture. This is fundamental for improving the long term health and appearance of your skin.
Many people swear by it as a treatment for dandruff, as it can perform a similar kind of function on your scalp.
Salicylic acid in skincare
As a result of its ability to treat a host of different skin conditions, beta hydroxy acid is naturally found in a number of different skincare products.
Owing to its ability to break down tough layers of skin and cleanse pores, the most common products to contain it in varying doses are those designed to clear up problematic areas of skin.
Beta hydroxy acids are exceptionally good at tackling acne and working to nurture damaged skin as well as heal it. This has led to an increasing number of skincare and cosmetic manufacturers including it in their products.
It is now very common to find anti-acne skin peels and purifying solutions containing various concentrations of this acid, promoting clearer, healthier skin.
Salicylic acid is often found as a prominent ingredient in exfoliants, as it is very effective in sloughing off layers of dead skin and permeating into areas too hard for less intense moisturisers.
At times, doctors may wish to prescribe it for topical use for common skin conditions such as keratosis pilaris, it works to soften the outer layers of the epidermis, allowing keratin to filter through rather than form plugs that clog up pores.
One of the biggest benefits that people can get from beta hydroxy acids is their ability to soothe inflamed skin and, at times, reduce the effects of discoloration.
Many brands are now making treatments to fight the side effects of severe breakouts and rosacea. This has helped many people not only treat their acne, but to mitigate the long term after effects.
Is salicylic acid right for me?
Despite it’s fantastic skin-healing properties, this kind acid isn’t necessarily right for everyone to use.
There are several instances where it would be wise to only use products with a lower percentage of salicylic acid content or to completely avoid it all together.
Pregnant women are advised against using it for instance, and its chemical makeup means that it should not be used with drugs such as aspirin that thin the blood.
If your skin is extremely dry, it is advisable to use a more gentle and sensitive moisturiser, as salicylic acid is quite intense in treating skin and can cause redness and irritation, making matters worse.
Even for people who are fine to use a beta hydroxy acid, it is possible to use too much and induce salicylate poisoning if ingesting.
If you’re not sure whether it’s safe for you to use it, it’s best to consult your doctor or your pharmacist before hand, as they may be able to suggest more suitable alternatives or products with a lower concentration.