There is some confusion about salicylic acid as a treatment for acne. Some question if it is a harsh chemical that should be avoided while others doubt its efficacy. To help clear things up (no pun intended), salicylic acid is not considered a medication and is very effective in treating acne if used correctly. Known in the skincare world as a beta-hydroxy acid, Salicylic acid is actually derived from a plant source, the willow bark, and has been used for healing purposes since the time of Hippocrates. Salicylic acid is also related to aspirin and contains the same anti-inflammatory properties. This is one of the reasons it works so well for acne. It works much the same way that sulfur works in that it exfoliates skin to unclog pores and calms down inflammation. If irritation occurs with use, it most likely means that the concentration percentage of salicylic acid is too high, or it is combined with other ingredients that are too harsh for skin, or, finally, sunscreen is not worn in conjunction with treatment.

A good percentage of salicylic acid in products is 1-2%. Any higher than this may cause irritation. SA also should not be combined with benzoyl peroxide, fragrance, sulfates, or dyes or it will cause sensitivity.  Those who use products with appropriate formulas of SA say that it is so powerful their blemishes seem to disappear overnight at times. Also, a little food for thought: don’t be wary of the term “acid” when it comes to skincare. Our skin is slightly acidic on the PH scale!

Salicylic Acid is my favorite acne treatment because it works so quickly. I have found that it’s particularly helpful at reducing size, redness, and severity of acne lesions. Sometimes an acne lesion will pop up out of nowhere and salicylic is my arsenal. First I I wash my face with a gentle 2% or less Salicylic cleanser and second and most importantly, spot treat with a 2% sal gel overnight or immediately for a few hours and the breakout is reduced significantly. Sal is even good at healing cystic lesions below the skin before they become inflamed and reach the surface.

One of our favorite products containing SA is Neutrogena’s MicroClear® Cleanser.  This MicroClear® technology uses powerful technology to exfoliate skin without using plastic microbeads to do the job.  From our observation, the MicroClear® technology includes natural microbeads to get rid of oily skin.  Through washing my face with this once per day (at night) and using a gentle cleanser in the morning my skin has been able to get rid of its naturally oily base and maintain moisture with applied lotions in the morning.  SA has proven to be a must-have for oily acne-prone skin.

To view consumer reviews on Topical Salicylic Acid products, click here.