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Everything You Need to Know About Salicylic Acid

16.04.2024 | Skincare

We may have all heard of Salicylic Acid, but what is it actually? Well, Salicylic Acid really is the answer to a lot of our problems and may just be your one-stop-shop for skin (and I mean all skin – that’s body and scalp too)  

Although a well-known skincare ingredient, there is still some confusion around why Salicylic Acid is such a key player when it comes to fighting breakouts. If you are dealing with excess oil, stubborn blackheads or congested skin, this breakout-zapping skincare superstar is going to be your best friend.  

Let us take a closer look at what Salicylic Acid is, how it can benefit YOU, and how to use this incredible ingredient effectively within your routine... 

What is Salicylic Acid? 

Salicylic Acid is a Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA), which is best known for its keratolytic properties (the ability to break down the outer layers of the skin) and bacteria-fighting powers. This highly effective, active ingredient is one of the most popular kids on the block, and its reputation is very well-deserved.  

On one end, there are Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) – this chemical exfoliator is best known for its surface level work and encouraging cell turnover to reveal a brighter, more even complexion. Although there are many different types of AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid), which are all water-soluble, the most well-known would include: Glycolic Acid, Mandelic Acid, and Lactic Acid. 

Whereas Salicylic Acid (BHA) is an oil-soluble ingredient derived from Willow Bark (meaning it can work on the skin’s surface as well as penetrate deep inside the pores to help de-clog, reduce the appearance of breakouts, and clear signs of congestion). Due to it being able to penetrate pores, this is why it is necessary for blemish-prone skin and those with oilier complexions – it truly is a well-rounded breakout-fighting ingredient.   

What are the Benefits of Salicylic Acid? 

Salicylic Acid has many benefits and can treat a variety of different skin concerns. These include: 

For Skin: 

Visibly reduce breakouts and blemishes: 

When it comes to eliminating whiteheads, blackheads and pimples, Salicylic Acid is always the answer. These whiteheads and blackheads occur when pores become clogged with excess oil and dead skin cells. As a chemical exfoliator, Salicylic Acid can take a deep dive into our pores to dissolve dead skin cells, oil, and other sorts of debris. When treating mild acne or blemishes, it is important to remember that this is not an ‘overnight fix’ and to instead, allow at least 6-8 weeks to notice results. 

Removing dead skin cells: 

We all know just how important it is to exfoliate your skin regularly. Not only does it help to unclog pores and prevent breakouts, but it also helps to even out skin tone and allows other products to penetrate deeper. Salicylic Acid helps with all of this and so much more!  

Reducing Redness: 

Due to its exfoliating and oil-reducing abilities, Salicylic Acid effectively helps to reduce redness of existing breakouts. These qualities also enable Salicylic Acid to soothe and calm the look of skin that is experiencing stubborn breakouts as well as reduce the pigmentation and discolouration these may cause.    

Reducing Oiliness:  

Even though Salicylic Acid can work for various skin types, it is best for oily and acne-prone skin. Due to its oil-balancing properties, this means not only will your skin appear less oily, but this can also help to reduce breakout causing blockages, and therefore the likelihood of new breakouts forming.  

For Hair:  

As well as being a hero ingredient in a skincare routine, Salicylic Acid is also a game-changer in haircare. Not only will Salicylic Acid help to eliminate any flakes/dandruff on the scalp, product build-up and visibly reduce excess oil levels, but it can also be used to bring back shine to dull/damaged hair.  

Our Salicylic Acid Exfoliating Scalp Treatment is proven to deliver visible results (with 100% agreeing flakes look instantly reduced after just 1 use). The addition of FLUIDIPURE™ 8G and PANTHENOL offer moisturization benefits to help soothe and visibly reducing the appearance of redness on the scalp.  

Most people will benefit from Salicylic Acid-based haircare, especially those with a flaky/dry scalp and those with oily hair. What a winner!  

For Body: 

When it comes to your body, exfoliation is key. To keep your skin looking and feeling its best, moisturising is simply not enough!  

At The INKEY List, we believe that chemical exfoliation is essential when it comes to unlocking your best body skin yet. There are a few differences between the skin on our body and the skin on our face, with some of them being:  

  • The skin on our body is thicker. 
  • The skin on our body produces less oil. 
  • The skin on our body has a slower skin cell turnover rate, therefore making it prone to becoming dry, rough, and dull.  
  • The skin on our body is susceptible to more stubborn concerns such as: keratosis pilaris, ingrown hairs and body breakouts. 

Our Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Body Stick is the perfect new addition into your body care routine. Formulated with 7% Glycolic Acid and 0.5% Salicylic Acid, this targeted treatment effectively exfoliates surface dead skin cells (helping to smooth out rough and bumpy texture), as well as unclog oily pores to target body breakouts and treat ingrown hairs.  

HOW and WHEN to use Salicylic Acid in your routine? 

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding as to what Salicylic Acid really is and how this hero ingredient can benefit us. If so, now you are more than ready to incorporate Salicylic Acid into your routine. I am sure you have heard of the saying “too much of a good thing” - well, this can be the case for Salicylic Acid.  

Yes, Salicylic Acid really is the expert in exfoliation and is proven to give clear results. However, it is super important to not go over-board and cause any unwanted irritation/dryness to your skin. If you have more sensitive skin, remember that slow and steady can win the race. Whether it be a cleanser, serum, or overnight treatment you are incorporating into your routine, always patch test when introducing a new skincare product and gradually increase usage. 

In theory, everyone can use Salicylic Acid, it is all about how we use it…  

Luckily, there are many ways in which you can incorporate this hero ingredient into your routine: 

Salicylic Acid Cleanser 

An easy way to add Salicylic Acid to your skincare routine would be with our ultimate blemish busting cleanser.    

Our Salicylic Acid Cleanser is gentle enough to be used daily (AM + PM) as it has a non-drying formula that can penetrate within the pores to help balance oil, and visibly reduce breakouts. As cleansers are left on the skin for a brief period and then rinsed off, they are a fantastic way to introduce stronger active ingredients.  

INKEY Top Tip – This is not just for your face. You can use our Salicylic Acid Cleanser on other blemish-prone areas, including the back and chest! 

Beta Hydroxy Acid Serum 

If you want to introduce Salicylic Acid into your routine but are unsure of where to begin, our Beta Hydroxy Acid Serum is a great start.  

Formulated with 2% Salicylic Acid, this makes it an ideal choice for oily skin types. This exfoliant helps soothe breakout-prone skin and is formulated with Hyaluronic Acid for additional hydration benefits. 

At The INKEY List, we would recommend using our Beta Hydroxy Acid Serum a few times per week (in the PM is preferred) and to always wear sunscreen daily in the AM.  

Succinic Acid Treatment  

If you are looking for the ultimate non-drying, targeted treatment for your breakouts, then this is a must-have in your routine.  

 Our Succinic Acid Treatment (considered our on-the-go spot treatment) has been formulated for rapid results, and with the addition of 1% Salicylic Acid and 2% Sulfur, it is able to tackle breakouts head on whilst remaining gentle on the skin. With its green-coloured hue, derived from Chlorophyl, it minimizes the appearance of redness on the skin. 

The Succinic Acid Treatment can be applied to a breakout up to three times per day (AM and PM).  

C-50 Blemish Night Treatment  

If your skin is breaking out and causing havoc, then this overnight treatment mask will always be a YES please!  

Formulated with a powerful blend of Vitamin C, Vitamin E, 2% Salicylic Acid and Lotus Extract, our C-50 Blemish Night Treatment helps visibly targets breakouts, unclogs pores, and reduces the appearance of redness by morning. 

To help prevent dehydration, we recommend using this treatment 2-3 nights per week. It can also be used on other blemish-prone areas, including your back and chest. 

Salicylic Acid is that loyal best friend when you are suffering from breakouts, oiliness, and congestion. If you are eager to introduce this effective ingredient into your routine but need some more guidance, you can reach out to the askINKEY Team here 

Photo of Written by Rhiannon, askINKEY advisor

Written by Rhiannon, askINKEY advisor

Rhiannon is at every step of the consumer's skincare journey and is passionate about sharing the beauty of knowledge, education and creating meaningful connections to empower you all to feel confident in your skin.