How to use salicylic acid if you have acne-prone skin

A key ingredient in many face washes and cleansers because of its oil-reducing properties, salicylic acid is widely used to treat acne-prone skin. Is it effective? That depends. The results vary from person to person, according to skin type and how you use it. If you’re curious, here is a closer look at what salicylic acid is and how it works.


What is salicylic acid?

Salicylic acid is synthesised in a lab using a substance derived from the bark of the willow tree. It is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA), an oil-soluble chemical exfoliant that unplugs blockages deep within the pores. In contrast, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are water-soluble and therefore only help with surface exfoliation.

If you’ve faced an acne problem at some point, you may have picked up over-the-counter (OTC) products that have salicylic acid as an active. The ingredient shows up in cleansers, toners, serums, masks, spot treatments, exfoliants, and even moisturisers. Maybe you’ve even encountered the viral salicylic acid ice cream mask that claims to remove impurities in just a few minutes.


Benefits of salicylic acid use for skin problems

Why is salicylic acid so widely used in skincare? Because of its ability to reduce oil levels, exfoliate the skin, combat mild acne, and reduce inflammation.

  • Reduced sebum, fewer zits: When the production of sebum
    (a natural oil) is high, the pores get clogged, which may lead to zits. Salicylic acid dissolves the excess oil and penetrates deep within the pores to clear out any sebum, dead skin, and dirt that may be trapped there. The ingredient is effective against mild superficial acne like blackheads and whiteheads.
  • Exfoliation plus skin renewal: Being a chemical exfoliant, salicylic acid deep-cleans the pores more gently than a physical exfoliant would. (Physical exfoliants often involve scrubbing and sometimes cause microtears on the skin’s surface, leaving you prone to infection and breakouts.) Effective exfoliation assists in renewed skin growth, clearing away active blemishes and post-acne marks like hyperpigmentation. (How to remove the dark spots caused by pimples)
  • Soothes the skin, reduces inflammation: Salicylic acid has anti-inflammatory properties. It soothes the skin in case of inflammation due to acne.


Salicylic acid: How to use it right

OTC products with salicylic acid have moderate concentrations of the ingredient. While these formulas are well-tolerated by most skin types, some people experience irritation or redness after using products containing salicylic acid. If that’s you, here are tips to ease your issues:

  • Instead of using salicylic acid in your AM and PM routines, use it just once a day.
  • Consider switching to a formula with a milder concentration of the active.
  • Try not to use a salicylic acid formula and an exfoliant in the same routine.
  • Use a salicylic acid gel. This is often gentler and more suitable for people with sensitive skin.

(Reasons why your skin is breaking out all of a sudden)


The trouble with salicylic acid

How often you apply a salicylic acid product depends on the type of product and the concentration of the active. While some people are perfectly happy with their salicylic acid formulas, it isn’t the right choice for everyone. Here’s why:

  • Effective against only mild acne: Salicylic acid is great for clearing up blackheads and whiteheads but much less effective against moderate and severe forms of acne.
  • Dehydrates the skin: Salicylic acid does control oil levels. But on the flip side, it may cause skin barrier damage by drawing out too much sebum and leaving the skin parched.


An alternative to salicylic acid products


If salicylic acid does not fix your pimple problem or if it feels too harsh on your skin, consider switching to a different formula. Try a gentle and lightweight product like Clearica Anti-Acne Cream that fights all signs and symptoms of acne.

Instead of synthetic ingredients like salicylic acid, Clearica Anti-Acne Cream is packed with plant-based actives:


  • Green tea to reduce the lesions and redness of acne
  • Phragmites kharka with its anti-inflammatory properties
  • Eucalyptus leaves for their antimicrobial powers
  • Guava leaves to stimulate collagen production
To get the most out of this acne-fighting formula, follow a simple four-step routine:
  • Start with a gentle cleanser for acne-prone skin.
  • Apply toner evenly and let it absorb.
  • Apply a tiny amount of Clearica Anti-Acne Cream all over the face and neck.
  • Finish with a lightweight moisturiser.

(Why it’s important to apply skincare products in the right order)



Salicylic acid may be a popular active when it comes to acne care. But if it does not work for you, don’t fret. Everyone’s skin is different, and sometimes you just need a different product with a different set of actives to fix your acne woes.





Disclaimer: This page is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended as a recommendation or for diagnostic purposes. Please consult your dermatologist or doctor before acting on any of the information provided here.