Salicylic Acid & Acne
Skin-clearing remedies are in high demand, and for good reason: Up to 50 million Americans suffer from the pimples, nodules and cysts that characterize acne, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Acne medications range from external ointments to systemic drugs, varying widely in safety and effectiveness. Among topical treatments, salicylic acid is well-known to help clear up blemish-ridden complexions.
When applied topically, salicylic acid can reduce the occurrence of non-inflammatory acne lesions to help restore a clear complexion. The medication works by lessening the redness and swelling typical of acne breakouts, reopening plugged skin pores and encouraging blemishes to shrink and heal. Rather than combating acne-causing bacteria or excess sebum production, salicylic acid regulates the shedding of skin cells to prevent future lesions from forming, AcneNet explains.
Salicylic acid comes in a variety of topical forms, including pads, wipes, creams, liquids, gels, lotions and patches. Medicated hair products, such as shampoo, are also available to treat acne affecting the scalp or hairline. Because it comes in varying concentrations, salicylic acid may require daily application for low-strength treatments or weekly application for stronger forms of the medication.
Compared with other acne medications, both external and systemic, salicylic acid offers a number of benefits. As Acne Recovery System explains, salicylic acid is relatively gentle on the skin; as a result, it may be less likely to cause peeling, dryness and skin irritation than harsher medications such as benzoyl peroxide. Salicylic acid also has anti-inflammatory properties, making it useful for treating the redness and swelling that sometimes accompany acne. Salicylic acid often yields fewer side effects than potent internal medications such as retinoids.
Although salicylic acid is one of the mildest acne treatments available, it can still cause adverse reactions in some individuals--especially when used in conjunction with other medicated skin products. When using salicylic acid, MedlinePlus recommends avoiding abrasive soaps, alcohol-containing skin-care products, harsh cleansers, medicated cosmetics and other acne treatments such as benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, resorcinol and tretinoin. Skin irritation and stinging may occur after applying salicylic acid, particularly if your skin is already prone to dryness.
In rare cases, use of salicylic acid can cause severe side effects such as dizziness, extreme weakness, headaches, rapid breathing, nausea, vomiting, hearing loss, buzzing in the ears and diarrhea--some of which may indicate salicylate toxicity, a condition most common in children and individuals with liver or kidney problems. If these symptoms occur when applying salicylic acid, discontinue use and contact a physician immediately. Because researchers have not studied the impact of topical salicylic acid on human fetuses, the safety of this drug during pregnancy remains unknown; consult your doctor before using salicylic acid while pregnant or nursing.
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