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Salicylic Acid for Acne

Salicylic Acid for Acne Salicylic Acid for Acne


Acne plagues multitudes of people to varying degrees. While teenagers make up the largest population of acne sufferers, many adults suffer from the condition as well. Most people, regardless of age, visit the drugstore to purchase acne products as the first step toward treatment. One acne-fighting ingredient commonly seen in drugstore acne products is salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is often a successful treatment for people with mild or sporadic breakouts.


Over-the-counter, or OTC, products may contain one of several acne-fighting chemicals. Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are the two most commonly used ingredients in OTC acne products. Many top-selling acne systems contain salicylic acid as the active ingredient in cleansers, toners and lotions. Salicylic acid is gentle on most skin and has a fairly high success rate when used properly for mild acne breakouts, making it a top choice for consumer acne product companies.


Salicylic acid treatment comes in several forms. Over-the-counter acne cleansers contain about 2 percent salicylic acid. Toners, which are typically applied with a cotton swab after cleansing, may also contain a low concentration of salicylic acid. Additionally, acne-fighting lotions that are applied after washing may contain about 1 to 2 percent salicylic acid. These lotions sit on the skin and work throughout the day, making them particularly effective at acne control. In acne system kits, it is common for one or two products to contain salicylic acid while another contains benzoyl peroxide.


Salicylic acid battles blemishes and clogged pores by correcting abnormal skin-cell shedding, which prevents dead skin cells from clogging pores. It also helps unclog pores to prevent new blemishes from forming. Salicylic acid is in the aspirin family and is effective at reducing inflammation and redness. According to the American Academy of Dermatology's AcneNet, salicylic acid treatment must be continuous or else new breakouts may occur. Salicylic acid is most effective at treating blackheads and small blemishes or pustules. It is less effective at treating large nodules or cystic acne, which should be evaluated by a dermatologist. Results from salicylic acid treatment may be seen in as little as two weeks, with gradual improvement continuing over several weeks or months.

Side Effects

Salicylic acid carries few side effects for most people. Mild irritation or stinging may occur in people with sensitive skin but will often subside as the skin adjusts to treatment. Popping or squeezing blemishes is typically not recommended, but doing so may leave small open wounds, which will sting when salicylic acid is applied in astringent or lotion form. Tingling or stinging typically subsides within about five minutes after applying salicylic acid. According to MedlinePlus Drug Information, salicylic acid may rarely cause more extreme side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, fast breathing or headache. These symptoms should be reported to a doctor immediately.


Salicylic acid is safe for most people and most cases of acne, but it may be ineffective for some. Severe cases of acne, particularly large cystic acne, should be evaluated by a dermatologist right away to avoid severe or disfiguring scars from forming. Salicylic acid will likely have no effect on moderate to severe chronic acne, and adequate treatment should not be delayed while waiting to see if salicylic acid will be effective. Anyone seeking treatment from a dermatologist should discuss any OTC products that have been used or are being used currently. In addition, women who are pregnant or nursing should not begin an acne treatment regimen prior to discussing options with an OB/GYN. Salicylic acid in its oral form has shown evidence of being harmful to a developing baby. According to BabyCenter, concentrations of 2 percent salicylic acid or less applied topically may be considered safe, but consulting with an OB/GYN or dermatologist prior to initiating treatment is always recommended.

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