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How Does Salicylic Acid Work for Acne?

How Does Salicylic Acid Work for Acne? How Does Salicylic Acid Work for Acne?

Keratolytic Agent

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says salicylic acid is in a class of medications called keratolytic (peeling) agents. Salicylic acid encourages the sloughing of the top layer of skin (epidermis) and the opening of plugged follicles. This peeling effect helps to reinstate the natural skin-cell replacement rotation.


According to the Mayo Clinic, salicylic acid is used to treat many skin disorders including dandruff, calluses, corns, warts and acne. The NIH says topical salicylic acid can help prevent and treat pimples and skin blemishes. It works by reducing swelling and redness and unplugging blocked skin pores, causing pimples to shrivel. says salicylic acid generally works well in cases of mild acne.


The NIH says topical salicylic acid is available in a variety of strengths, including prescription level potency. It's also contained in several over-the-counter acne lotions, creams and medicated pads. Salicylic acid may cause your skin to become irritated and dry when you first begin treatment, but over time those reactions should dissipate. If your skin becomes scaly, a light oil-free moisturizer should solve the problem. In the beginning, your acne may actually intensify as your skin gets used to the medication. It may take a number of weeks before the effects of salicylic acid are realized.


To use the topical solution form (cream, gel, lotion) of salicylic acid for acne, moisten a cotton ball or pad with the solution and wipe the affected areas. Do not wash or rinse off the medication, but allow it to penetrate your skin. The frequency of application varies for different patients. Follow the directions on the product label or adhere to the instructions recommended by your doctor. Salicylic acid is only effective with continued use. Acne may return once treatment ceases.

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