What is Salicylic Acid and how can it help my skin?

Salicylic acid (sal acid) is a beta-hydroxy acid chemically related to aspirin that has been used topically for a wide variety of purposes for decades. Today, we will explore the benefits of this over-the-counter acne favorite:

Why is Sal Acid used for acne treatment?

  • The main reason sal acid is used for acne is because it is a ‘keratolytic.’ This means it breaks down and exfoliates dead skin cells.  Sal acid is particularly good for the blocked pore (comedonal) type of acne because it penetrates the hair follicle and helps keep the pores from getting clogged.  Typically for acne, sal acid is used in 0.5 – 2% strengths.
  • To a much lesser degree then benzoyl peroxide, sal acid is also anti-inflammatory – meaning it minimizes the redness associated with acne breakouts. In addition, sal acid has some anti-bacterial effects, helping to reduce the number of acne causing bacteria on the skin.

Why is Sal Acid great for desi skin?

Sal acid is great for gently but effectively reducing blocked pore type of acne.  It is also great for helping to lighten any discoloration or hyperpigmentation that result from the acne as it heals in ethnic skin.  Even sensitive skin can typically tolerate low concentrations of sal acid.  One way to reap the benefits of sal acid while minimizing the irritation is to use sal acid as a wash.

What are some good products containing Sal Acid?

  • My favorite sal acid washes include: Neutrogena 2% sal acid wash – it is slightly drying so great for oily skin patients. If you are looking for a more moisturizing sal acid wash Olay Total Effects Daily Cleanser Plus Blemish Control is great and typically under $10.
  •  Sal acid pads are also an effective treatment, particularly for those with oily skin or after the gym/ exercise when you cannot wash your face. Neutrogena, Stridex, and Noxzema all make great sal acid pad options.

How else can Sal Acid be used?

  1. Chemical peels:   In higher concentrations (typically 20- 30%) sal acid can be administered as a chemical peel by your dermatologist. The sal acid concentrates in the oil glands and blocked pores and helps minimize further breakouts. Sal acid also helps to exfoliate and improve brown spots and scars that may result from acne.   It is a great adjunctive therapy for acne and has minimal down-time.
  2. Wart and callus removal:   In concentrations up to 40% sal acid may be used to exfoliate dead skin cells such as in warts and calluses.
  3. Seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis:   Sal acid can remove the scaling skin of these disorders.

Sal Acid or Benzoyl Peroxide for my acne?

Benzoyl peroxide is more effective for inflamed acne while sal acid can help those individuals with just blocked pores. Better yet, try both — for example, a BP wash daily and sal acid pads after the gym. One caveat is that salicylic acid may produce allergies in those allergic to aspirin so be sure to check with your physician before starting. However, for those who can tolerate it,  Sal acid is a great over-the-counter med to incorporate into your daily regimen. Your new, clear skin will thank you!

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