a young woman smiling in the mirror and applying skin serum to her face

4 benefits of salicylic acid

04 Jun 2023


Salicylic acid is now available in a range of skincare products, as well as prescription-strength formula.

It is also well known as a treatment for blemish and pimple-prone skin.

So if you have got oily skin or suffer from a pesky blackhead or two, then listen up, as salicylic acid could be for you.

Here we look at some of the benefits and applications of salicylic acid.

What is salicylic acid?

Acids have been a popular ingredient in skincare products for the last few years. Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid, derived from willow bark, as well as fruits and vegetables, which helps to exfoliate the skin and keep pores clear.1

A beta-hydroxy acid is one where the hydroxy part of the molecule is separated from the acid part by two carbon atoms.

This structure makes it more oil-soluble, allowing it to penetrate deeper into the pores of the skin.2

How should salicylic acid be used?

Salicylic acid is available in a range of skincare products, so it is easy to incorporate one or more of these into your usual cleansing routine, which you should follow both morning and evening.

For a basic skincare routine, you cannot beat a cleanse, tone and moisturise:

Step 1: Remove your make-up and wash your face using a salicylic acid cleanser or salicylic acid soap.

Step 2: Use a toner. A toner is designed to provide hydration and remove dead skin cells, as well as prime the skin for your moisturiser and make-up.

Step 3: Applying a moisturiser will help to hydrate your skin and keep it healthy. A common myth is that if you have oily skin you do not need to apply moisturiser. However, it will provide the skin with moisture and stop it from overproducing oil.3

You can also add a salicylic acid peel to your skincare routine every two to four weeks, depending on your skin’s condition.

A salicylic peel will help to combat oily skin as well as rejuvenating the skin.4

The benefits of salicylic acid for skin

Hailed as a hero ingredient by beauty editors and skincare specialists across the world, salicylic acid has lots of benefits for your skin.

Helps spot-prone skin

Blackheads, whiteheads and pimples occur when your pores become full of dead skin cells and oil.

Salicylic acid penetrates the skin and helps to unclog your pores. It can take a few weeks to see the full effects of this.5

Removes dead skin cells

We all know how important it is to exfoliate two or three times each week and salicylic acid has exfoliating properties.

It helps to purify and exfoliate the skin, removing dead skin cells that build up on the surface.6

This exfoliating action helps your skin to look and feel really clean.

Decreases oil secretion

Suffering from an oily T-zone or just oily skin in general?

Salicylic acid could be your skincare saviour. It helps to reduce the amount of oil that is produced by your oil glands.

As well as making your skin appear less oily, it will also mean that it is less likely that new spot-causing blockages will form or grow, meaning that you will be less likely to suffer from breakouts.7

Reduces the appearance of redness

Salicylic acid has some properties that help to reduce the redness that is associated with some spots.8

This can help to reduce some of the pulsing or throbbing sensations that can often come with large spots.

Can you use salicylic acid on your body?

As well as for use on the face, you can also get salicylic body wash.

On the body, it works in just the same way as the face. Salicylic acid helps to clear away dead skin cells and impurities from the surface of the skin, as well as alleviate spot-prone skin and improving skin texture.9

Are there any side effects associated with salicylic acid?

Salicylic acid is considered safe to use on the skin. However, as with all skincare products, it is important to be aware of any adverse effects that it may have. Always carry out a patch test before using a new skin product for the first time.  

Potential side effects include skin irritation, removing too much oil resulting in dryness, a tingling or stinging sensation in the skin, itching, peeling and hives. If any of these occur, you should discontinue use.

Shop Natural Beauty

Last updated: 5 February 2021

Doaa Almosawi

Expertly reviewed by: Doaa Al Mosawi, Regulatory Affairs

  • Joined Holland & Barrett: March 2019
  • Qualifications: BSc (Hons) in Biomedical Science

After completing her BSc in Biomedical Science, Doaa worked in Research and laboratory for 3 years. Doaa was also a member of a product development team in a manufacturing company specialising in sun care and personal care products, researching and providing regulatory advice regarding international regulations.

Doaa is now an International Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate at Holland & Barrett.