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What Does Salicylic Acid do?

How Does Salicylic Acid Work?

Salicylic acid is such an amazing ingredient and quite unique in how it works. It's used in many over the counter products designed for spots, breakouts, blackheads and oily skin. Salicylic acid is oil soluble, which means that when applied it works within the pore, with regular use the dirt, dead skin, bacteria and oil causing the blockage will reduce, the pore will reduce in size and the oil that was once blocked will be able to flow through the pore, this is important as our skin's natural oil (sebum) keeps our skin nourished, healthy and supple. Clean pores lead to clearer looking skin.

Salicylic also works pretty quickly, when applied in the evening it should give some great results by the time you wake up next morning. Most people notice a reduction in the size and redness of a breakout quite quickly when using salicylic acid.

How Exactly Does Salicylic Acid Work?

Let's break down the science of salicylic acid to make it a little easier to understand.

Salicylic Acid Formula

Salicylic acid is a BHA or a beta hydroxy acid. The hydroxy part of the molecule is separated from the acid part by two carbon atoms, as opposed to an alpha hydroxy acid such as glycolic acid or lactic acid where are separated by one carbon atom. Interesting to know but lets get in to the science of why it works.

Salicylic Acid is a Keratolytic Agent

Keratolytics are acids that disrupt the adhesions between the Keratinocytes thus causing shedding of these layers, what this basically means is that salicylic acid helps to soften or dissolve the glue like substance that holds the dead skin layers on to the surface, meaning that these dead skin cells simply fall off without the need for any scrubbing. 

Salicylic acid is lipophilic

Salicylic acid belongs to a class of ingredients called salicylates. It's lipophilic meaning it can dissolve in lipids or fats. This is why Salicylic acid is recommended for oily skin with complaints such as breakouts, whiteheads, blackheads, blocked pores and redness/inflammation (as long as the skin isn't broken or irritated) as it can work through the oils to get deep in to the pores which is where our breakouts begin.

Because of it's oil soluble properties, salicylic acid can be too irritating for dry or sensitive skin, meaning it should be used less, applied directly to spots rather than all over or avoided completely. Because of it's anti-inflammatory properties, it may be suitable for people with mild, non sensitive rosacea but should not be considered as a treatment.

Does Salicylic Acid Help Acne?

Acne is a medical condition and should be treated at such. Salicylic acid is not an acne treatment but is suitable for acne prone skin and the keratolytic (exfoliating) action may help by reducing the dead skin that can block the pores, by removing the dead skin and excess oil it can also help any topical products work more efficiently, allowing the treatment to work deeper within the skin.  

Is salicylic acid only suitable for use on the face?

No, you can use salicylic acid anywhere you have breakouts or blackheads, it’s fantastic if you experience breakouts on the chest or back and can also help with keratosis pilaris. Avoid sensitive areas such as the genitals (yes we’ve had people ask if it can be used directly on these areas, if you have breakouts there, consult your GP).

Who Should Avoid Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic acid is unsuitable for anyone under the age of 3 and we also don’t recommend it for use during pregnancy or breastfeeding. It’s only suitable for use on humans, surprisingly we have had emails asking if it can be used on dogs who have blackheads, do not use it on your pets, they really don’t care if they have blackheads.

Which salicylic acid containing skin-care products should I use?


Salicylic acid peel UK

Regular breakouts and blackheads.

Salicylic Acid 2% If your skin is more often breaking out than it is clear, a salicylic acid chemical peel would be the best choice. Our salicylic acid has the maximum strength allowed for an over the counter product which is 2%, that may seem low but Salicylic Acid is much stronger than other acids, and therefore it is highly effective in lower percentage solutions. What makes our salicylic acid unique is that it's not diluted with a large list of ingredients and it has a low, acidic PH of 3. While it can be left on the skin, we recommend rinsing off, find out more from our YouTube video HERE.


Salicylic acid face wash


A few blemishes here and there.

Our Purifying Gel Cleanser is a deep cleansing, non foaming oil-free salicylic acid face wash, which thoroughly removes excess oil and surface impurities. It also contains glycolic acid, and natural enzymes help to exfoliate the skin, helping to remove dead skin cells.

Our Aloe Vera based cleansing gel is perfect for oily, problem skin thanks to the wonderful blend of deep cleansing ingredients. Glycolic helps the skin to naturally shed the dead skin cells which cause our pores to get clogged leaving the skin looking dull and unhealthy while the salicylic acid (BHA) works deep in the pores helping to reduce the size of enlarged pores and to clear blackheads. With regular use, skin becomes clearer, smoother and brighter.


Acid toner green


Easy Routine, regular breakouts, non sensitive skin.


Detoxifying Eucalyptus Toner If you don’t like a lot of fuss with your skincare routine then an acid toner would be the perfect choice. Our Detoxifying Eucalyptus Toner is a very effective, facial astringent recommended only for non sensitive oily and spotty skin. It leaves skin feeling ultra clean and helps to prevent blocked pores and blemishes. 

With a PH 3.8, the balancing pH levels of this toner help to fight bacteria, reduce oil production and blemishes. The high content of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids effectively accelerates exfoliation of the skin's dead cells, while Salicylic acid works within the pores to help clear blockages and congestion.

Very easy to use, simply apply to a cotton pad and sweep over the skin after cleansing, use when needed, we recommend once every other day.



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