Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Sritama Dutta (Medical Science)  on 04th Jan 2021

Does Salicylic Acid serum help reduce open pores? Hear it from the experts.

Does Salicylic Acid serum help reduce open pores?

Open pores, also dubbed as large pores, are a major cosmetic concern. Those with big pores over the years must have subjected their skin to aggressive treatments, including harsh physical exfoliants and scrubbing, baking soda DIYs from the internet, squeezing, pore vacuum to milder remedies like a clay mask and steaming.

But the question is, does all that painstaking effort deliver any result except bruised skin and damaged skin barrier? The answer lies in your mirror. But don't be disheartened just yet because your battle against large pores and resulting whiteheads/blackheads is not lost. We are here with the final solution to your open-pore woes. 

Open Pores 101

Let us get something straight - pores are not doors that open or close at their own will or through external pressure. They cannot do that since they do not have any muscle around them to help them. Pores are tiny openings on the skin's surface (stratum corneum) that allow the skin to breathe, allow passage of moisture, and secretion of essential oils (sebum) to protect and lubricate the skin.

The size of the pores on one's skin is mostly determined by genetics. People with dry skin usually have finer pores, whereas those with oily skin have larger pores. The pores also tend to get larger as one ages because of the loosening of collagen. Collagen is responsible for the skin's elasticity and plumpness.

Another reason for the large appearance of pores is when it is clogged with dirt, grime, and sebum which oxidizes inside the pores. These are what we call whiteheads and blackheads.

The minor difference between blackheads (open comedones) and whiteheads (closed comedones), apart from their noticeable color difference, is that the pore with blackhead remains open. Hence they are much easier to extract while a pore with whitehead remains closed; that is, the tiny heap of dead skin cells, sebum, and grime does not push itself out of the pore. 

How To Minimise Open Pores? 

If pores do not open and close, then how can one minimize them? The appearance of large pores can be considerably minimized if they are kept clean; that is, they are not clogged, and the skin is firm and tight. Sounds simple right? But breaking the oil plug that clogs the pores is not easy because your regular facewash cannot do that. Think of your stratum corneum (top layer of the skin) as a layer of bricks (cells) that are held together by collagen. When dead skin cells are trapped inside the bricks' gaps, the pores, together with sebum and dirt, lead to comedones. These dead skin cells are glued together, and it is not easy to break this bond since regular face washes are either not potent or not penetrative enough to go deep inside the cells.

So what is the solution? The answer is the noble Beta Hydroxy Acid - Salicylic Acid. Salicylic acid is a dermatologist's favorite for oily, acne-prone skin. This potent BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid) minimizes excess oil production, unclogs pores, and exfoliates the skin.

For those who are new to 'Salicylic Acid' and perhaps puzzled at the mention of an acid, which is supposed to be a nasty ingredient, it turns out that not all acids are evil. Skin-friendly acids are misunderstood as skin-friendly alcohols, which are good for the skin and hair. For example, lactic acid exfoliates dead skin cells and hydrates. Cetyl alcohol, an alcohol derived from coconut that hydrates, etc.

Hence, salicylic acid is a skin-friendly acid that can work wonders for oily, acne-prone skin used in the right concentration and formulation. 

Benefits of Salicylic Acid for Skin

  • Salicylic acid is a favorite among dermatologists when it comes to treating acne. While it does not help kill acne-causing bacteria, it helps unclog the pores (being a Beta Hydroxy Acid, an exfoliant) and removes excess oil from the skin.

Dr. Andrea Suarez, MD, Board-certified dermatologist ,popularly known as Dr. Dray on the internet, recommends Salicylic Acid to eliminate whiteheads/blackheads effectively. Says,

Well, honestly, one of the ways that are most helpful for, at least kind of, controlling blackheads is to use a salicylic acid-based face wash in the areas that are plagued by the blackheads.

  • Salicylic Acid Breaks Down Dead Skin Cells: Salicylic acid breaks the bond between dead skin cells and promotes cellular turnover. 
  • Treats Seborrheic Dermatitis: A skin/scalp condition similar to dandruff characterized by an itchy scalp and oily, flaky skin. Salicylic acid is an effective ingredient to treat seborrheic dermatitis related scaling. Face cleansers and shampoos containing salicylic acid can be used daily to reduce flakiness. Recommends board-certified dermatologist Dr. Andrea Suarez, M. D.   
  • Controls excess sebum: "Salicylic acid is oil-loving. So, it concentrates there. And it really can help break up, it breaks up that keratin plug". However, salicylic acid can be drying. Therefore, be mindful of using it as a spot treatment on only the acne-prone area and following up with a non-comedogenic/oil-free moisturizer.  

"I recommend a leave-on salicylic acid-based gel or liquid applied to the skin and left on the place while you sleep," says Dr. Dray. 

Salicylic Acid 2% Face Serum
Salicylic Acid 2% Face Serum
Salicylic Acid 2% Face Serum
Salicylic Acid 2% Face Serum

Salicylic Acid 2% Face Serum

₹ 545

When to use: PM

Frequency: Alternate days

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She recommends starting with a face wash form for new or a beginner to salicylic acid. "If you have been using salicylic acid for years and do not get irritated or excessively dried from it, you may try a leave-on salicylic acid product." She suggests a leave-on salicylic acid in 1% (less irritating) or 2% (maximum strength) concentration around the blackhead prone areas. But avoid putting it on the skin around the eyes.

If you are starting with salicylic acid, use a 1% concentration, but if you have been using salicylic acid (in wash off forms), then a 2% concentration, which is the maximum strength, will help.

When using SA in wash-off forms, face washes, massage the product into the affected areas, let it sit for 1-2 minutes, and wash off.  

Salicylic Acid Serum For Skin 

Dr. Vanita Rattan ,dermatologist ,  based in Landon, speaks of Salicylic acid andprefers its formulation over other brands

it helps to decongest the skin, goes into the pore, clears out the pore, and helps prevent further breakouts in the future. It brightens the skin and improves the blemishes that happen from pigmentation. it is good for oily, acne-prone skin.

Side Effects of Salicylic Acid 

Like with every other cosmetic ingredient, when not used in the right concentration and formulation, Salicylic Acid can lead to the following side effects: 

  • Too much salicylic acid strips the essential oils from the skin leading to excessive dryness and flaking.
  • Swelling and burning sensation in the skin/scalp, although it is rare. 
  • Skin rash and peeing. 
  • Difficulty in breathing and dizziness, which is rare. 
  • Hives. 

DOs and DON'Ts for open pores

  • Avoid using bar soaps on your face. Some ingredients in bar soaps can clog pores.  
  • Avoid comedogenic ingredients in skincare and makeup. Look for the term 'non-comedogenic' when buying skincare products.  
  • Avoid scrubbing the face with harsh physical exfoliants that will only cause micro-tears on the skin and more flakiness. You do not want more dead skin cells to clog your pores. 
  • Always, always take off every trace of makeup before going to bed.
  • Never skip applying sunscreen, be it rain or sunshine. UV rays destroy collagen and loosen the skin. This makes the size of the pores more pronounced.   
  • Look for products with Niacinamide as it is a wonderful ingredient that controls sebum production.
Niacinamide 5% Face Serum
Niacinamide 5% Face Serum
Niacinamide 5% Face Serum
Niacinamide 5% Face Serum

Niacinamide 5% Face Serum

₹ 595

When to use: AM / PM

Frequency: Everyday

View details