Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Rupali Goswami (Beauty Expert) on 23rd Feb 2021

Is Salicylic Acid Safe for Skin? How to use topical Salicylic Acid 

How to use topical Salicylic Acid

There are hundreds of skin problems, but the most annoying ones are blackheads and whiteheads, which, let us remind you, clog your pores and cause acne. Both these skin concerns are problematic and very hard to get rid of because of their stubborn nature to sit underneath your skin and don't want to leave until you tear your skin apart by using harsh exfoliants, popping, rubbing, or pinching them.

Our skin is too delicate to go through such harsh exfoliation procedures, popping and rubbing to remove blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, or anything stuck inside our pores. This can worsen your skin's condition, resulting in more problematic issues like redness, irritation, and increased inflammation.

If you are concerned about such skin problems and are always trying to find the correct skincare products or ingredients to do the job, then there are various options available to pay attention to your skin the right way. Well, look no further. One such ingredient is called salicylic acid, which is commonly found in skincare products. Salicylic acid can provide several benefits for your skin, like reducing oil production, reduced inflammation, and others.

If you want to know our take on salicylic acid and what other benefits it can provide to your skin, keep on reading. 

What is Salicylic acid? 

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

View details

Salicylic acid is a form of beta-hydroxy acid (which is popularly known as BHA). Alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) are water-soluble acids that remove the skin's surface layer to bring out more evenly pigmented skin cells. At the same time, BHA's are more oil-soluble acids that are known to penetrate deeper into the skin to pull out any excess sebum, dead skin cells, and any other debris that may be stuck inside the skin.

When salicylic acid enters the skin layers, it increases moisture and dissolves the substance that makes skin cells stick together. While chemical exfoliants like alpha-hydroxy acid can only exfoliate the skin's surface, a beta-hydroxy acid like salicylic acid can deeply penetrate the skin's pores to remove all blockages.

Salicylic acid can exfoliate your pores to pull out all the unnecessary waste from your skin. This ingredient can be found in many forms, including acne spot treatment, cleansers, peels, toners, and serums. Although not backed by any research, it is believed that some toners, cleansers, and peels should be avoided as they can be a little too harsh on the skin. 

Benefits of Salicylic Acid 

You will be mesmerized by how amazingly Salicylic Acid can benefit your skin, and you would immediately want to incorporate it into your skincare routine. It can be used to treat many skin conditions apart from acne.  

Here are some advantages/benefits that will make you fall in love with this ingredient: 

1. Great exfoliator: 

Sounds great! Isn't it? One of the most amazing benefits that salicylic acid provides is that it works great as an exfoliator. Dead skin cells can cause most of the skin issues that happen now and then. As dead skin cells often get stuck in our pores rather than shedding off, our pores tend to get blocked by a mixture of oils, dead skin cells, and other debris.

Salicylic acid penetrates deeper into the skin, breaks down dead and flaky skin, and helps remove the build-up of bacteria, dirt, and grime to keep your pores clean and far from irritation. It exfoliates and purifies the skin by removing all the unnecessary junk from the pores, promoting healthier skin. 

2. Helps fight acne: 

Salicylic acid is known to be a key ingredient in skincare products made specifically for oily skin. Salicylic acid is also lipophilic (a chemical compound that dissolves lipids, fats, and oils). It works great for oily skin by penetrating clogged pores and providing a deep cleaning needed to reduce acne breakouts. It also helps fight acne because of its ability to regulate and decrease sebum production.

Overproduction and excessive oil on the skin can lead to clogged pores, which can, in turn, lead to a lot more problems.  

3. Takes-off excess oil: 

Do you know who the major culprit is for clogged pores, blemishes, dead skin cells? Oily skin! That's right. Oily skin does not just attract dirt and pollutants but is also responsible for trapping bacteria and irritants inside the skin that can further cause inflammation in the skin.

Salicylic acid helps break down the fatty compounds on the skin's surface that contain natural oils and sebum. It can help decrease the sebum levels and clear out excess oils, which can also help with the appearance of pores. 

4. Reduce blemishes: 

Some of Salicylic acid's lesser-known benefits are its potential to reduce blemishes and treat hyperpigmentation on the skin. It helps reduce the discoloration that takes place due to sun damage, product damage, acne, excessive melanin production, or any other reason. Salicylic acid also helps even-out the skin-tone.  

5. Effective as an astringent: 

Astringent plays an important role in defining the appearance of pores. It is a liquid-based formula that comes in both forms, alcohol-based and alcohol-free. Salicylic acid as a toner can help cleanse the skin, tighten pores, and dry out excess oil. All this will help your skin look and feel more smooth and youthful. 

6. Prevents whiteheads and blackheads: 

Salicylic acid is known to be the most beneficial for people dealing with acne-prone skin. Certain areas on our face are more prone to whiteheads and blackheads, particularly the forehead, nose, and chin. Salicylic acid targets these issues directly and prevents them from coming back to the skin's surface layer. Salicylic acid helps break down the bond between cells in the outer layers of the skin. 

7. Reduces inflammation: 

Salicylic acid is an ingredient extracted from the willow bark's tress known to soothe the skin and calm inflammation. It helps address rashes, red patches, blisters, and irritation caused due to acne breakouts. Salicylic acid also helps calm down the burning, stinging, and itching.  

8. Help clean clogged pores: 

As salicylic acid is oil-soluble, it can penetrate pores and help unchain the bond, making skin cells stick together and remove all the debris from blocked pores that can lead to certain skin problems like acne, bumpy texture, rashes, whiteheads, and blackheads. 

How to use Salicylic acid topically? 

As everyone's skin is different, the concentration amount of salicylic acid depends on person to person. A dermatologist should discuss it because they would examine your skin better and suggest you with the right concentration and how often it should target a specific skin concern. Like every other product, it is recommended to use salicylic acid in moderation until you know for sure that your skin would tolerate it.

In the beginning, start by applying it in the span of every few days and observe how your skin reacts to it after each application. It is very important to take notice of what your skin is telling you. If you feel like Salicylic acid is irritating your skin, give your skin some time to breathe and focus more on moisturizing as salicylic acid tends to dry out the skin. Always follow the instructions of your doctor. Salicylic acid should be applied just enough to cover the problematic area and gently rub it into the skin.

Salicylic acid can be found easily in many skincare products and any drug store. When it comes to using salicylic acid for acne treatment, you should proceed with a lot of care. The use of salicylic acid depends on how severe your acne is and what's your skin type. While salicylic acid can help reduce acne, it is essential to take medication in severe cases like cystic acne or hormonal breakouts.

As many skincare ingredients like niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, etc., work on the concept of one size fits all, it is not the same with Salicylic acid. 

Side effects of Salicylic acid 

Salicylic acid is mostly recommended to people dealing with oily or acne-prone skin. It should be avoided by dry, sensitive skin dealing with allergies like eczema as such ingredients can cause irritation and make your skin drier.

In some cases, it can cause redness, dryness, burning, and peeling in the skin, especially when you begin with your treatment and stops after some time. Still, if that continues, you should let your dermatologist handle this adverse reaction.

People with allergic reactions to salicylate (caused by salicylic acid or related chemicals) should not use this ingredient in any form. They should seek a doctor's help right away. 


Every ingredient has its advantages and disadvantages and works differently on different people depending on their skin type. Salicylic acid is a tender/gentle exfoliant that can help with many skin concerns like acne, blemishes, blackheads, whiteheads, hyperpigmentation, keeps your oils in check, and many other benefits. If you are more on the sensitive & oilier side than salicylic acid, it can benefit your skin in several ways, but this might not work for you if you belong to the drier side.