Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Rithi Choudhary (Journalist) on 19th Jan 2021

Salicylic Acid Body Wash - How it Works and Who Should Use It?

Salicylic Acid Body Wash: Who Should Use It?

What if we told you that our favorite Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) - Salicylic Acid is not just limited for facial use but can also effectively treat those pesky little bumps on the back (bacne), arms, underarms, and on the derriere?

Salicylic acid can not only deep cleanse the clogged pores on the face but also break those plugs of grime in the rest of the body to give you Goddess-like skin you have always dreamt of. 

Salicylic Acid 101 

If you are an oily-skinned beauty, then you probably are already BFFs with this sebum regulating BHA. But for those who are new to the concept of Salicylic Acid, welcome!

This wonderful beta-hydroxy acid derived from white willow and wintergreen is a skin-friendly acid. This acid regulates excess sebum (natural skin oil) production, penetrates deep into the pores to dissolve the plug of oxidized oil and debris, that is, comedones commonly termed blackheads/whiteheads, and mildly exfoliates the skin by promoting cellular turnover.

Apart from that, Salicylic Acid is also anti-inflammatory and antibacterial and thus is soothing for acne-prone skin, which is susceptible to inflammation.  

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Benefits of Salicylic Acid for the Skin 

  • Clears Comedones: Salicylic acid molecules are small enough and can penetrate deep into the pores to break the oil plugs composed of grime and dead skin cells congesting the skin. It clears not only stubborn blackheads and whiteheads but also keeps future comedones at bay. 
  • Prevents New Breakouts: Salicylic Acid is antibacterial and antifungal, and therefore, it wards off pimple-causing germs.  
  • Regulates Sebum: Excess oil in the skin makes it easier for dirt and bacteria to get trapped inside the pores and leading to acne flare-ups. Salicylic acid tackles that by reducing excess oil production. 
  • Exfoliates Dead Skin Cells: Salicylic Acid is a keratolytic agent; that is, it sheds skin cells and thereby acts as an exfoliant by lifting the layer of dead skin cells. 
  • Treats Seborrheic Dermatitis: Seborrheic dermatitis is a skin condition that causes scaly and red patchy skin, mostly on the scalp but can also affect other oily areas of the body such as the face, back, chest. As salicylic acid is a keratolytic agent, it helps reduce the flakiness on the skin. 

Who Should Use Salicylic Acid? 

Unfortunately, acne does not limit itself to our faces and can show up on other areas of the body. This is where the acne-fighting acid in its antibacterial armor comes to the rescue. You must be familiar with salicylic acid in face washes and leave-on forms, but did you know this BHA also comes in shampoos and body washes?

If you have bumpy skin due to body acne or ingrown hair, a bottle of salicylic acid-enriched body wash will be your holy grail for attaining smooth crystal skin.

Generally, we tend to overlook the skin on the rest of our body while paying all the tender loving care (TLC) to our facial skin. But the skin on the body needs exfoliation once every week to get rid of the dead skin cells. While beaded scrubs shed dead skin cells, they also cause micro-tears on the skin's surface. These grainy scrubs cannot penetrate deep into the pores to dissolve oil plugs and dead skin cells, unlike salicylic acid. This is why salicylic acid wins over as a body exfoliant instead of being an ideal choice for treating acne. 

Reasons for Bumpy Skin on the Body: Bacne, Keratosis Pilaris, and Ingrown Hair 

Back acne or, as christened by the internet, bacne is acne/pimples that pop up on the back. The reasons are obvious- excess oil and accumulation of dead skin cells in the pores. Bacne is more than you think because it can be challenging to clean the back thoroughly & when was the last time you scrubbed/exfoliated your back?

Acne on the chest and arms occurs for the very same reason. If you are sure it isn't acne, it could very well be an excess of keratin deposit clogging the pores and causing bumpy skin (keratosis pilaris).

Ingrown hair (Pseudofolliculitis barbae), on the other hand, is the body hair that grows sideways inside the skin (without rising) after shaving. These hairs clog hair follicles and result in rough, bumpy skin seldom filled with pus.

Who Should Stay Away From Salicylic Acid?

While salicylic acid is a boon for oily skin, both individuals with dry and sensitive skin should avoid using salicylic acid on the face since it can be even more drying and irritating.

But the skin on the body is thicker than the skin on the face, and therefore a salicylic acid body wash can be used after a patch test. Use a good moisturizer later.

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The Right Way to Use Salicylic Acid 

While salicylic acid can deliver excellent results when used in the right concentration, overusing it can cause dryness and irritation.

It should be kept in mind that salicylic acid reduces excess oil production and exfoliates the skin surface. But excess salicylic acid, that is, using it frequently, can not only strip off too much of the oil from the skin but also over-exfoliate leading to dryness and irritation.

Generally, if you'd use a leave-on salicylic acid product, we'd recommend starting with a lower concentration, that is, 1% only if you are new to salicylic acid. Otherwise, if your skin is used to salicylic acid, we'd recommend the maximum strength, which is 2%. Try: Minimalist Salicylic Acid 2%

But in a wash-off form, 2% is fine to begin with since it will be washed off after a few minutes anyway. Now, this brings up the next point, that is, how long to keep the wash-off form on the skin? The right way to do it is by lathering up the product and allowing the lather to sit on the skin for about two-three minutes to allow the salicylic acid molecules to work. Moisturize with a non-comedogenic moisturizer later to combat the dryness caused by salicylic acid.

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Tip:

Moisturize your skin while it is still damp. Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen of minimum SPF 30 to protect the newly revealed cells after exfoliation from sun damage

The Side Effects of Using Salicylic Acid 

Salicylic acid is generally a safe ingredient when used in the right concentration. It is safe to be used even in pregnancy. However, for extra precaution, always consult your doctor first.

Common side effects of Salicylic Acid are: 

  • Peeling  
  • Stinging or burning sensation 
  • Redness
  • Irritation  
  • Dryness  
  • Hives 

Since salicylic acid is a pretty powerful exfoliant on its own, please do not use it together with other chemical exfoliants like benzoyl peroxide, glycolic acid, lactic acid

Note:

During the initial days of using a salicylic acid-based body wash, you may experience a flare-up of body acne, but that is nothing to worry about. It is only a natural reaction of the human body to an exfoliating acid termed purging. Salicylic acid effectively pushes out the dirt, debris, and oxidized oil to the skin surface before its maturation and ensures clear skin later. Purging usually subsides in about two to three weeks.