Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Aheli Sen (Fashion & Beauty Expert) on 28th Jan 2021

The Benefits of Using a Salicylic Acid Face Wash 

Using a Salicylic Acid Face Wash

From the olden times, there have been ingredients that have remained an intrinsic part of skincare. Tea tree oil, vitamin c, and salicylic acid have been around for the longest time. Each of these ingredients has been a bomb element for a specific skin type. Salicylic acid face washes have been specially placed in the world of skincare meant for people with oily or acne-prone skin.

So what is salicylic acid, why has it been around for such a long time, and why does it work wonders, particularly for a specific skin type?  

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The Basics of Salicylic Acid 

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It is a beta hydroxy acid or, as is more popular these days, BHA. It is an organic acid that is almost crystalline. Salicylic acid is sourced from natural compounds from plants. The term salicylic acid is derived from the plant's scientific name from which it is sourced, called the white willow tree. Its scientific term is "Salix Alba." It is derived from the barks of the tree, which is then turned into a powder form.

Before your face cleansers, foams, milk, lotions, creams, gels and serums are formulated with salicylic acid, it is filtered with oxidants to finally derive a form that’s good for the skin.  

The other plants from which the same is extracted are: 

  • Nut trees and bushes. 
  • Sweet Potato. 
  • Olive Oil. 
  • Beverage plants like tea and coffee.
  • Beer, too, has salicylic acid sources in it. 

It is often termed a multi-tasker in the world of skincare. Why? 

Let us discuss the variety of uses a salicylic acid facial cleanser has on the skin: 

  • It is used to treat acne. What happens is that a salicylic acid face wash is a wonderful drying agent. It soaks up all the pus, water, and oil that an acne pustule has, thereby making the pimple turn into a smaller, dried version of its previous self. It penetrates the lipid layers of the skin to extract the oil from the deep layers.   
  • It is used to treat sunburns. Salicylic acid stops sunburn induced by UVB rays of the sun. Topical application of the acid prevents the tyrosinase from coming into action that means the process of excess melanin production is stopped by salicylic acid. However, it only concerns UVB rays. Thus, it is recommended to mix some salicylic into the sunscreen that protects you from just the UVA rays of the sun
  • It is used to treat psoriasis. A peeling agent, salicylic acid face wash, causes the outer layer of the skin to shed. When a person's skin is affected by psoriasis, salicylic acid peels off the skin's scaly first layer that smooths out the skin and gives the appearance of healed psoriasis. 
  • It is used to treat ichthyosis. It is a genetic disease that has no cure. However, topical application of salicylic acid in the form of a face wash or other forms is useful as it improves the skin's appearance by exfoliating the top layer making it look smooth. It also helps improve the other symptoms of having ichthyosis. 
  • It is an excellent exfoliator. The salicylic acid face wash is considered a keratolytic medication; what that means is that when it breaks down the oil mass binding dead skin cells, it promotes the cell turnover ratio. Exfoliation occurs naturally in our skin. However, with time, the skin matures, and its independent exfoliation property is lost. This is when external agents come to play and drive our skin to exfoliate. Salicylic acid causes sloughing of the top layers of the skin. 
  • It is used to reduce inflammation. The inflammation on the skin from stubborn acne usually subdues. Especially where the bacteria infestation and pus make the skin go red, and it hurts to touch. The second it dries out the oil, the binding of the dead skin cells is lost. When this happens, the bacteria that were infesting the skin lose their breeding ground and die out. This helps the skin flatten out, and the inflammation gets better.
  • It is used to prevent acne. As salicylic acid in a face wash penetrates the skin's deeper layers to suck out the excess oil from the skin thoroughly. It prevents the formation of dead skin cells and oil, which turns into a breeding ground for bacteria that gives rise to acne. This is how it prevents further pimple formation on the skin. 

However, a salicylic acid face wash does come with some drawbacks of its own. Here are some: 

  • It is a drying agent. Even though this helps with acne, the harsh effects of its drying property often leave the skin too dry, inflamed, and extremely itchy—especially when used in high concentrations in products or when left on the skin for longer than prescribed. 
  • It can cause a severe burning sensation on the skin. Again, this happens as salicylic acid is an exfoliator is a beta hydroxy acid and can slough away dead skin cells. However, it is always recommended to be kept on the skin for not long, and when one forgets to take it off over the prescribed period, the person ends up with red, raw skin and a severe burning sensation. 
  • Salicylic acid has properties very similar to those of aspirin. Thus, people allergic to aspirins should stay away from using salicylic acid as often these people suffer from allergies to the acid.
  • People with sensitive skin should steer clear of using salicylic acid. Sensitive skin tends to get inflamed and can break out when it comes under duress from any product that does not suit it.  
  • Doctors also prohibit women who are either pregnant or breast-feeding from applying salicylic acid. 

So for the people who have oily skin and are looking for how to use salicylic acid face washes, the following should clear your doubts: 

  • Salicylic face washes can be used daily when used in a concentration of 0.5 to 2%. 
  • It can be used twice a day to keep the skin fresh and dirt-free. 
  • Follow it up with a hydrating toner to balance out the skin's pH balance as salicylic acid can dry out the skin. 
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  • As part of acne treatment, make sure to not keep the concentrated salicylic acid on the skin for too long. 
  • Always start using such treatments at a low concentration and give the skin time to get used to it before climbing up the concentration ladder. 
  • Use a good water-based gel or moisturizer to ensure that the dried skin has enough water to look plump and hydrated. 
  • Use a good sunscreen (30 or above) to protect the skin from the harmful rays of the sun and put some salicylic acid to counter the UVB reactions. Exfoliated skin is more prone to sun damage and taking extra precautions is a must, especially when you're out in the sun. 

The Last Word: 

A true and tested anti-acne agent, salicylic acid in face washes, is effective. However, the small disclaimer for all those with skin that breaks out from having cystic ovaries: no ingredient or product can help cure the same until and unless the cyst is cured and taken care of.

That being said, if you're still wondering what to do about your acne, start with washes that contain salicylic acid because that'll definitely be a positive start.