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The Ultimate Guide to Salicylic Acid

The Ultimate Guide to Salicylic Acid

Acids in your skincare products? Yep, it's a thing. Using certain acid-based skincare ingredients to improve the skin is nothing new. Skincare companies have been formulating with them for what seems like forever, and dermatologists have recommended them for hundreds of years.

One skincare acid that deserves a spot in every teenager's skincare routine if breakouts, blackheads, and whiteheads are a concern is salicylic acid. Using salicylic acid for the benefit of improving the skin is widely used, yet if you are new to the ingredient, there are some basic dos and don'ts to know before working it into your routine. No matter if you start with a salicylic acid cleanser, a salicylic acid body wash, a salicylic acid serum, or a salicylic acid spot treatment, knowing the benefits to expect from it and how to use it will put you one step ahead and on the path to better skin.

What is Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic acid is a popular skincare ingredient that keeps the skin pimple-free and reduces the chance of breakouts. This commonly used ingredient, derived from the willow tree bark, is technically a beta hydroxy acid (BHA). It is best known for its ability to safely and gently exfoliate the skin by dissolving dead skin and oil, helping to unclog pores, and its bacteria-fighting capabilities. BHAs are oil soluble, allowing them to penetrate deep into the skin and work their magic. 

One of the main salicylic acid benefits is that it helps with acne and overproductive oil glands. Treating acneic skin with salicylic acid helps to reduce inflammation, unblock clogged pores, and lift away oil so that the pores appear smaller and the skin emerges clearer.

Do I Need to Use Salicylic Acid?

If your skin is oily or you deal with regular breakouts, blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples, then integrating salicylic acid into your teenage skincare routine may be helpful. That's because there are many benefits of salicylic acids for the skin, such as:

  • Fewer clogged pores
  • A decrease in breakouts
  • Improved skin texture
  • The look of smaller pores

While almost all skin types can appreciate salicylic acid's benefits, those with oily, acne-prone skin and congested pores should take notice. That's because salicylic acid acne products are super helpful in treating and even preventing both comedonal and cystic acne—blackheads, whiteheads, and more inflammatory pimples. 

However, even if your skin is pretty clear and breakouts aren't your primary skincare concern, you can still use salicylic acid, especially if you want to help smooth out the uppermost layer of skin so it is softer and more even in tone with a healthy glow. Salicylic acid serums and salicylic acid cleansers are perfect for this purpose, thanks to their exfoliating benefits. That's why some people use salicylic acid for skin concerns like dark post-breakout spots, while others like it to help with dandruff and psoriasis (yes!)

How Salicylic Acid Helps with Acne

If you’re looking to use salicylic acid to treat acne, the best way to start is low and slow. While salicylic acid serums and cleansers can help reduce pimples and breakouts, it’s essential to understand how salicylic acid works for breakouts.  

When an acne breakout forms, the almost invisible hair follicle becomes clogged with dead skin cells and oil. Inflammation also occurs deep within the skin, which dictates how red and severe the pimple will be. Salicylic acid comes into the mix and helps to reduce inflammation while also dissolving the oil and dead skin that contribute to a breakout. Salicylic acid's anti-inflammatory benefits can help reduce the redness, swelling, and inflammation that often occur with pimples while removing oil from the skin.

So, is salicylic acid good for acne? Absolutely, and that's why it's in so many anti-acne products.

Salicylic Acid for Beginners

For beginners, how to use salicylic acid is a commonly asked question, and luckily for you, we cover everything you need to know. For starters, it's always important to look at the percentage of salicylic acid in your skincare products to ensure they are within the proper range. Most over-the-counter products, including TWiiSH, contain two percent salicylic acid or less and buffered or encapsulated salicylic acid, which is easier on the skin. Anything stronger than that requires a prescription from your dermatologist.

If you're looking for a good salicylic acid spot treatment, you'll likely find salicylic acid serums and gels the most common formulas. While we are partial to our salicylic acid spot treatment, Zit Ain't Cuteit's important that you choose one that is powerful enough to unclog congested pores without wreaking havoc on the skin or its skin barrier.

Since some skincare products with salicylic acid can be a little drying, it's best to start with a low percentage as the skin gets adjusted to the ingredient. This is also essential if your skin is naturally dry or more sensitive. Salicylic acid cleansers with hydrating ingredients such as honey extract and glycerin, which you'll find in TWiiSH Peachy Clean gel cleanser, and ceramides will help keep the skin hydrated and mitigate any dryness.

When using skincare products with salicylic acid, it's best to consider other ingredients and avoid using anything aggressive, which isn't necessary for teenage skin anyway. Avoid mixing salicylic acid with vitamin C, retinol, and other acids. The general rule of thumb is that if you are using salicylic acid as an active to help clear up your skin, you don't need anything else harsh with it—but you do need to wear sunscreen to prevent your skin from getting sunburned. It's also important to use salicylic acid and moisturizer to keep the skin from becoming dry.

For all the skin benefits salicylic acid offers, some people wonder, "Can salicylic acid cause acne?" Like most other anti-acne ingredients, there can be a temporary skin purging period as the skin cell turnover speeds up and everything in the pores comes to the surface, causing pimples.

Is Salicylic Acid Safe to Use Every Day?

You can use skincare products with salicylic acid daily if you use them correctly and don't use more products than recommended. While we always like to take a less is more approach until your skin is well-adjusted to the ingredient, start using salicylic acid once a day. If your skin is happy with it, you can use it twice daily if needed. Salicylic acid spot treatments are the one exception to the rule since they are designed to clear up an existing pimple, although some skin types that can tolerate the ingredient well find that they have some proactive benefits.


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