What is salicylic acid?

Updated: Sep 30



Salicylic acid seems to be in everything these days from cleansers and toners to acne creams and even foundation! Just what is this magical stuff and what does it do? Read on for some amazing insights into this acid and how it can change your life!


For those interested in technical talk salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid or BHA which acts as an oil soluble chemical exfoliator. It is both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory and can make its way deep into the pores to clean out the sebum and dead skin cells.


This means salicylic acid is great for acne prone skin types and those with congestion or oily skin. It's also good for sensitive skin types like rosacea so pretty much everyone can use this!


How often should I use salicylic acid?


In low concentrations you can find this in cleansers and toners which can be used daily or whenever you feel like your skin needs a good exfoliation.


If you are using it for spot treatments you will need to use it sparingly. Treatments (which normally have around 2% concentration) should be used only on the areas that need clarifying like pimples and other congested areas. After your congestion has cleared up you can stop using it as over doing it can cause dryness.


It’s important to follow the directions on the product around usage and use a sunscreen if it’s not already included in the product as salicylic acid can make the skin more sensitive to sun damage.


Where can I find this?


You can find salicylic acid in every stage of the process from cleanser, toner, treatment, moisturiser, makeup and haircare! Here is a little guide to what products have it in and why.


  1. Cleanser - typically a low concentration of salicylic acid and can be used daily or when you feel like your skin needs some exfoliation. Salicylic acids can also be found in body washes which can be good for help to get rid of bumpy skin on arms, legs and buttocks (eg to treat keratosis pilaris).

  2. Toner - for a quick exfoliation I love a good BHA toner to give my skin that glowy look and super clean feeling. It's great to smooth the texture of the skin and can prep skin really well for makeup.

  3. Treatment - acne spot treatments often have salicylic acid in it to clear out the pores and get rid of the dead skin cells. These often have higher concentrations of salicylic acid so only use sparingly and on the spots that really need it.

  4. Moisturiser - salicylic acid is used in moisturisers not just for their blemish treatments but also to mattify the face. This is good for oily skin types or even for prepping the skin when doing makeup for TV/film as it reduces the oil on the face (which the camera does not like!)

  5. Makeup (foundation) - there are a few brands out there that add salicylic acid to their foundations to help with congested/problematic skin. It's normally a fairly low concentration but like mentioned above after your congestion clears up I would switch to a different foundation as you don't want to dry out your skin too much.

  6. Hair care - I've also added this one in as you'll find salicylic acid in shampoos like anti dandruff shampoos to get rid of build up and maintain the levels of moisture in your scalp. It's good at regulating the oil in your scalp and can even reduce build up so it's a great ingredient to find in your shampoo if you want to clarify and reduce the oil and build up in your hair.


Sarah loves


Find my current favs below - I've used all of these and I think they are the best! What products do you use with salicylic acid? Let me know in the comments below!


  1. Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Cleanser

  2. REN Clarimatte Clarifying Toner

  3. Sunday Riley UFO Ultra-Clarifying Face Oil

  4. Origins Original Skin Matte Moisturiser with Willowherb

  5. Clinique Anti-Blemish Solutions Liquid Makeup


Sarah xx

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