Acne Treatment with Salicylic Acid

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Acne Treatment with Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid occurs naturally in Willow Trees and Wintergreen Trees. It is used traditionally as an anti-fungal agent for the treatment of warts and corns. For the treatment of acne, Salicylic acid doesn’t help much in killing those acne-causing bacteria.

Salicylic acid only helps in exfoliating the skin. Exfoliation makes the skin peel at a faster rate which unblocks the pores of the skin. Open pores reduce the growth of acne-causing bacteria by starving them with trapped sebum. Since salicylic is oil soluble, it can penetrate deeper into the skin compared to Alpha-Hydroxy Acids. This makes Salicylic acid more effective in treating oily skin with lots of whiteheads, blackheads, and acne breakouts.

For people with dry skin, Salicylic is not recommended not unless you use a good moisturizer like Panthenol or Hyaluronic acid. Salicylic acid usually makes your skin dry 2 to 3 days after initial application; it is then followed by mild to moderate peeling of the skin. After the peeling or shedding of the skin is completed, smoother and younger skin is fully exposed.

Do not use salicylic acid without consulting your doctor if you are pregnant or could become pregnant during acne treatment. This acne medication is not intended to be used on children.

Precautions and Side Effects

Topical salicylic acid may produce burning sensation after application, especially at higher concentrations. Some may experience redness, swelling, itching, and sun sensitivity. Higher concentrations may burn the skin.


       Beta-Hydroxy Acid works best at concentrations of 1% to 2% with an acidity level of pH 3. As the pH increases or their acidity decreases, the effectivity of beta-hydroxy acids decline.

(Source: Cosmetic Dermatology, October 2001, pages 15–18).

       Both inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne lesion counts were decreased in proportion to the duration of treatment. The side effects were tolerable in most cases, and all patients were pleased with their peel results. Stratum corneum hydration, skin surface lipid, skin pH, and transepidermal water loss were unchanged from baseline levels.

(Source: Ho-Sup Lee MD, Il-Hwan Kim MD (2003) Salicylic Acid Peels for the Treatment of Acne Vulgaris in Asian Patients Dermatologic Surgery 29 (12), 1196–1199.)

Product Information


Salicylic acid is available in cream, lotion, gel, and topical solution form at 0.51% to 3% concentration. Salicylic acid works best in concentrations of 1 to 2%. (Brand Names: Diprosalic®, Duofilm®, Coco-Scalp®, Neutrogena®)

Reviews and Comments


“I find salicylic acid to drying on the skin even at 0.5% concentration when used daily. The good thing about it is that this acne medication can make your skin glow after exfoliation. A good moisturizer is needed if you want to use this acne product.”



1. Desai A, Moy LS. The role of -hydroxy acids in the treatment of photoaging. Photoaging. Marcel Dekker, 2004: 117-140.
3. SALICYLIC ACID – A Plant Hormone Hayat, S.; Ahmad, A. (Eds.) 2007, XV, 401 p., Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4020-5183-8

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