Beauty glossary

What Is Salicylic Acid? 

A natural plant hormone derived from willow bark, salicylic acid reigns supreme as a blemish-busting, spot-stifling superstar ingredient. A Beta Hydroxy Acid (or BHA), it’s been scientifically proven to prevent and treat acne, so you’ll be forgiven for reaching for a bottle (or three).

What Does Salicylic Acid Do? 

Known to banish a whole host of blemish bothers (like acne, breakouts and clogged pores) salicylic acid is the wonder ingredient you’ve been missing. More oil-soluble than most BHAs, it penetrates deep into the skin’s pores to exfoliate dead skin cells and dissolve the spot-inducing glue holding them together. As it works to unclog pores, it also exfoliates the pore lining, leaving you with clearer, smoother skin.

Once put to work, salicylic acid also regulates sebum production (that’s the oily stuff that makes you look super shiny). In addition, it’s a powerful anti-inflammatory and works overtime to soothe inflamed red skin. 

Who Should Use Salicylic Acid?

If you suffer from breakouts, acne or oily skin, consider this your skin savior. But, sensitive souls, steer clear. Salicylic acid can irritate skin and, if overused, has the potential to dry you out, so always check the label. Unfortunately, this potent ingredient can’t be used if you’re pregnant or taking certain medications.

How To Use Salicylic Acid In Your Routine

While we don’t recommend slathering salicylic acid all over your face every day, it works wonders when used correctly. Either use it in a cleanser, toner or face wash twice a week or look for a treatment that you can apply directly to the spot or problem area (nose, chin, and forehead, anyone?) When choosing products, look forsalicylic-infused products with a concentration between 0.5% and 2%.

Our Fave Salicylic Acid Skincare Products:

Salicylic acid Source: Mario Badescu

Mario Badescu Drying Lotion, $17: We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again; when it comes to blemish-zapping products, this tried-and-true formula is the Holy Grail. Thanks to the blend of salicylic acid and calamine lotion, it dries out pimples overnight, while soothing angry skin.

salicylic acidSource: Neutrogena

Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne-Fighting Face Wash, $8: An oldie but a goodie, this drugstore staple has been our go-to since the seventh grade. Penetrating deep into your skin, it removes debris and unclogs pores. The formula is also packed with skin soothers, to prevent irritation and over-drying.

salicylic acidSource: Sunday Riley

Sunday Riley U.F.O. Oil, $80: Chock-full of 1.5% Salicylic Acid, this medicated face oil clears acne and obliterates blackheads without drying out skin, thanks to its out-of-this-world milk thistle and cucumber seed oil-infused formula.