Salicylic Acid Can Help With Acne

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid. 

Salicylic acid can be found in many over-the-counter products (OTC). It’s also available in prescription-strength formulas.

Mild acne (blackheads or whiteheads) is best treated with salicylic acid. It can prevent future breakouts.

Continue reading to find out how salicylic acid clears acne and what dosage and side effects you should be aware.

What does salicylic acid do for acne?

Blackheads, whiteheads, and pustules are common signs of clogged pores (hair follicles).

Salicylic acid penetrates your skin tobreak down dead skin cells that are clogging pores. You may not see the full effects of salicylic acid after several weeks. If you don’t see results within 6 weeks, consult your dermatologist.

What dosage and form of salicylic acid should be used for acne?

A dermatologist or doctor will recommend the right form and dosage for you based on your skin type and current skin condition. You might be asked to apply a very small amount to one area of the skin first to see how it reacts before you apply to the whole area.

According to the Mayo Clinic, adults should use a topical product to clear their acne, such as:

FormPercent of salicylic acidHow often to use
gel0.5–5%once per day
lotion1–2%1 to 3 times per day
ointment3–6%as needed
pads0.5–5%1 to 3 times per day
soap0.5–5%as needed
solution0.5–2%1 to 3 times per day

Exfoliants that contain higher levels of salicylic acid can be used with products.

Salicylic acid is also used in higher concentrations as a peeling agent for the treatment of:

Are there any side effects to salicylic acid?

While salicylic acid can be considered safe in general, it can cause skin irritation when it is first applied. You may experience dryness or irritation if you remove too much oil.

There are also possible side effects:

Be aware of the following precautions before you use salicylic acid

OTC preparations containing salicylic acid are available at your local grocery shop. However, it is best to consult your doctor before you use them. You should discuss the following:

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Also, tell your doctor if you have any medical conditions that could affect their decision to prescribe salicylic Acid.

Toxicity to salicylic acid

Salicylic acid toxicity is rare but, it can occur from topical application of salicylic acid. These are some ways to reduce your risk.

If you have any of these symptoms, stop using salicylic Acid immediately and consult your doctor.

Use salicylic acid during pregnancy or breastfeeding

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists notes that topical salicylic acid is safe to use while pregnant.

Talk to your doctor if salicylic acid is something you are considering and if you are pregnant or nursing. You can also get advice about other medications or any medical conditions.


While there is no cure for acne, many people have found that salicylic acid can help with their breakouts.

Consult a dermatologist or doctor to determine if salicylic acids is right for you and your current health conditions.

Salicylic Acid vs. Benzoyl Peroxide – Which is Better for Acne

What are these ingredients?

Two of the most popular acne-fighting ingredients are salicylic acid (and benzoyl peroxide). They are both readily available over-the-counter (OTC) and can be used to clear mild acne as well as prevent future breakouts.

Continue reading to find out more about side effects and benefits of each ingredient, how they can be used, and what products you should try.

What are some of the benefits to each ingredient?

Both ingredients are effective in removing dead skin cells that can clog pores, causing acne breakouts.

Salicylic acid

Salicylic acid works best for blackheads and whiteheads. This ingredient can prevent future comedones by being used frequently.

Benzoyl peroxide

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, benzoyl peroxide is the most effective acne-fighting ingredient available without a prescription. It works best on traditional red, pus-filled pimples (pustules).

Benzoyl peroxide is able to remove excess oil and dead skin cells. It also kills acne-causing bacteria under the skin.

What side effects are there?

Both products are safe, despite the fact that each ingredient has different side effects. They’re also considered safe to use during pregnancy. Persons who are allergic to salicylic acid should avoid using it.

When you start using these ingredients, they may cause irritation and dryness. Allergic reactions are rare, but they are possible. You should seek emergency medical attention if you develop extreme swelling or have trouble breathing.

Salicylic acid

Excess oils (sebum), in your pores can be removed by salicylic acid. It could also remove too much oil and make your face dry.

There are also possible side effects:

Benzoyl peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide may not be safe for sensitive skin. It can cause more severe irritation than salicylic acid.

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Before you use the product, consult your doctor if you have any of these conditions:

This ingredient can stain hair and clothes.

How do you choose the best one

Your choice of product will be based on:

  • The type of acne you have.Salicylic acid works better for whiteheads than blackheads. Mild pustules can be treated with benzoyl peroxide.
  • Your breakout severity.These ingredients are meant for mild breakouts and can take several weeks before they take effect. However, benzoyl peroxide might be useful as an emergency treatment.
  • Your activity level.When you are active during the day sweat can transfer benzoylperoxide to clothing and cause it to stain. Consider using similar products at night, or substituting salicylic acid.
  • You overall skin health.Salicylic acid may not be as severe and milder than the other.sensitive skinAs much as benzoyl-peroxide
  • Any existing medical conditions.Both ingredients can be purchased over-the-counter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are safe for everyone. If you have any skin conditions, it is important to check with your doctor. Talk to your doctor if there are any other conditions.Kidney disease?Diabetes, or liver disease.

Products You Can Try

You can try it if you wish.salicylic acidconsider using:

You can try it if you wish.benzoyl peroxide, consider using:

How to Use

For every step in your skin care regimen, you should not use a salicylic or benzoyl peroxide-based product. If you use a salicylic-based cleanser, ensure that it is not in your moisturizer or toner.

You can dry your skin by using the same ingredient in every step of your skincare routine. This can lead to worsening your acne.

Sunscreen should be worn every day. Even though these ingredients aren’t known to cause sun sensitivity, excessive sun exposure can worsen acne. This can also increase your skin cancer risk and scarring.

Salicylic acid

Topical doses of creams, lotions, astringents and other OTC products typically contain concentrations between 0.5% and 5.5%.

Salicylic acid can be used both morning and night. It is gentle enough to be used as a spot treatment in the middle of the day.

Benzoyl peroxide

You may start with a concentration of 2.5 percent to reduce irritation and drying. If you don’t see any results in six weeks, then you can move up to a concentration of 5 percent. As your skin becomes more used to the ingredient, you can start with a gentle cleanser.

If you aren’t seeing results after six weeks, you may move up to a 10 percent concentration.

You can use benzoyl peroxide up to two times per day. After cleansing and toning your skin, apply the product thinly around the affected areas. Allow the product to dry before you apply your moisturizer.

Begin with one application per day if you are new to benzoylperoxide. Gradually increase your use to night and morning.

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Apply benzoyl peroxide only to the morning if you are using retinoid/retinol products at night. This will help prevent irritations and other side effects.

Can you use both and simultaneously?

You may use both benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid in your treatment plan. Applying both products to the same skin area, even at different times of the day, can lead to excessive drying, reddening, and peeling.

It is safer to mix ingredients for different types. Salicylic acid can be used as an all-over treatment to prevent breakouts. However, benzoyl peroxide can be used for spot treatments only.

The bottom line

Although there is no treatment for acne, benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid may provide relief and help to clear up the skin.

Your dermatologist may recommend that you see them if you don’t see results within six weeks. You may be recommended stronger treatments such as prescription retinoids or retinols.

Salicylic acid peels don’t seem to be a new idea. People have used salicylic acid peels for more than 2,000 yearsTrusted Source in their skin treatments. Although the acid can be found naturally in wintergreen leaves and willow bark, skin care companies can also make it in the laboratory.

Salicylic acid belongs to the beta hydroxy acid family of acids. This type of acid can be used to remove oil from the skin. It is great for acne sufferers and those with pimples.


Salicylic acid is well-suited for use in peeling applications because of its many beneficial properties. These properties include:

Dermatologists often use salicylic acid to treat skin conditions such as:

Side effects

Some people shouldn’t use salicylic acids peels.

A person with skin cancer should not apply a salicylic acid to an area.

Salicylic acid peels have fewer side effects because they are milder than other peels. These side effects can include:

What makes it different than other chemical peels?

The three most common categories of chemical peels that doctors classify are: These are:

The depth of a salicylic acids peel will depend on how much acid is applied by a skin care professional, as well the number of layers or passes made with the solution. OTC salicylic acid is only used for superficial peels.

OTC products are not regulated by FDA and can cause scarring or burns. It is always a good idea to talk with your dermatologist about using at-home peels.

A dermatologist may also perform a deeper peel with a medium depth effect.

How to see a dermatologist

There are many products available, including salicylic acid ones, that can clear your skin and reduce the likelihood of skin problems.

You should consult a professional if your skin isn’t responding well to at-home treatments or if your skin appears sensitive to many products.

If you aren’t sure where to start, a dermatologist can suggest a skin care regimen based on your individual skin health.

A dermatologist does not have to give you a list with expensive or prescribed products. They should be able recommend products that are effective if you tell them your goals and budget.

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