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Salicylic Acid: What It Is And If You Should Use It

We’ve all been there. You get a heinous new breakout right before that big night and rush to the drugstore desperate for a quick fix. You peruse the skincare aisles and try to pick one of the hundreds of spot treatments. The more you look, the more you notice a few key words coming up over and over again. ‘Salicylic Acid’ has always been a staple of breakout related skincare. Whether spot treatments or acne geared skincare products, salicylic acid always makes a cameo appearance. Most of us have just become programmed to keep an eye out for salicylic acid whenever struggling with breakouts, but none of us really understand why. The aisles tell us to trust it and that it is what we need, but why? What even is salicylic acid and what about it works so well? We’re here to finally give you some answers and figure out if you should even use it!


Acids have become all the rage over the past few years. Skincare addicts are obsessed with them. Acids are found in most of today’s skincare products and it’s because they work. Acids work as chemical exfoliants as well as each one providing different benefits to our skin. They can be broken down into two general categories; AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) and BHAs (beta hydroxy acids).

Salicylic is a BHA. The scientific way of understanding what that means is that BHAs are where the molecule is separated from the acid by two carbon atoms. As lost as we are? Well, all this basically means is that salicylic acid is more oil soluble which allows it to penetrate deeper into your skin. This is a good thing because the deeper it can penetrate the easier it is to dissolve the bad stuff.


The way that salicylic acid works is by chemically exfoliating your breakout. Breakouts are caused by the buildup of oil or bacteria in your pores, exfoliation is the best way of getting rid of that buildup. Physical exfoliants can be too harsh and just leave your pimple redder and angrier. Salicylic acid offers a gentler but also more intensive exfoliation of the pore your breakout has emerged from.

Advil For Your Skin?

Another benefit of salicylic acid is that it falls under the same family as aspirin. You’ve probably heard before of the home remedy of applying aspirin to your breakout? Well, that’s because aspirin is anti-inflammatory and antibacterial. This is what helps salicylic soothe and heal your breakout as well as getting rid of it!

So, Should I Use It?

Ummmm, yes, yes, yes! Every skin type is different, so this may not work for you, but generally the two options in terms of breakouts are salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. The odds are, one of them is going to work best with your skin and salicylic acid has proven to work out more often. Salicylic acid is a great quick fix to your pimple while also benefiting your skin.

So many spot treatments can overly dry out your skin and cause long term damage for a short term fix. Salicylic acid gives you the quick results your skin needs but also generally benefits your skin. Some people even use it as a general exfoliant, even if they aren’t breaking out. It doesn’t only cure breakouts, it’s also very preventative so if you’re very acne-prone than it’s a great tool to use. It’s time to step away from the toothpaste and quick home remedies, and invest in a salicylic acid based product and you’ll be set for life!

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