What is salicylic acid and should I use it?

If you’ve heard beauty therapists talk about salicylic acid, or seen it popping up in various skincare ingredient lists, but have no idea what it does and who ought to apply it, you’re not alone! We chatted to Kristina, from the Adore Beauty Skin Centre, to find out more about this popular chemical.

Why use salicylic acid

Salicylic is a type of Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) derived from salicin. It is known for its exfoliating properties and is mainly found in chemical exfoliators and acne products. The way I like to think about this ingredient is that it is like a scrubbing brush for the pore. When formulated in the right product, due to its chemical structure, it is able to stimulate natural exfoliation on the skin‘s surface and within the follicle, where bacteria and dirt accumulate.

The skin types/concerns that salicylic acid is good for

Due to its exfoliating properties this ingredient is great for anyone who needs good and consistent exfoliation. Concerns include: suffers from oily skin, acne, congestion and uneven skin tones.

The skin types/concerns that should stay away from salicylic acid

Mature skin that has become quite delicate and thin; dry skin types and skins suffering from moderate-severe dehydration should avoid salicylic. This is because your skin’s natural barrier is impaired when dehydrated and this acid can cause irritation.

The contraindications for salicylic acid

The common contraindications for the use of salicylic acid is primarily either an intolerance or an allergy to aspirin, as the base of said medication is salicin. Other contraindications include people who are using prescription Vitamin A.


Can I use salicylic acid if I am pregnant or breastfeeding?

There has been evidence that suggests that ingested forms of salicin could cause harm to a foetus, although it is unclear whether the ingested form passes into breast milk. Use topically has not been proven to cause harm during pregnancy or breastfeeding, but most companies will err on the side of caution and recommend clients to not use skincare with this ingredient when with child or nursing. I always recommend that if a client wishes to use salicylic acid during this time (as a lot of new or expectant mothers will experience break-outs) to get a copy of the ingredient list of the product they’re after and get the okay from their doctor.


Other names that salicylic acid might go by in ingredients lists

The most common names that salicylic acid might go by in ingredient lists are:

  • BHA. Although salicylic acid is just one type of BHA, in the beauty world if it says BHA it’s pretty much guaranteed to be salicylic acid
  • Salicin, as this is what salicylic is derived from
  • Salicylates. This is an umbrella term for salicin, salicylic acid, etc.
  • Willowbark. Salicylic acid is naturally found in this plant.

Our favourite products containing Salicylic Acid:

 Medik8 PoreCleanse Gel         SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Defense Serum

 asap Radiance Serum             Aspect Exfoliating Clay Mask