Salicylic acid is increasingly being recognised as a wonder ingredient in skincare. It’s being used more and more in a range of different skincare products due to its various brilliant benefits. Here at UpCircle, we use it in our toner and moisturiser.
So, let’s shine a spotlight on this incredible ingredient and uncover the salicylic acid benefits for the skin, particularly in terms of combating acne and breakouts. However, despite what you may hear everywhere, salicylic acid isn’t just for those who suffer from acne.
What is salicylic acid?
Salicylic acid, derived from willow bark, is what is known as a salicylate which is a beta hydroxy acid. This is an oil-soluble compound which penetrates the skin, cleaning it more deeply than other water-soluble ingredients can (for example, lactic acid). It can really get into the pores, break down and dissolve the dirt, grime and oil, and unclog them. At the same time, remarkably, salicylic acid has anti-inflammatory properties, so it calms down the redness and irritation caused by blocked pores.
The ability to break down oil-based components on the skin means that salicylic acid is also very much an exfoliant. It breaks down the dead skin cells and dissolves them away. You’re left with peachy soft skin underneath. It therefore works differently from a scrub, which physically buffs away debris from the top of the skin.
Why use salicylic acid?
Many people only talk about the salicylic acid benefits for acne. And it’s true; the benefits for tackling acne make it a hugely desirable ingredient for those who struggle with acne-prone skin and troublesome breakouts. Whiteheads and blackheads need to beware when salicylic acid is getting a look in!
However, really, we’d go so far as to say that salicylic acid skin care benefits extend to all skin types. It’s a levelling-up in exfoliation without scrubbing, and it can soothe and calm everyone’s skin.
The trick is to not overuse salicylic acid. That’s why it’s not in our exfoliating face scrubs, but instead just the perfect amount in our toner and moisturiser. As it is oil-soluble, it can dry out the skin if overused.
Salicylic acid benefits
There are a wide number of salicylic skincare benefits – here are our favourite ones:
1. Exceptional exfoliation
Perhaps the most remarkable benefit, and the one most widely understood, is salicylic acid’s ability to really get in there and exfoliate the skin. When you are exfoliating, you typically think of the need to buff away dead skin cells which are sitting on top of your fresh skin underneath.
What you may not realise is that, with exfoliation, you actually want to penetrate that top layer of skin somewhat, to get into the pores, and get the dead skin cells and dirt out from inside them.
This is actually quite difficult because of the sebum, or oil, which is holding those dead skin cells and dirt, effectively working as a trap. This is what causes blocked pores. Because water-based exfoliation can’t actually penetrate the pores and clean them out, bacteria gets trapped and there you have the recipe for spots.
Salicylic acid can get into the pores to exfoliate because it is oil-soluble. It fundamentally does exfoliation in a different way.
2. It tackles and prevents acne
Salicylic acid really benefits those with acne-prone skin. It helps to prevent the blockages that lead to whiteheads and blackheads. But it doesn’t just clean pores. It also has the ability to break apart how your skin cells are effectively glued together. This allows pores which are clogged up (causing the acne) to be unclogged. It actually tackles the problem and helps to prevent breakouts.
It also allows deep cleansing in a way that water soluble cleansers can’t. That’s why you’ll often find it in skincare for oily skin.
3. Regulation of sebum production
We need oils on our skin. However, sometimes we produce too much and this becomes bothersome, not least because it can be a route to breakouts. Salicylic acid can actually help to regulate the amount of sebum secretion. If your skin produces too much sebum, then salicylic acid can help to reduce the amount.
4. Astringent properties
It’s all very well getting into the surface of the skin and unblocking the pores, but what about afterwards? Another huge benefit of salicylic acid is that its effects are long lasting because it also has astringent properties. It tightens the skin too, reducing the pores. This has the added benefit of giving the skin a smoother and more youthful appearance. Additionally, this same process can help to reduce the appearance of blemishes.
It’s your skin’s reaction to the trapped bacteria which is behind the sore red spots and irritation. Salicylic acid helps to reduce inflammation and calm down this response, so that spots and outbreaks are less visible.
How to use salicylic acid
As already mentioned, salicylic acid can be drying if used too much or on its own. That’s why the amount in a skincare product should be balanced with other hydrating ingredients. It should also only be included in the right amount to deliver its benefits, without the downsides. This is particularly true when you’re aiming to get the benefits daily. By combining it in our moisturiser, you get the benefits of salicylic acid alongside other hydrating elements – it’s all about balance.