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Derived from willow bark and closely related to acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin), salicylic acid’s anti-inflammatory properties make it a skin soother to neutralize the effects of other skin or acne treatments. Salicylic acid works best on blackheads and whiteheads.
How Does Salicylic Acid Work?
Salicylic acid works on acne by dissolving the “glue” that stick cells together and clog pores. Depending on the frequency of use (daily, every other day, etc.), salicylic acid takes regular use before results are visible. Because BHAs are oil-soluble, they get deeper into pores to clean them out to encourage cell turnover. This is what makes BHAs different from AHAs or alpha hydroxy acid.
Where Can I Find Salicylic Acid?
Salicylic acid is available over the counter in 0.5% to 2% concentrations. It is most commonly found as an active ingredient in acne preventative applications like lotions, washes, or masks.
Are There Any Precautions?
Salicylic acid is a relatively safe acne treatment, although problems can come up when using high concentrations or if it's applied to large areas of the skin. Over-the-counter concentrations are lower and shouldn't cause any toxicities.
As with any exfoliant that compromises skin by sloughing off layers, it is best to stay out of the sun or use salicylic acid in the evening. If you do spend time in the sun, be sure to wear sunscreen to protect your skin from irritation or increase the chance for sunburn or windburn.
Are There Any Side Effects?
When used as directed, salicylic acid rarely causes skin irritation, although some irritation might happen during the first few days of use. It's always smart to test a little on a small area to make sure you don't have any reactions. Test by applying salicylic acid to one or two areas for a few days. Watch for changes to the skin such as rash or burning, which can indicate an allergic reaction. Consult your doctor if you do. Some people experience changes in skin color (whitening), but it is uncommon.
What Else Should You Know About Salicylic Acid?
If you are already experiencing inflammation, irritation, or skin infections, it's wise to discontinue the use of salicylic acid until conditions clear up. Salicylic acid shouldn't be applied if you're suffering from chicken pox due to the risk of contracting Reye's syndrome. Avoid using salicylic acid on open wounds or sunburned skin. Overuse can lead to skin problems like dry skin, peeling, redness, and skin irritation.
Those with kidney or liver disease or who are using blood thinners are cautioned against using salicylic acid. Consult with your doctor if you're unsure.
Does Salicylic Acid Really Work?
Yes! When used according to directions, salicylic acid is an effective acne fighter and prevention.
How Often Should I Use Salicylic Acid?
Start off using salicylic acid a few times a week, then gradually increase to daily use. After a couple of weeks, try applying morning and night for best results.
Does Salicylic Acid Reduce Redness?
Yes! Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, salicylic acid works great to calm skin and reduce redness and irritation.
Can Kids and Teens Use Salicylic Acid?
Absolutely, with a few precautions. Avoid layering onto skin as younger skin might absorb salicylic acid differently. Using salicylic acid on children under two is not recommended.
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