Health & Beauty

Salicylic Acid: How Does It Work?

As a chemical exfoliant, salicylic acid is used in spot treatments and is one of the most common ingredients in spot treatments. It's a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that removes dead skin cells from the surface of the skin and pores, leaving your complexion smoother and clearer.

Salicylic acid works best on oily or combination skin types but can be used on all skin types. It's also suitable for sensitive skin, as it has anti-inflammatory properties.

Salicylic acid has three main actions:

  1. It dissolves the 'glue' holding dead skin cells together (keratin), so these cells can be shed more easily. This makes it a good treatment for dry skin conditions such as psoriasis, which causes flaking of the skin.
  2. It kills bacteria that cause acne, which helps unblock pores and reduce spots.
  3. It helps dissolve blackheads.

Salicylic acid is available in many forms, including face washes, masks, and creams. However, it's most commonly used in topical treatments such as pads or gels that you apply directly to blemishes. These treatments contain ingredients like alcohol to help them penetrate deep into clogged pores to reduce spots and prevent new ones from forming.

How Does Salicylic Acid Work?

Salicylic acid works as an exfoliant by loosening up the dead skin cells on top of your skin. These dead cells can clog pores and cause pimples and blackheads. By removing them from the surface of your skin, salicylic acid reduces inflammation and unblocks pores so they don't become clogged with oil or bacteria.

It also helps treat dry skin by increasing the moisture content within your skin cells so they're softer to the touch and more elastic — this means fewer wrinkles too!

How Does Salicylic Acid Clear Up Spots?

As with all chemical exfoliants, salicylic acid works by removing dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. This helps unclog pores, which in turn reduces blackheads and whiteheads. Salicylic acid also helps prevent new blemishes from forming by reducing excess oil production on the skin’s surface.

Salicylic Acid Benefits  

Salicylic acid has multitudinous skin benefits, including:

  • It has a more profound effect than other specifics. 
  • It's a strong exfoliant that removes dead skin cells and breaks up desmosomes, unclogging pores. 
  • It can prop in the junking of dead skin cells. 
  • It can drop sebum products, making the skin less unctuous and less prone to acne flights. 
  • It aids in the reduction of papules and blackheads by dissolving the debris that clogs the pores. 
  • It can prop in the reduction of dandruff. 
  • It contains anti-aging parcels. While this drug is generally safe and easy to gain, 
  • It’s always stylish to consult with your croaker before using it on your skin, especially if you're pregnant or breastfeeding.

Salicylic Acid Safety Precautions

Although salicylic acid is safe for most people when used as directed, there are some precautions you should take if you're considering using this product:


You should inform your doctor if you have ever experienced an allergic reaction to salicylic acid.
When used on children: 

Skin irritation may be more common in children.

Drug Interactions:

Consult a doctor before allowing your child to use salicylic acid products. Certain medications interact negatively with salicylic acid. 
Also let your doctor know if you suffer from any of the following medical conditions, as they may influence their decision to prescribe salicylic acid.

  • the disease of the liver
  • kidney disorder
  • the disease of the blood vessels
  • diabetes
  • chickenpox (varicella) (varicella)
  • flu (influenza) (influenza)

Toxicology of Salicylic Acid:

Toxicity from salicylic acid is uncommon, but it can occur after topical application. Follow these guidelines to reduce your risk:
Do not use salicylic acid products on large areas of your body for long periods. Do not use it under airtight dressings, such as plastic wrap.
If you experience any of the following symptoms or signs, stop using salicylic acid immediately and consult your doctor:

  • lethargy
  • headache
  • confusion
  • ear ringing or buzzing (tinnitus)
  • hearing impairment
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • Increased breathing depth (hyperpnea) due to diarrhea


Salicylic acid is a chemical exfoliant. The easiest way to think of it is as an oil-soluble AHA, one of the two active ingredients in really good anti-acne products. It's what's responsible for clearing up your skin and keeping it that way.

Beth Norris

Beth Norris has years of experience working with top cosmetic and skincare brands for years  which reflects in her blogs which are packed with beauty and skincare tips. She has amassed a big following over the years, who wait for her content anxiously.