Salicylic Acid for Acne: Benefits, Dosages, Side Effects

Salicyclic acid is great when it comes to preventing acne as well as exfoliating the skin. Here’s all that you need to know.

Using creams and lotions which contain salicylic acid can totally transform your skincare game. Salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid, not only reduces acne but also repairs skin by exfoliating it and helps in clearing pores. If you experience acne breakouts and are looking for a preventive cure, salicylic acid can be one of your go-to solutions.

What is Salicylic acid?

Salicylic acid is basically a beta hydroxy acid utilised in skincare as an exfoliator to unclog pores. It is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, making it effective in managing acne. Salicylic acid is available in various forms such as gels, creams, and serums, explains dermatologist Dr Priyanka Kuri.

A woman with acne
Using salicylic acid is very good for acne control and prevention: Image courtesy: Freepik

How does Salicylic acid work on acne?

Salicylic acid functions as an exfoliator, helping in the removal of dead skin cells and unclogging pores. Its beta hydroxy acid nature enables it to penetrate oil-laden skin, making it particularly beneficial for acne-prone skin, says Dr Kuri. Additionally, salicylic acid exhibits anti-inflammatory actions, contributing to its efficacy in acne management.

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How much salicylic acid should you apply on acne?

It is recommended that for facial use, start with 1 percent salicylic acid, gradually increasing to 2 percent. Apply it alternately, initially for short durations (1-2 hours), then progressing to overnight,” says Dr Kuri. For body acne, direct use of 2 percent is suitable. Always use a moisturiser on top of the salicylic acid product to mitigate potential dryness.

What are the side effects of salicylic acid?

The possible side effects include:

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  • Mild irritation
  • Redness
  • Burning sensation
  • Flaking

“If these reactions become pronounced, it’s advisable to pause usage for a day or two and then gradually resume,” she says.

What should you keep in mind before using salicylic acid on acne?

1. Avoid daily usage, especially initially.
2. Start with 1 percent for the face, progressing to 2 percent, and direct 2 percent for the body.
3. Gradually increase contact time from 1-2 hours to overnight.
4. If irritation occurs, pause usage for 1-2 days before resuming.
5. Dilute for spot treatment to minimize concentration and potential reactions.

Also Read: Is acne troubling you in the winter? Causes and 11 tips to deal with it

A pregnant woman
Pregnant women must consult their dermatologist before using salicylic acid. Image courtesy: Freepik

What is salicylic acid toxicity?

Salicylic acid toxicity is a medical emergency. “It is a concern when the acid is ingested in large quantities. However, in topical skincare use, toxicity is not a significant concern,” says Dr Kuri. It is crucial to follow recommended dosage and guidelines set by your dermatologist.

Can you use salicylic acid if you are pregnant or are nursing?

It is generally advisable to avoid salicylic acid during pregnancy and lactation, however it is relatively safer compared to certain other skincare ingredients like retinoids. “However, usage should be determined after consultation with a dermatologist, weighing the pros and cons based on the severity of acne,” warns Dr Kuri. Over-the-counter use during pregnancy and lactation should be approached with caution.