Experts explain how to tackle spots with salicylic acid, a potent beta hydroxy acid.
Like many people, my skin has suffered during the last few months. The worst phase came a couple of months back when I started breaking out with lots of annoying little red spots, the kind I sometimes get around my chin due to PMS – but this time they were everywhere.
I’d heard about the acne-busting power of salicylic acid from speaking to skincare experts in the past, so when Typology Local Blemishes Serum with 2% salicylic acid happened to arrive in the post, I dabbed the clear liquid on my problem areas and hoped for the best. I was amazed when those pesky spots dried up – practically overnight – and I haven’t had a major breakout since, but have continued to use the serum whenever a lone spot rears its ugly head.
If you’ve been suffering from ‘maskne’ – spots caused by face coverings – or any other types of pimples, this ingredient could be the answer to your prayers. Here’s everything you need to know about salicylic acid…
What is salicylic acid?
“Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA), known for its peeling and exfoliating effects that promote elimination of dead skin,” says Nassim Hamek, product manager at Typology.
Similar to alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), salicylic has one major advantage over AHAs, says Perricone MD international training manager Dan Perry: “Most acids such as glycolic acid, work on the upper layers of the skin to exfoliate, but are unable to target problems underneath the skin. Salicylic acid can permeate the upper layers of the dead skin to dissolve excess oil, and especially hardened oil such as blackheads and whiteheads.”
How does it help with acne?
“Excess oil can harbour additional blemish-causing bacteria which contributes to acne,” says Perry, which is why reducing oil under the skin can help prevent spots from forming. “The other interesting point about salicylic acid is its natural anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties can help reduce bacteria and swelling of existing acne.”
How should salicylic acid be used – and how often?
“You can find salicylic acid in many different products, spot treatments, serums, lotions, moisturisers. However, you have to be careful using this molecule,” says Hamek, as it can cause irritation, which is why European regulations set a limited of 2% concentration in cosmetic products.
“Even diluted to 2% the molecule is very effective. With a targeted spot treatment serum you can apply one drop on the spot each night and it will reduce significantly within days,” adds Hamek. For daily use, concentrations of 1% or lower are more suitable.
“For people with generally problematic skin, I would recommend starting with a cleanser with salicylic acid since it has been shown to work extremely well even in ‘wash off’ products,” Perry says. “Treatment masks with salicylic acid should not be applied more than twice per week.”
Are there any risks associated with using salicylic acid?
“If you have sensitive skin and would like to use products with salicylic acid, we recommend testing the product on your arm and wait for 48 hours to see if a reaction appears,” says Hamek, as it can cause irritation for some skin types.
Pregnant women should also be wary, says Perry: “It is questionable whether you should use salicylic acid while pregnant, so do check with your doctor.”
Spot on: 5 salicylic acid products to help tackle acne
1. Typology Local Blemishes Serum 2% Salicylic Acid + 1% Zinc, €9.80 for 15ml
2. Perricone MD Blemish Relief 90-Day Regimen, €94 (available from August 28)
3. Super Facialist Salicylic Acid Purifying Cleansing Wash, €10.99, Boots
4. Murad Outsmart Blemish Clarifying Treatment, €39.31
5. Bioré Baking Soda Blemish Cleansing Foam, €7.99, Boots