Salicylic Acid: The Acne-Fighting, Anti-Inflammatory Hero

Salicylic Acid, potentially one of the most important ingredients in skincare products. It’s acne-fighting, anti-inflammatory properties have made it very popular and it’s not difficult to see why. Salicylic acid can help with numerous skin conditions and ailments.

What is Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic Acid (C₇H₆O₃) is a beta-hydroxy acid derived from aspirin, commonly used in skincare products for it’s excellent exfoliating and anti-inflammatory properties.


You’ve probably heard of AHAs and BHAs by now, two common types of acids being used to treat various skin conditions. A beta-hydroxy acid contains a carboxylic acid functional group, and a hydroxy functional group, which is separated by two carbon atoms.

Contrarily, an alpha hydroxy acid is separated only by one carbon atom. In the cosmetics world beta-hydroxy acid exclusively refers to Salicylic acid, whereas alpha-hydroxy acid can refer to several active ingredients, including but not limited to; Lactic acid; Glycolic Acid and Citric acid.

Key Functions

Salicylic acid chemical diagram


Salicylic acid works to reduce inflammation, it has non-steroidal anti-inflammatory properties, (or NSAI, something you may have seen on medications such as Aspirin [acetylsalicylic acid], where this acid is derived from). It does this by inhibiting the formation of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. These are lipids responsible for the inflammatory response in your skin.

Exfoliates and promotes cell turnover

As a topical agent (applied to the skin), the chemical causes epidermis cells to shed more easily; preventing pores from clogging and promoting cell growth.

Treats Acne

Not only does Salicylic acid prevent breakouts, it can also treat mild acne. It’s anti-inflammatory properties reduce the redness and swelling associated with breakouts, while penetrating deep into the skin to dissolve the debris which causes them.

Regulates sebum production

Salicylic acid can help to regulate sebum production, the waxy secretion that is responsible for hydrating and protecting the skin. Excess sebum production can lead to an oily complexion, breakouts, and clogged pores.

Clears pores, prevents blackheads from forming

Salicylic acid works to exfoliate the inner walls of the pores, it penetrates deep inside the pore to break up any debris that can cause blackheads and whiteheads.

How To Use Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid can be included in your standard skin care regime in a cleanser, serum, or moisturiser form.

If using a cleanser, wash your face in the morning and evening ensuring you’re thorough in any problem areas. If using a serum, apply after cleansing twice a day (preferably AM and PM) to the whole face or just affected areas. If using a moisturiser, apply morning and evening to the entire face.

It’s best not to combine cleaner, serum, and moisturiser; one will usually do the trick. You can overdo it with Salicylic acid as it’s a chemical exfoliant. Excessive use can cause skin dryness, peeling, and inflammation.


Beta-hydroxy acids increase skin sensitivity, especially in the sunlight. Either apply SPF or stay away from direct sunlight to reduce probability of irritation. If you have sensitive skin, trial this product on a small patch of skin first as BHA’s can be an irritant and cause mild chemical burns.