Salicylic acid: is it effective for acne?

By Raj Phull 16th February 2021 Category: Advice

How effective is salicylic acid as a treatment for acne, and when is it the best solution? sk:n explains the pros & cons of salicylic acid-based treatments.

What is salicylic acid?

Salicylic acid  is a type of BHA (beta-hydroxy acid). It is a colourless, crystalline, acidic substance with exceptional anti-inflammatory properties. In its natural form it can be found in many fruits, including blackberries, blueberries, dates, grapes, kiwi fruits and apricots.

salicylic acid chemical formula

How does salicylic acid help acne?

When applied topically, salicylic acid helps to soften the skin, exfoliate dead skin cells and unclog pores. This cleansing and deep exfoliating process helps to prevent acne breakouts. Salicylic acid also has anti-inflammatory properties so can reduce the redness and inflammation associated with acne. To be an effective acne treatment though, it must be used continuously, because its benefits stop when you stop using it; pores clog up again and the acne returns.

What type of acne is salicylic acid best at treating?

As salicylic acid helps to unclog pores, it is best suited to treating whiteheads, blackheads and pustules, rather than cystic acne. It does have some antibacterial properties though, so may have some impact on the development of cysts.

When is salicylic acid not suitable for me to use on my skin?

Salicylic acid might not be for you if you have very dry or sensitive skin as it can sometimes worsen dryness and cause irritation. It’s also not suitable if you’re pregnant and shouldn’t be used if you’re on certain medications, so speak to your doctor first if this applies to you.

Salicylic acid-based skin treatments

There are a number of professional skin treatments which harness the power of salicylic acid to treat acne-prone skin, including:

  • Dermaquest TCA/Salicylic Peel

A chemical peel designed to transform rough-textured skin. Following treatment, you will experience a light sloughing to deep-sheets of peeling, which will reveal soft, smooth and revitalised skin beneath.

  • Dermaquest Salicylic Acid Resurfacer

The antibacterial benefits of active ingredient 20% salicylic acid work to reduce and control inflammation and redness associated with acne, whilst penetrating and decongesting follicles to help prevent future breakouts.

Topical skincare products with salicylic acid

Topical skin products containing salicylic acid can be used as part of a skincare regime to manage acne. Speak to a sk:n practitioner for advice on how these products can be incorporated into your daily skincare routine:

  • sk:n Intense Blemish Lotion

A clinically proven peptide and salicylic acid formula works to slow oil production, control bacteria and reduce redness and inflammation.

skn anti blemish spot treatment

Buy sk:n Intense Blemish Lotion

  • Medik8 Blemish SOS™ (15ml)

This blemish treatment contains salicylic acid and niacinamide to unclog pores and reduce redness and inflammation.

medik8 blemish sos

Buy Medik8 Blemish SOS™ (15ml)

  • PRIORI Gel Perfector LCA FX120 (30ml)

This gel serum contains salicylic acid and a specialist LCA complex to reduce spots and excess oil.

Gel Perfector LCA FX120 (30ml)-Gel-PRIORI-The Skin Experts

Buy PRIORI Gel Perfector LCA FX120


Does salicylic acid burn your skin?

Salicylic acid peel treatments are designed to strip back dead skin cells and unclog pores. This powerful action can cause some redness and soreness after treatment, but most people are back to normal after three or four days. Topical skincare products don’t usually contain enough salicylic acid to burn the skin.

Does salicylic acid contain aspirin?

Salicylic acid and aspirin are related and contain the same anti-inflammatory ingredients. If you are allergic to aspirin, please consult your GP before having a salicylic acid-based treatment.

How many salicylic acid peels will I need?

Acne is a long-term skin condition which means you are likely to need to maintain a permanent skincare regime in order to keep it under control. Some people choose to have regular salicylic acid peels to help prevent pores from becoming blocked and acne returning. Your practitioner will be able to assess your skin and build an appropriate treatment plan.

Related treatments:

Acne treatment

Skin peels


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