Ingredient focus

Ingredient in Focus: Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is an ingredient that many of us will be all too familiar with from our teenage years (thanks a bunch, acne). But bitterness aside, there’s a lot to be grateful for when it comes to this miracle-working, blemish-busting ingredient.

It’s a BHA (beta hydroxy acid) that occurs naturally in plants – particularly in willow tree bark – and it’s best known for its {exfoliating}, pore-unclogging and bacteria-fighting powers. Once applied, it penetrates deep into pores and breaks up the excess oil and dead skin cells that cause blackheads, so it’s a great solution for unwanted blemishes.

On top of all this, it can also reduce sebum secretion (which is known to make the skin oily and shiny) and reduce inflammation and redness. As well as being used to get rid of those uninvited eruptions, it can also be found in products that rejuvenate your skin – think of it as a super mild ‘chemical peel’ that’ll leave your skin looking clear and bright!


 If you have oily and blemish-prone skin, then salicylic acid is the partner in crime you’ve been looking for. It’s particularly effective for treating and preventing comedonal acne (blackheads and whiteheads), and it can be used to treat cystic acne (those deeper, painful lumps) too, but you should always consult your dermatologist first.

And what about those with skin at the other end of the complexion scale? Salicylic acid is drying, so if your skin is on the dry or sensitive side, take care to use it in moderation. Look for products with a lower concentration of salicylic acid (around 1%) and also keep an eye out for products that contain moisturising ingredients too, like hyaluronic acid and ceramides.


Products containing salicylic acid can be safe to use daily if you follow the product instructions, so long as your skin tolerates it. It’s generally a good idea to start using the product every other day, and then work your way up to daily use once you know your skin is happy with it.

Another important thing: the exfoliating effects of salicylic acid can leave your skin more vulnerable to UV rays, which is why most products containing this ingredient are designed to be applied at night. Make sure you take extra care when it comes to sun protection, and always wear {SPF} as part of your skincare regime.


You can find salicylic acid in cleansers, toners, oils, spot treatments…you name it! Here are some of our favourites:


{THE INKEY LIST’s} {C-50 Night Treatment} helps to treat blemishes and prevent future outbreaks by warding off blemish-causing bacteria. As well as its title ingredient, C50, which minimises the appearance of blemishes, it contains salicylic acid for exfoliating goodness and clearing power. Massage onto a cleansed face and neck in the evening for overnight pore-perfecting action.


Want those sweet, sweet benefits of salicylic acid without upsetting sensitive skin? Get acquainted with {Dr. Barbara Sturm’s} salicylic acid {cleanser}, which provides gentle yet deep cleansing without upsetting the skin’s natural moisture balance. Expect remarkable results without overburdening the skin.


A match made in heaven for combination, oily and blemish-prone skin, the {Deep Sweep 2% BHA Pore Cleaning Toner with Moringa and Papaya} from {FARMACY} provides impressive exfoliation and combats shine by drawing out excess oil. This water-light salicylic acid toner works to purify your pores and refine your skin texture. Like we said, here we glow!


Looking for a multi-tasking treatment that tackles congestion, rough texture and uneven tone, all without compromising your skin barrier? Enter {Youth to the People’s} {Mandelic Acid + Superfood Unity Exfoliant}. This leave-on exfoliant combines 3% mandelic acid, 2% salicylic acid, 1% gluconolactone and liquorice root to revitalise dull, lacklustre skin and reveal a radiant finish. All of the exfoliating benefits, none of the irritation.


{Sunday Riley’s} {U.F.O Ultra-Clarifying Face Oil} not only battles (and prevents) blackheads and breakouts with the help of salicylic acid, but it also brightens and reduces post-blemish discolouration with the help of hexylresorcinol and liquorice. And it doesn’t stop there, oh no… Tea tree and black cumin seed oil combat spot-causing bacteria, neroli and chamomile calm any redness, and cucumber and milk thistle help to maintain moisture levels so your face feels ‘plump’ and dewy. Jackpot!


For reliable and hardworking products that are budget-friendly too, don’t miss the salicylic acid offering from {PAULA’S CHOICE}. The {Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant} is a gentle, leave-on formula that’ll become your new best friend when the breakout hits. Clearer complexion? Yes please.


Jump on the bandwagon and get tipsy with us! That’s right, we’re talking about {Drunk Elephant} and their {TLC Babyfacial}. We’re not exaggerating when we say the entire beauty community is utterly bewitched by this salicylic acid infused treatment, and trust us, there’s good reason for it. Treat yourself to an at-home facial once a week and get set for the greatest glow you’ll ever know!


Cult Beauty

Cult Beauty

Writer and expert