The Benefits Of Salicylic Acid And Why You Need It In Your Skincare Routine

salicylic acid serum

The most searched for skincare ingredient of 2021, salicylic acid is acne’s arch-enemy and, if you suffer from breakouts, your new best friend.  Famed for its spot-fighting powers, the hero active is favoured by skin experts and beauty editors alike, is available in all-manner of formulations, and is incredibly easy to incorporate into your skincare routine.  It really is that good! 

Keep reading to discover what salicylic acid is, what it does and how you can add it into your skincare routine for smooth, clarified and clear skin....

What Is Salicylic Acid? 

Naturally derived from willow bark but also produced synthetically, salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA), which is an exfoliant. Unlike alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) which are water-soluble, salicylic acid is oil-soluble.  This means that, in addition to working on the top layer of skin, salicylic acid is able to penetrate the skin at a deeper level, dissolve the ‘glue’ that sticks dead skin cells together, and unclog pores.  

What Does Salicylic Acid Do To Your Skin? 

Salicylic acid is keratolytic, which means it breaks down the keratin in the outer layer of skin, enabling it to more effectively exfoliate dead skin cells, and encourage cellular turnover.  Whilst removing the surface dirt and dead skin cells that contribute to blocked pores, salicylic acid simultaneously unclogs pores from the inside and breaks down the sebum that can lead to breakouts.  The powerful acne-fighting ingredient also has anti-inflammatory properties, making it able to calm red, inflamed or reactive skin.  

What Are The Benefits Of Salicylic Acid? 

Salicylic acid benefits the skin in a multitude of ways: 

  • Exfoliates dead skin cells 
  • Unclogs pores 
  • Reduces sebum secretion  
  • Targets whiteheads and blackheads directly  
  • Combats acne  
  • Treats keratosis pilaris 
  • Reduces inflammation and redness  
  • Minimises the appearance of pores  
  • Improves skin tone and texture  
  • Increases skin luminosity  

How Do You Use Salicylic Acid? 

Be it a salicylic acid cleanser, salicylic acid serum, or salicylic acid cream, the key is to start with a low concentration and go slowly.  You can have too much of a good thing, and over-use of salicylic acid may cause dryness and irritation.  Pay attention to the percentage of salicylic acid that’s in the product; it will generally range from 0.5% to 2%.  It’s advisable to start by using salicylic acid half as often as directed and gradually increasing use.  Be mindful of overloading your skin with acids, and aim to use a safe blend of products that contain complementary ingredients.  Salicylic acid can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight so always remember to wear a daily, high factor SPF.  

Is Salicylic Acid Suitable For Everyone? 

Although generally well-tolerated, salicylic acid should be avoided if you have very dry or sensitive skin, or if you suffer from conditions such as eczema or rosacea. As with all acids in skincare, you should consult your doctor first if looking to use salicylic acid while pregnant, and you definitely shouldn’t use it if you have an aspirin allergy as salicylic acid and aspirin come from the same chemical family.  

Top 5 Salicylic Acid Skincare Products 

1. CeraVe SA Smoothing Cleanser 

A favourite of Poppy Delevingne, CeraVe SA Smoothing Cleanser is a gentle ceramide, hyaluronic acid, and salicylic acid cleanser that is specifically formulated for rough and bumpy skin. Recommended by Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Red, Stylist, and Sheerluxe, the daily foaming cleanser gently exfoliates whilst also hydrating the skin and protecting the skin’s natural barrier.   

CeraVe SA smoothing cleanser

2. Nip+Fab Salicylic Acid Tonic 

A powerful salicylic acid for skin that suffers from breakouts, Nip+Fab Salicylic Acid Tonic contains 1% salicylic acid along with lotus flower extract to reduce sebum and witch hazel to close pores.  Used at night, the fast-acting tonic benefits anyone who suffers from congested skin as it exfoliates, clears blackheads, and unclogs pores.  Recommended by the Independent, Nip+Fab Salicylic Acid Tonic also contains hyaluronic acid to hydrate, smooth, and reduce visible signs of ageing.  

Nip+Fab Salicylic Acid Tonic

3. SkinCeuticals Silymarin CF Vitamin C Serum For Oily Skin 

Formulated specifically for oily and blemish-prone skin, SkinCeuticals Silymarin CF Vitamin C Serum For Oily Skin is a silymarin, vitamin C, ferulic acid, and salicylic acid serum that is clinically proven to reduce oil oxidation by up to 76%.  Recommended by Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, and Grazia, the breakthrough formula of this lightweight antioxidant serum helps to protect the skin from free radical damage, controls excess sebum, improves the appearance of blemishes, and reduces the visible signs of skin ageing.  

 SkinCeuticals Silymarin CF Vitamin C Serum For Oily Skin

4. La Roche-Posay Effaclar K Daily Moisturiser 

Recommended by The Guardian, Marie Claire, and Cosmopolitan, La Roche-Posay Effaclar K Daily Moisturiser is a lipo hydroxy acid (LHA) and salicylic acid cream designed to regulate skin that is prone to blackheads, oiliness, and uneven texture. The lightweight, hypoallergenic moisturiser both nourishes and exfoliates the skin, providing day-long hydration and moisturisation, whilst also unclogging pores, visibly reducing the appearance of blackheads, and improving skin texture and shine.  

La Roche-Posay Effaclar K Daily Moisturiser

5. Mesoestetic Pure Renewing Mask 

For intensive, purifying salicylic acid skincare, opt for Mesoestetic Pure Renewing Mask. Formulated with a unique blend of active ingredients, including salicylic acid, mandelic acid, and sodium lepargilate, the mask is ideal for acne-prone skin.  Used once or twice a week, it cleanses, exfoliates, and unclogs pores, prevents and reduces imperfections, absorbs excess oil and shine, strengthens the skin’s natural barrier, and protects the skin from the free radicals that can cause premature ageing.  

Mesoestetic Pure Renewing Mask


Written by Sarah Blake

In need of some newness? Read our guide to the best new skincare and haircare launches in January here. 

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