There are two classes of acids used in skincare:
- Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs)
- Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)
Salicylic acid is a BHA, meaning the ‘hydroxy’ part of the molecule is separated from the acids by two carbon atoms (with AHAs they are only separated by one). It is derived from willow bark and belongs to the ’salicylates’ group. Its structure means it is more oil-soluble and therefore can penetrate the pores of the skin. Though both BHAs and AHAs exfoliate the skin, being oil-soluble (rather than just water-soluble like AHAs) allows BHAs to penetrate through the lipid layers, between the skin cells, deeper and more readily.
While AHAs like glycolic and lactic acid are good for removing dead, old skin on the surface to reveal fresh newer skin, Salicylic acid goes deeper to unclog the pores and also loosens and breaks apart desmosomes (attachments between cells in the outer layer of skin). In this way, it is the perfect product for acne treatments, especially through its ability to combat black heads and whiteheads. It also acts as an anti-inflammatory, helping to combat red inflamed pimples and pustules as well as promoting exfoliation by breaking down skin cells. It does have some effectiveness against cystic acne due to its antibacterial activity, but it is much better for the classic blackheads and whiteheads.
It is possible to use too much! The main downside of using salicylic acid is its ability to irritate and dry skin in people who are are very sensitive or those who overuse it. For this reason, those with skin that’s already severely dry or sensitive should consider avoiding Salicylic Acid altogether. It’s also not the best choice if you are pregnant or taking certain medications, including blood thinners. Furthermore, applying salicylic acid or any salicylate to very large portions of your body can lead to salicylate poisoning. It is therefore important to stick to acne-prone areas only!
In regards to concentrations, the Food and Drug Administration allows manufacturers to make acne-fighting claims for salicylic acid-containing products, if they use it at levels between 0.5 percent and 2 percent. We recommend the Obagi Clenziderm Range which utilises a concentration of 2% Salicylic Acid in its wash and toner, coupled with a therapeutic lotion containing Benzoyl Peroxide. For those wanting a deeper effect, we offer chemical peels that are performed by trained professionals only, which can use concentrations of up to 30%.
For more information on whether Salicylic Acid is the right ingredient for your skin, please book a consultation with us!