A Complete Guide to Salicylic Acid

Whether you’re susceptible to full-blown breakouts or a couple of pesky pimples, the probabilities are you’ve in all probability used a product containing salicylic acid. Considered one of many prime acne-fighting elements in dermatology, salicylic acid is a tried-and-true energetic, however no so self-explanatory. Here’s what the professionals need you to know.

What is salicylic acid?

Commonly utilized in dermatology to deal with quite a lot of pores and skin circumstances and ailments (each over-the-counter and prescription remedy), “salicylic acid is an organic compound that is a plant hormone found naturally in the bark of white willow and wintergreen leaves,” says Bloomfield Hills, MI dermatologist Linda C. Honet, MD. “It is one of the oldest, most ubiquitous and most accessible topical medications in dermatology, and it can be found in a variety of skin-care products, cleansers, peeling agents, and prescription compounds, to name a few. It has several important properties and clinical applications, where it can function as an exfoliant, a keratolytic—it can dissolve skin flakes and scales—and an anti-inflammatory, making it a very useful treatment for a variety of skin conditions.”

However, you in all probability comprehend it greatest as a betahydroxy acid. “Salicylic acid is the classic example of a betahydroxy acid (BHA), as opposed to alphahydroxy acids like glycolic acid or lactic acid,” explains Campbell, CA dermatologist Amelia Okay. Hausauer, MD. “This means there is an extra carbon in its backbone structure that separates the hydroxy portion from the acid portion. The difference in structure means BHAs tend to be more oil-soluble than AHAs, so salicylic acid can penetrate through the lipid layers of the skin to get to a deeper level.” New York dermatologist Heidi A. Waldorf, MD provides that not solely is salicylic acid “lipophilic—attracted to fat and oil—but also comedolytic—it helps unplug whiteheads and blackheads—so it’s attracted to the sebaceous follicles (pores) where it’s needed.”

What can it’s used to deal with?

“The fact that salicylic acid can get deeper into the skin and pass through the lipid layer means it is helpful at targeting clogged pores involved in acne,” Dr. Hausauer explains. “It works to dissolve or unglue skin debris that congests pores, and it has anti-inflammatory properties that can also help minimize inflamed red pimples and pustules, allowing for faster resolution and clearing. Three major factors contribute to acne: abnormal sloughing of skin cells forming a plug, excessive oiliness and actions of P. acnes bacteria. Salicylic acid targets the first mechanism by dissolving the keratin plug and better regulating cell interactions. Thus, it works most effectively for treating blackheads and whiteheads.”

“The fact that it can break down skin cell connections also makes it an exfoliator,” provides Dr. Hausauer. “It is also good for seborrheic dermatitis or dandruff: T/Sal is an example of a shampoo/scalp treatment that can help slough off that flaky skin.” Other pores and skin circumstances that may be handled with the salicylic acid embrace warts, calluses, keratosis pilaris, and even psoriasis, however at all times seek the advice of a physician earlier than experimenting at dwelling.

At greater doses, Dr. Honet says salicylic acid can be used in-office as a deep chemical peel to deal with precancerous lesions known as actinic keratoses (a tough, scaly patch on the pores and skin that develops from years of solar publicity). Dr. Hausauer makes use of salicylic acid chemical peels to deal with her acne-prone sufferers as properly.  

What pores and skin varieties is it greatest for?

According to Dr. Honet, salicylic acid may be very properly tolerated by the vast majority of pores and skin varieties, and solely the very delicate or very dry might have problem. “Not only is it quite gentle at low concentrations, but the percentage can also be varied from very low to quite high to take advantage of its various properties and penetrability,” she explains. “The other valuable aspect of salicylic acid is that it is often combined and compounded with other medications to amplify specific therapeutic properties of the active ingredients.” Dr. Waldorf says it’s additionally secure for all pores and skin colours and unlikely to trigger hyperpigmentation. (“It also has the advantage over benzoyl peroxide of not bleaching clothing or towels.”)

Are there any elements you shouldn’t combine with it, or any uncomfortable side effects?

The most typical uncomfortable side effects are dryness, redness and irritation, and Dr. Honet factors out that although salicylic acid is usually light, if used at the side of different energetic elements that trigger the identical results, they might be amplified, and the pores and skin might turn out to be overly irritated. “However, and interestingly, some of the most popular skin-care products combine both an alphahydroxy acid, like glycolic acid, and salicylic acid in one, to more effectively exfoliate, improve skin texture, and improve blackheads, whiteheads and pores.”

If you’re pregnant, Dr. Hausauer says that though between 0.5 p.c and a pair of p.c is offered over-the-counter and usually in all probability secure in being pregnant, it’s not really helpful in excessive doses or over massive areas. “When used in large amounts, it can also potentially interact with blood thinners, and don’t apply a layer over the full body—just acne-prone areas—to minimize the risk of enough systemic absorption to salicylate poisoning.”

Can it’s used as a spot-treatment and everywhere in the pores and skin?

Salicylic acid is efficient for the spot-treatment of zits pimples and oily T-zones; Dr. Honet says it is usually utilized in spot-treating warts and calluses, and is discovered because the energetic ingredient in over-the-counter foot-care merchandise. “For all-over face and body treatment, it can be found as the active ingredient in cleansers, shampoos, lotions, gels, and exfoliators to treat skin conditions like dandruff, keratosis pilaris (chicken skin), rough patches on knees and elbows, and cracked skin on heels,” she explains.

However, Dr. Hausauer cautions customers to watch the realm being handled versus the power of the remedy. “It’s fine to apply to the body—like the back or chest if these are areas that break out—but for bigger areas, consider selecting a lower-strength formulation.”

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