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Salicylic acid is a substance naturally derived from plants and fruits, and belongs to the beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) group which is commonly known as “fruit acids”. Salicylic acid is a primary ingredient in many over-the-counter acne products.
Salicylic acid is an exfoliant or an agent that peels off dead skin cells by loosening the binding substance that make the surface skin cells stick together. It combines well with oil and can penetrate deep inside clogged up pores. By doing this, salicylic acid helps hasten the growth of new skin cells, keeps the pores clear and prevents future acne outbreaks.
Over-the-counter products which use salicylic acid as their chief ingredient are not so effective in fighting non-inflammatory acne such as whiteheads and blackheads. Although it can’t control excessive oil production which triggers acne, salicylic acid does work effectively in removing oil on the skin’s surface to give it a smoother feel.
Salicylic acid alone which is sold in many non-prescription low strength formulations isn’t effective enough to treat acne. In combination, however, it works synergistically and helps in the absorption of benzoyl peroxide and other essential acne-fighting chemicals in the skin.
Many skin specialists occasionally choose formulations with higher salicylic acid concentrations for acne treatments, skin rejuvenation and age lines removal procedures. The stronger formulations are reported to be much better in eliminating blackheads and whiteheads compared to the weaker over-the-counter treatments.
Salicylic acid is available in various preparations and can be found in known brands such as PanOxyl, Neutrogena, and Clearasil, as well as in cheaper brands.
Salicylic acid is sold in varying strengths usually from 0.5% to 2%, usually in the form of astringents, lotions, creams, cleansers and washes. It is available as a single component or in combination with other ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and sulfur. Salicylic acid sold as creams and lotions is said to work better than in other form.
Many skin care companies offer benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid as two separate products in their merchandising lines. To boost sales, the two components are often combined in one “complete acne solution” package. When salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are combined as active ingredients in a preparation, they work more effectively together than when sold separately.
TV infomercials that market high-priced non-prescription combination formulas often don’t live up to their products’ claims and result in a lot of customer complaints. If you consider using one, get a more affordable version of the product at your local pharmacy or supermarket.
Salicylic acid-based formulations are suitable skin care for pre-teens and teenagers who are starting to experience mild acne breakouts such as blackheads. Moderate to advanced acne, however, require a much stronger formulation than salicylic acid alone.
Sparingly apply a very small portion of salicylic acid to the acne-affected area of your skin. If this don’t seem to be working well, consider using a benzoyl peroxide-based formulation in addition to your current regimen.
Salicylic acid can cause mild skin dryness and irritation. If used in combination with benzoyl peroxide products, expect these side effects to be more severe. If the skin becomes too dry and scaly, soothe the affected area with a non-oil based moisturizing cream.