Whether you’re struggling with blackheads, whiteheads, acne, or are simply looking to revitalise your dull complexion, you may have spotted one common ingredient in acne-combatting and brightening skincare products: salicylic acid.
While it may sound a little intimidating, salicylic acid is actually one of the most effective skincare ingredients that’s able to deliver near-instant results. Plus, it isn’t as harsh as its name suggests.
If you haven’t heard of salicylic acid, fret not; we’re here to tell you everything you need to know about this amazing ingredient.
What is salicylic acid and how does it work?
Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA), a type of carbon-based organic compound found in fruits, vegetables, and willow bark.
Since the ingredient is fat-soluble, it is able to penetrate deep within the pores to unclog pores and clear blackheads, unlike alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA) – another chemical exfoliant that’s water-soluble, so it’s only ideal for surface exfoliation.
When you apply salicylic acid on your skin, it dissolves the intercellular connection that causes your skin cells to stick together, thereby reducing congestion.
Other than clearing pores and blackheads, salicylic acid is also known for treating your skin at a deeper level and reducing inflammation. If you have acne-prone skin, this ingredient is bound to be your new skincare BFF.
What are the other benefits of salicylic acid?
- It removes excess oil: Apart from being able to penetrate deep beneath your skin’s surface to get rid of the excess sebum from your pores, salicylic acid is also able to reduce the amount of oil your skin produces for clearer, balanced skin.
- It helps combat acne: With the scorching hot weather in Malaysia, having breakouts is quite common. Since salicylic acid is known to unclog pores and reduce sebum production, you’ll experience fewer breakouts with consistent use.
- It soothes inflammation: Salicylic acid has anti-inflammatory properties, which means this ingredient can help address skin irritation. This is particularly helpful for those who experience breakout-induced redness.
Is salicylic acid suitable for all skin types?
While salicylic acid is a powerhouse ingredient that’s perfect for those with oily, acne-prone skin, it isn’t always a great match for other skin types and concerns.
If you have rosacea – a common skin condition that causes redness and visible blood vessels in your face – salicylic acid may make things worse, so you’ll want to steer clear of it. This is why it’s best to find out which type of acne you have before purchasing a salicylic acid-infused product.
Besides that, we also won’t recommend salicylic acid to those with dry or incredibly sensitive skin. The ingredient could dry out your skin even more, which could trigger irritation and sensitivity.
Of course, if you have damaged, broken skin or eczema, you shouldn’t apply salicylic acid on your skin too. And for those who aren’t sure if they’re allergic to the ingredient, you can always perform a patch test on your neck or jawline to see if you experience any itching or swelling after 24 hours.
16 best salicylic acid products to add to your skincare routine
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
This liquid exfoliant from Paula’s Choice is an essential for those with oily, acne-prone skin, and for a good reason. Infused with salicylic acid, the formula removes dead skin cells on the skin’s surface and within the pore.
Combined with anti-inflammatory green tea leaf extract, this helps to reduce blemishes and blackheads for a more clarified complexion. It also boosts hydration levels, soothes, and protects.
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant (118ml) retails for RM137.90 at Shopee Mall.
CeraVe SA Smoothing Cleanser Bumpy Skin
If you’re struggling to smooth out rough and bumpy skin, try this salicylic acid-infused cleanser. It gently exfoliates the skin while protecting the skin’s natural moisture barrier with every wash. Plus, it contains hyaluronic acid as well as ceramides to hydrate the skin effectively.
CeraVe SA Smoothing Cleanser Bumpy Skin (236ml) retails for RM125 at Threebs.
The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque
The Ordinary is quite popular among Malaysians, and it’s especially known for its salicylic acid range. The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque is known for its deep cleansing abilities thanks to the key ingredients, charcoal and clay, found in the formula. Use it twice a week for clearer, brighter skin, or as a spot treatment to reduce inflammation instantly.
The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque (50ml) retails for RM104 at Zalora.
YOUTH LAB Candy Scrub & Mask
Formulated with Perlite granules and salicylic acid, this scrub-and-mask from YOUTH LAB helps to control sebum production while reducing whiteheads and blackheads on the skin. This product is also suitable for sensitive skin as it is free of any harsh ingredients such as alcohol, parabens, silicone, and sulfates.
YOUTH LAB Candy Scrub & Mask (50ml) retails for RM81.92 at Care To Beauty.
Clinique Clarifying Lotion 3
For smoother and clearer skin, add Clinique Clarifying Lotion 3 to your skincare routine. Ideal for combination and oily skin, this lotion exfoliates and remove impurities, dirt or grime. With the help of witch hazel, it also reduces inflammation and redness.
Clinique Clarifying Lotion 3 (400ml) retails for RM240.01 at Care To Beauty.
Some By Mi AHA-BHA-PHA 30 Days Miracle Acne Clear Foam
Ideal for those with acne-prone skin, this foaming cleanser helps control sebum production and minimises pores, resulting in clearer and smoother-looking skin. It uses salicylic acid, AHA, polyhydroxy acids (PHA) to gently exfoliate the skin with every cleanse. Plus, it contains Truecica™ and calamine to soothe the skin.
SOME By Mi AHA-BHA-PHA 30 Days Miracle Acne Clear Foam retails for RM68 at Zalora.
Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Daily Scrub
Designed to treat acne, the MicroClear Technology used in Neutrogena’s scrub gently exfoliates the skin, sweeping away dirt, oil, impurities, and bacteria to reveal smoother skin. While it is labelled a “daily scrub”, we recommend starting out slow by using it once or twice a week to see how well your skin tolerates it.
Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Daily Scrub (124ml) retails for RM98 at Shopee.
Hada Labo AHA+BHA Oil Control Face Wash
After a long, sweaty day, reach for this Hada Labo cleanser to purify and protect your skin from environmental pollution. Formulated with rare alpine plant extract, bentonite clay, as well as salicylic acid and AHA, this cleanser helps control oil production while it washes away impurities and dead skin cells.
Hada Labo AHA+BHA Oil Control Face Wash (130g) retails for RM35.90 at Watsons.
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Face Wash
Developed by dermatologists, this gel cleanser from La Roche-Posay targets excess oil, acne, whiteheads, and blackheads. It contains salicylic acid to breakouts, revealing clearer skin. Lipo-hydroxy acid in the formula also helps to remove impurities without harsh scrub particles that may irritate the skin.
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Face Wash (200ml) retails for RM148 at Shopee.
Ducray Keracnyl Purifying Lotion
If you have oily or combination skin, this product is perfect for you. It contains glycolic acid, which helps exfoliate the skin, while salicylic acid eradicates acne-causing bacteria and impurities.
Ducray Keracnyl Purifying Lotion (200ml) retails for RM84.04 at Care To Beauty.
Kiehl’s Oil Eliminator Deep Cleansing Exfoliating Face Wash for Men
Specially designed for men, this exfoliating facial cleanser uses crushed apricot seeds to slough off dead skin cells. It also contains salicylic acid, which removes excess oil, dirt, and sweat from the skin, revealing smoother, shine-free skin.
Kiehl’s Oil Eliminator Deep Cleansing Exfoliating Face Wash for Men (200ml) retails for RM100 at Kiehl’s Online Store.
Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser
This multitasking cleansing exfoliant revitalises the skin by gently polishing away dullness with salicylic acid, lactic acid, and glycolic acid. It reveals younger-looking skin by using jojoba beads to buff away dry patches, while hydrating sodium PCA attracts water to the skin and retains plumpness and elasticity.
Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser retails for RM218 at Zalora.
COSRX Salicylic Acid Daily Gentle Cleanser
Using salicylic acid and tea tree oil, this gentle cleanser from K-beauty brand COSRX cleanses and exfoliates the skin to combat blemishes and remove excess oil. It also soothes redness and irritation as it prevents blackheads and whiteheads for fresh, clean skin.
COSRX Salicylic Acid Daily Gentle Cleanser (150ml) retails for RM49 at Watsons.
Caudalie Vinopure Purifying Gel Cleanser
Made with natural ingredients, Caudalie’s Vinopure Purifying Gel Cleanser works to minimise the appearance of pores as it reduces sebum production and blemishes. The grape seed polyphenols and essential oil complex offer antioxidant and antibacterial properties while grape and organic rose water help to promote a healthy glow.
Caudalie Vinopure Purifying Gel Cleanser (150ml) retails for RM99 at Sephora.
Sephora Collection Smoothing Cleanser
A smoothing, exfoliating, foaming cleansing gel, Sephora Collection’s Smoother Cleanser contains salicylic acid and AHAs to exfoliate your skin – the vital first step to a smoother, more radiant and visibly more beautiful skin. The unscented rinse-off gel exfoliates the skin and makes it more radiant, right from the very first time you use it.
Sephora Collection Smoothing Cleanser (125ml) retails for RM62 at Sephora.
Tarte Knockout Daily Exfoliating Cleanser
Enriched with lactic, glycolic, and salicylic acids, this cleanser from Tarte is designed to retexturise uneven skin. It delivers a silky lather that refines pores as you cleanse, and is gentle enough for everyday use if you have normal to oily skin. A hint of peppermint and eucalyptus refreshes your skin too – the perfect step to any morning routine.
Tarte Knockout Daily Exfoliating Cleanser (124ml) retails for RM115 at Sephora.
Featured images credit: @paulaschoice and @cerave on Instagram