Salicylic acid: 3 effects & 3 risks of the active substance

Salicylic acid is one of the best active ingredients against pimples, blackheads and acne – but the miracle cure can do a lot more. You can find out from us exactly how salicylic acid works, how to use it correctly and what you should consider when buying it.

What Salicylic Acid Actually Is

For some it sounds absurd that a remedy that contains the word “acid” should help to improve the appearance of the skin. However, when applied topically, salicylic acid contributes to a healthy and even complexion in a number of ways. And not just since the industrial age: salicylic acid is one of the oldest medicinally used active ingredients. There are even reports of their healing powers in Greek literature. Even the physician and scholar Hippocrates admired the pain-relieving and fever-reducing extract obtained from willow bark .

In fact, salicylic acid is common in nature, but we mostly use salicylic acid, which is derived from the bark of willow trees. It is a so-called beta-hydroxy acid and it is precisely these acids that are known to penetrate deep into the skin and thus stimulate cell renewal. However, salicylic acid can also pass through the skin into the blood and tissues, where it is later excreted through the kidneys .

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Salicylic acid has an enormous positive effect on damaged or polluted skin . But the acid is also used for pain, psoriasis, warts or cornification disorders. In addition to the aesthetic aspects such as radiant and youthful skin, salicylic acid can score with health-promoting effects.

How salicylic acid works

Our skin is the largest organ that we own – at the same time it is also the most intensively exposed to harmful environmental influences. Unfortunately, this often leads to contamination and skin problems, which everyone has certainly had to deal with at some point.

We basically divide our largest organ into three units: the epidermis, the dermis and the hypodermis . Ultimately, however, the epidermis is the only one we really perceive. It has to be constantly re-formed, since older skin cells die off over time due to various influences. Normally, the dead scales come off and are replaced by new ones. However, it can happen that the cells do not really detach and instead clog the pores . This creates an ideal breeding ground for germs and bacteria and your skin looks pale and unclean.

Salicylic acid can effectively accelerate the exfoliation – the loosening of dead skin cells. The beta hydroxy acid has some valuable properties that contribute to this effect. On the one hand, it helps to dissolve the connection between horny cells by activating enzymes on the skin that are responsible for this process. On the other hand, it is also due to the valuable property of beta-hydroxy acids to penetrate deep into the lower levels of the skin.

The other group of hydroxy acids are the so-called alpha hydroxy acids , which also include the fruit acids that are often used in cosmetics. They’re great for sunburn and external skin damage, but unlike their closer relatives, they only treat superficial damage.

The special thing about salicylic acid is that it not only helps the skin with natural desquamation, but also stimulates cell renewal at the same time . In this way, it gently contributes to an important regeneration of your skin. In addition, the remedy has a pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory and growth-inhibiting effect on bacteria and germs.

Salicylic acid is also used in the following cases:

  • Blackheads : Small, unsightly blackheads form when the sebum glands become clogged with dead cells. Salicylic acid stimulates the process of cell desquamation and frees the skin from blackheads.
  • Calluses : Calluses can form if there is constant pressure on certain parts of the body. It is completely harmless, but can disturb those affected. Here, too, salicylic acid stimulates desquamation and makes the skin softer.
  • Milia : The small white cysts appear mainly on the face and near the eyes. Although they are not harmful to health, they can disturb the complexion of the skin. A scrub with natural willow bark extract gently removes milia.
  • Eczema : Eczema is an unsightly inflammation of the outer layers of the skin. In combination with cortisone, salicylic acid has a strong anti-inflammatory effect on the affected skin areas. The eczema recedes and reduces the associated symptoms.
  • Psoriasis : Psoriasis is a hereditary and inflammatory skin disease. It is accompanied by red patches on the skin that are covered with scales and are very itchy. Salicylic acid helps to detach the scales from the skin and at the same time optimally prepares the skin for the subsequent treatment.

Salicylic acid for acne and pimples

Independent studies have already shown that regular use of salicylic acid can actually reduce acne. While cell desquamation and renewal occurs automatically and evenly in normal skin, these processes are disrupted in heavily polluted skin. Dead scales remain on the skin and clog the pores. This leads to unsightly inflammation and pimples.

This is exactly where the salicylic acid comes in: It penetrates deep into the skin and stimulates the process in the long term – your sebaceous glands are less clogged and pimples disappear. At the same time, the miracle cure combats irritated and reddened skin as well as an overproduction of sebum.

Against warts

In fact, one of the most common salicylic acid treatments is to treat warts. Doctors and pharmacists often recommend the use of this natural acid to treat the affected areas. This is because the salicylic acid softens warts and at the same time causes the upper skin cells to die off. And it is precisely these that are infected with the human papilloma virus in the event of a wart infestation .

Treatment with salicylic acid is very effective, gentle and also inexpensive. However, it can take up to two or three months for the warts to disappear completely . You will probably see and feel the first successes after just a few weeks .

Treatment with salicylic acid is quite simple. Before use, soak the affected area in lukewarm water for about five to ten minutes . After that, the ointment or cream can be spread on and around the wart. Finally, cover the area with a plaster . Repeat this process about once or twice a week. After a few weeks you will see if the treatment is working.

The unbeatable advantages of salicylic acid over other drugs are that it is very inexpensive and at the same time is usually particularly well tolerated. Only in some cases can reddening or skin irritation occur. In this case, but also generally for your own protection, you should talk to your doctor about the treatment beforehand.

For radiant skin

It is a fact that salicylic acid provides many health benefits for your skin. However, this effect does not only play out in the background, it is also visible. Your skin becomes more radiant and even – some users report a significantly fresher appearance. In view of their mode of action, this is not at all surprising. Rapid desquamation and cell renewal are actually rather youthful phenomena. It is not until the mid-20s that the skin begins to regenerate, which means that the first wrinkles appear on the face and the skin becomes drier. However, salicylic acid keeps this process going and gently stimulates cell regeneration in old age.

Risks of Salicylic Acid

Despite its health benefits, there are a few things to keep in mind when using salicylic acid, as it is not entirely free of side effects . However, these are usually the exception; as a rule, salicylic acid is well tolerated.

Interaction with other drugs

In general, you should never use the active ingredient on open wounds , as it can further irritate the skin at this point. In addition, you need to know that salicylic acid can interact with some other active ingredients . For example, there is often an intensification of the effect with other substrates, which is absorbed through the skin. These include nicotine patches and hormone creams, but it is also possible to increase the active ingredient methotrexate . This drug is often used in the treatment of cancer and arthritis. A reinforcement usually comes about here because the degradation of these substances is delayed.

Allergy and overdose

It can always happen that the skin reddens during a treatment or that irritation occurs. Irritation of the mucous membranes is also possible. In the worst case, however, the body can react with an allergy or even salicylic poisoning when salicylic acid is used . Therefore, you should consult a doctor at the first sign or, to be on the safe side, talk to your doctor in advance. If you are allergic to aspirin, you should definitely avoid salicylic acid. The two active ingredients have the same chemical structure , which is why a salicylic acid allergy could also be likely in your case.

In most cosmetics, the salicylic acid dosage never exceeds the two percent limit. All higher-dose products are only available in pharmacies . An overdose of the active substance can occur, which manifests itself in unpleasant symptoms such as gastrointestinal complaints, skin rashes or dizziness.

Sun sensitivity of the skin

While this is not directly a side effect of the acid, you should be aware that treatment with salicylic acid makes your skin more sensitive to UV rays . Eventually, the upper layers of skin are removed, causing the skin in these areas to become thinner. Additional sun protection is therefore recommended in any case. You can find out here what you should consider before using sunscreen .

Salicylic acid in pregnancy

Willow bark extract is not harmful during pregnancy or breastfeeding and may be used. However, since the active ingredient can pass into the blood and tissue, you should only apply it sparingly and on a small area . However, you should not use salicylic acid on the breast , especially when breastfeeding , so as not to harm the baby.

Salicylic acid is also safe for children and adolescents, but it should not be used if the child has a viral infection.

buy salicylic acid

The health-promoting effect of salicylic acid is no longer an insider tip, which is why the active ingredient is now found in many cosmetics. So you can buy them in almost all drugstores. Incidentally, you don’t have to worry about a possible overdose here either, because the permitted maximum limit for salicylic acid is only two percent. Everything that exceeds the value is subject to the pharmacy requirement.

You can purchase salicylic acid from pharmacies to treat certain skin conditions. In principle, they do not require a prescription unless other active ingredients have been added that require a prescription.

Some cosmetic products state that they contain salicylic acid, but not exactly how much. Here it is worth taking a look at the ingredients: If it is at the end of the list, you can assume a very low dosage . In most cases, this is not sufficient to achieve the described effects on the skin.

Salicylic Acid Cream

Salicylic acid is a popular ingredient in cosmetics and skin care products. Therefore, you will find a whole range of creams, ointments, scrubs and gels that contain the active ingredient.

A good purchase option is definitely the salicylic acid cream. It is usually suitable for all skin types, but is mainly recommended for people with impure and oily skin. If you plan to use the cream to target acne and pimples, you should also pay attention to the other ingredients. They should be as natural as possible, with little to no preservatives . While vegetable and essential oils such as tea tree oil or rose oil are an additional enrichment for your skin, parabens or silicones can harm you.

For optimal use, clean your face thoroughly before applying the cream and use a mild facial tonic. Then apply the cream with salicylic acid and let it sit well before using your usual moisturizer or makeup. One application in the morning and in the evening is best.

Salicylic acid peeling

A peeling with salicylic acid is doubly effective, as it usually contains additional abrasive particles. This removes dead skin cells even better. As a result, the face appears fresher and smoother. In general, unless otherwise specified, peeling is suitable for all skin types . Nevertheless, very sensitive skin can quickly react with redness and irritation.

A peel with salicylic acid is only really effective if the concentration of the acid is at least one percent of the total content. You can use the scrub about two to four times a week. Since it can quickly irritate the skin, an exfoliation with other mild and soothing active ingredients, such as licorice root extract or aloe vera , would make sense.

use salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is now a common ingredient in the cosmetics industry. That’s why you can find them in pretty much any dosage form – from liquid tinctures to creamy ointments. The acid is also found in everyday day creams or moisturizers . What you ultimately choose depends entirely on your skin type, your preference and the purpose of the application. For example, you can use a day cream with salicylic acid every day , but you should be aware that a concentration of two percent can irritate the skin. If you have very dry skin in particular, you need good moisture balance and sun protection. Because the acid can make your skin more sensitive to UV rays. In addition, the salicylic acid should never be used in the direct vicinity of the eyes, so that they are not harmed.

While products with a maximum of two percent of the acid can be bought in drugstores, high-dose medicines can only be found in pharmacies. You should only use this for a short time , for example if you want to treat warts with it. Be sure to follow the instructions on the package insert .


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