Salicylic acid: what it is, what it is for, properties, benefits and contraindications

Salicylic acid: what it is, what it is for, properties, benefits and contraindications

If you’ve ever dabbled in skincare or are prone to acne, chances are you’ve heard of salicylic acid before.

It is a substance much loved by both dermatologists and skincare professionals, capable of balancing the levels of sebum in the skin, destroying acne, correcting dark spots, as well as having an analgesic, antipyretic and anti-inflammatory effect.

While the term salicylic acid may sound aggressive, it’s actually a fairly mild and well-tolerated acid, depending on the concentration and how prone you are to irritation.

Below you will find out what exactly this substance is, why it is in such demand and in which products you can find it.

Salicylic acid – what is it?

Salicylic acid is a chemical compound belonging to the class of carboxylic acids. It is an organic acid that occurs as a white crystalline powder or colorless crystals, and is soluble in alcohol, ether, and other organic solvents.

It was first isolated from the bark of the white willow (Salix alba) and this is where its name comes from. It has been used for centuries as a natural analgesic (pain reliever) and antipyretic (antipyretic). Furthermore, it has anti-inflammatory properties.

Today, it is mainly used in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries. In the dermatological field, it is used as a keratolytic, i.e. to exfoliate the skin and remove dead cells, making it effective in the treatment of conditions such as acne, psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis.

It is present in many skin care products, such as creams, lotions and toners.

When is it used?

Salicylic acid preparations for use on the skin are used for:

  • Acne.
  • Warts.
  • Calli.
  • Keratinization disorders (ichthyosis).
  • Psoriasis.
  • Eczema.

Furthermore, the active ingredient is used for joint pain as a pain relief ointment.

Properties of salicylic acid

Salicylic acid or ortho-hydroxybenzoic acid (C7H6O3, Mr = 138.1) is available as a white crystalline powder or as white to colorless crystal needles, difficult to dissolve in cold water and easily soluble in 96% ethanol .

Salicylic acid has a pungent sweet and sour taste. It occurs naturally in the form of derivatives of many plants, including the white willow Salix alba L. It belongs to the phenols and carboxylic acids.

It has antimicrobial (fungi and bacterial), keratolic, analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.

What is salicylic acid used for?

In general we can say that, when it comes to freeing the skin from pimples, blemishes or warts, salicylic acid usually works wonders.

It dissolves dead cells from the top layer of the skin, similar to a fruit acid peel, but penetrates deeper into the skin and is therefore more effective than the latter.

It is also effective against inflammation, some bacteria and skin fungi.

In more detail, it really offers numerous benefits. That is why it is essential to dedicate some time to it.

Help against pimples

In low dosage it helps fight mild acne and helps pimples.

The acid frees the clogged pores from keratinized cells, the excess sebum then drains unhindered, depriving the pimples of their base.

In severe acne, higher doses of salicylic acid preparations are needed, and it often contains cortisone to enhance its anti-inflammatory effect. These dosages are usually prescribed by your doctor.

If you are interested in the topic, discover our in-depth study on acne.

Salicylic acid warts

Warts can be real parasites: some people suffer from the benign growths caused by human papilloma viruses and depending on where they occur, they can hurt and hinder everyday life.

Plantar warts, for example, form on the sole of the foot, between the toes, or on the heel. They often grow deep into the skin and make walking impossible.

The good news is that some warts and even plantar warts, which are among the most difficult to fight, can be removed with salicylic acid thanks to the cell-dissolving effect.

If you are interested in the topic, discover our study on warts.

Against dandruff and calluses

Calluses and some skin conditions, such as psoriasis, also respond to salicylic acid treatment.

Especially in the case of psoriasis, it is important to clean the keratinized skin areas regularly, so that the anti-psoriasis ointments and creams penetrate the skin.

Salicylic acid for fever and pain

Another field of application of salicylic acid is fever and pain. Treatment with salicylic acid has a long tradition: as early as the 5th century BC Hippocrates used the antipyretic and pain-relieving effect of willow bark extract.

Today it is processed, as already described above, to produce drugs such as aspirin. Externally, salicylic acid is still used to treat joint pain.

Facial salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is a great ally of the skin and not only for treating problems such as pimples and acne, but also for improving its texture and quality.

The skin actually forms new cells in a constant process and rejects the dead ones. If this process doesn’t work optimally, the old cells remain on the skin and clog the pores. The result: inflammation, pimples and acne.

To effectively rid the skin of impurities, it is recommended to use salicylic acid on the face as well. In addition to a clearer complexion, it also offers, as we shall see, cleaner, brighter and more youthful looking skin.

Younger skin

Salicylic acid for face diminishes fine lines and improves skin appearance. The active ingredient increases the renewal of skin cells, stimulates the body’s collagen production and thus improves its structure. Overall, the skin appears firmer and plumper.

Evens out the skin

Thanks to the exfoliating effect, skin blemishes such as pigment spots, pimple marks or acne scars can be treated effectively.

Regular skin care with salicylic acid ensures a balanced and even complexion on a continuous basis.

Makes skin glowing

The skin regeneration process slows down with age. The result is often a pale complexion. Salicylic acid for the face gently activates natural cell renewal and thus helps to achieve radiant skin.

How to use salicylic acid

Thorough facial cleansing is the foundation of a good beauty routine, because only clean and clarified skin can optimally absorb the ingredients of the products used for facial skin care.

Salicylic acid is suitable for all skin types due to its versatile properties. Below, you will learn how to best use it and what benefits you can benefit from.

How to treat acne and pimples

Since the presence of acne and pimples is largely due to blocked pores and therefore the presence of dead skin or sebum on the face, proper cleansing is essential in the treatment of these problems.

The first step is to cleanse the skin thoroughly with plain water or better still with micellar water. Then put 1% salicylic acid on a cotton ball and pat your skin.

This treatment should be repeated once or twice a day.

How to get rid of warts

Warts are treated by your doctor with high-dose salicylic acid, often combined with lactic acid. Among the most used products are patches with the active ingredient, creams or tinctures that can be used at home for about three days.

After that, the wart usually falls off so much that the doctor can remove it with a scalpel. It should be remembered that it is best not to try to treat the wart yourself, firstly because you could injure yourself and secondly, because it sometimes happens that the wart spreads when the virus-laden tissue reaches other areas of the skin.

How to remove calluses and hair

To eliminate calluses and ingrown hairs, a thin layer of ointment, cream or salicylic acid-based solutions that can be easily purchased at the pharmacy can be applied once or twice a day to the affected area of ​​the skin.

After a few days, calluses or any scabs and ingrown hairs can be easily removed, preferably after a hot bath or, in the case of the feet, a footbath.

Salicylic acid: how to dose correctly

As with all medicinal ingredients, dosage is key.

Preparations with a low concentration of active ingredients can be used for a longer period of time, but for products with high doses, however, it is usually not advisable to exceed one week.

As for its elimination, after application it is not necessary to wash off the salicylic acid. It enters the blood through the skin, from there into the kidneys and is excreted in the urine. After about three hours, half of the active ingredient is already degraded.

But how to protect the unaffected areas of the skin?

To ensure that surrounding, healthy skin is not treated with salicylic acid, it is best to cover it. In this regard, petroleum jelly or zinc paste have proven to be very effective.

Does salicylic acid work?

To answer this question we have to take a step back and reiterate a concept: our skin is constantly renewed.

In fact, old cells die, keratinize and are replaced by new ones. The old ones detach from the epidermis and fall off. If this process doesn’t work properly, i.e. if the dead cells don’t come off completely, they develop keratinization and pimples.

In this delicate…