Salicylic Acid for Skin: Everything You Need to Know

If you’re interested in skincare, you’ve probably heard about using salicylic acid for skin. That’s because salicylic acid is a tried and true exfoliating ingredient that promotes skin cell turnover, helps with acne, and has anti-inflammatory properties.

It’s no wonder that salicylic acid has made its way into many different skincare formulas. From cleansers and toners to serums and even some cosmetics, you can find all types of salicylic acid products that offer solutions for a multitude of skincare concerns.

Learn more about salicylic acid and how you can incorporate it into your skincare routine to harness the benefits.

What Is Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic acid definition.


Salicylic acid is a chemical exfoliant and a type of Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA). Most salicylic acid is made in a lab nowadays, but the compound is naturally found in the bark of the willow tree.

This potent ingredient is known for its ability to get into pores and dissolve dead skin and excess oil, as well as help reduce inflammation and swelling brought on by acne. Salicylic acid is also classified as a keratolytic, which is a compound that can soften the keratin and increase the amount of moisture in the skin.

How Salicylic Acid Is Used in Skincare

It’s a trusted acne-fighting ingredient, but what does salicylic acid do to skin exactly? Unlike other exfoliating acids like Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA), salicylic acid is oil-soluble, meaning it can penetrate pores and purge excess oil, dirt, and additional build-up that can clog pores and lead to acne.

Salicylic acid is most often used in anti-acne and exfoliant skincare that targets skin dullness, scars, and even skin conditions like psoriasis.

Man dispensing serum from a dropper.

How Can You Integrate Salicylic Acid into Your Skincare Routine?

If you’re struggling with acne, a salicylic acid treatment can be a good way to address the issue, whether it be in the form of a liquid toning solution or gel spot treatment. After cleansing your skin, you can apply the salicylic acid treatment and then follow with a hydrating moisturizer.

You could also try a skincare-makeup hybrid product like the Colorescience Mattifying Primer SPF 20 to give your complexion a smooth, matte finish.

Colorescience Mattifying Primer SPF 20


Made for oily and blemish-prone skin, this primer not only helps control excess shine but also provides essential sun protection with SPF 20 broad-spectrum sunscreen. Given that BHAs like salicylic acid can increase the skin’s sensitivity to sunlight, the inclusion of SPF in your routine becomes all the more crucial for maintaining skin health and preventing potential damage.

Combining Salicylic Acid with Other Skincare Ingredients

Though it is arguably the most popular and effective of the Beta Hydroxy Acids, salicylic acid is just one of many highly beneficial ingredients to consider when building your ideal skincare routine. For example, salicylic acid benefits for skin can also be compounded when used in combination with ingredients like peptides that help improve skin elasticity, resulting in skin that is smoother and firmer.

Note that while using a combination of ingredients can help you create a well-rounded skincare routine, if your skin is sensitive, you’ll want to be cautious about how certain ingredients might interact with each other.

3 Benefits of Salicylic Acid for Your Skin

Let’s delve further into the transformative benefits of salicylic acid for skin. From its exfoliating powers to its ability to combat acne and refine skin texture, you’ll discover that salicylic acid is a multi-purpose ingredient that can help you achieve your clearest, smoothest, and brightest skin yet.

Benefits of salicylic acid.

Removes Excess Oil

Due to its oil-soluble nature, salicylic acid can get deeper into pores and dry up excess oil on the skin. This can be very beneficial for people who have naturally oily skin and want to control any associated shine. Products formulated with salicylic acid, like the Mattifying Primer SPF 20, are designed to soak up the superfluous oil on the skin’s surface for a shine-reducing, mattifying effect.

Lighten Dark Spots

Dark spots can also be referred to as hyperpigmentation, a common skincare occurrence that arises when there is an overproduction of melanin in the skin. Hyperpigmentation can be caused by a variety of factors, such as:

  • Inflammation
  • Sun damage
  • Hormonal changes

Since chemical exfoliants aid in the dissolving of dead skin cells to reveal the fresh new skin cells underneath, using salicylic acid on skin regularly can help fade dark spots over time. The key is consistency, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t see immediate changes. Skincare is often a marathon, not a sprint.

Smooth Skin

Salicylic acid is also classified as a keratolytic agent, which means it has the ability to soften keratin, a protein that is found in the outer layer of the skin. That, in combination with its BHA properties that allow it to break down bonds between dead skin cells, make it an ideal ingredient to assist in breaking down rough patches of skin that can develop over time, thus revealing smoother skin underneath.

You might want to consider if you’re trying to decrease your use of physical exfoliants like facial scrubs, as it’s pretty gentle and tolerable for most skin types.

Additional Benefits of Mattifying Primer SPF 20

In addition to salicylic acid, Mattifying Primer SPF 20 includes mineral sunscreen ingredients, titanium dioxide and zinc to help protect skin from harmful UV rays. It’s water resistant for up to 40 minutes as well.

The formula is non-comedogenic, which is a fancy way of saying it won’t clog your pores. The primer also contains ingredients like glycerin, jojoba oil, and aloe leaf extract that help moisturize skin and reduce inflammation.

If you’ve never explored the benefits of salicylic acid for skin, you could be missing out on healthier skin. Salicylic acid benefits those with acne-prone skin, those who wish to fade dark spots over time, and anyone who wants to exfoliate their way to smoother skin texture.

Potential Side Effects of Using Salicylic Acid on Your Skin

Some potential salicylic acid side effects might include:

  • Irritation: Typically, this can be remedied by using a lower concentration of salicylic acid or waiting longer in between uses.
  • Dryness: If your skin is prone to becoming dry and flaky, you can choose a salicylic acid product that contains moisturizing ingredients like glycerin and squalane.
  • Redness. This is usually temporary and might occur in skin types that are more reactive. It should go away on its own.

These side effects are generally mild and tend to go away quickly. If you have sensitive skin, slowly introducing salicylic acid into your skincare routine in small doses can help your skin acclimate to the ingredient and reduce the risk of irritation.

Young Asian woman applying skin care.

Can You Use Skincare with Salicylic Acid Daily?

In short, yes, salicylic acid is typically considered safe for daily use, particularly in products that contain lower concentrations of the active ingredient.

Often, you don’t need to use them every day, though. Using salicylic acid or other exfoliating acids and retinol every other day can effectively prevent acne and treat fine lines and wrinkles without overwhelming the skin. For many people, skin cycling works well.

If you have sensitive skin, you can try using salicylic acid skincare every other day. You also may already be using products that contain salicylic or other exfoliating acids without realizing it, so you can check the ingredients list of your skincare products to see if you’re doubling or tripling up on exfoliating ingredients – there can be too much of a good thing.

Adjusting the concentration and frequency of salicylic acid usage can help mitigate any sensitivity or irritation and help your skin have a comfortable experience. Moreover, combining salicylic acid with complementary ingredients like moisturizers containing glycerin or shea butter can help skin stay hydrated and minimize potential irritation.

Elevate Your Skincare Routine

If you’re thinking of trying salicylic acid for your skin, a good place to start might be our Mattifying Primer SPF 20 if you like the idea of an even skin tone and extended makeup wear. And while you’re at it, why not give your skincare regimen a refresh? From peptide eye serums to skin barrier repair moisturizers, Colorescience has a variety of skincare treatments to help perfect your regimen.