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Salicylic Acid Basics

Updated on December 6, 2008

This hub will be about one of my most favorite skin care ingredients, salicylic acid, a potent and effective BHA (beta hydroxy acid). There are many variations of AHA (alpha hydroxy acids), but there is only one beta hydroxy acid, and that's salicylic acid.

The most notable difference between AHA and BHA is that alpha hydroxy acids are water-soluble, whereas beta hydroxy acid is oil-soluble. This means that salicylic acid (beta hydroxy acid) can penetrate oil in the pores and exfoliate what is built up in the oil gland! This is great news for those battling blackheads and blemishes.

I'll be putting up another hub all about AHA's, so stay tuned for that.

Back to topic here.  Salicylic acid is a natural acid that's derived from willow bark, wintergreen leaves and sweet birch bark. It's been used in dermatology for a long time since it's a proven method to unclog pores and exfoliate the skin. It can also be combined with an AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) to further the benefits of each ingredient. Here's a background on salicylic acid.

The word 'salix' is derived from the Latin word for the willow tree. It is chemically similar to acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin). It can be effective in the treatment of acne, dandruff, calluses, psoriasis, corns, keratosis pilaris (those pesky bumps found on the arms) and warts. It is not suitable for pregnant or breastfeeding women or anyone with aspirin allergy, of course. It's also contraindicated in those with liver disease, kidney disease, diabetics, and is not suitable for children.

As with many effective ingredients, it's incredibly wise to pair this with a broad-spectrum sunblock daily, and reapplied every 2 hours thereafter or more frequently if you are going to be swimming or in prolonged exposure. I want to discuss the best preparation of salicylic acid and let you know that it works best in a 1-2% formulation with a pH of 3, ideally. As I mentioned that salicylic acid is related to aspirin, you will find that salicylic acid is not as irritating as other products like Retin-A, retinol and AHA's and has some anti-inflammatory properties.

It's very difficult to find products based on pH unless you can test them, but since ingredients are listed on each and every label in the order of abundance in the bottle, jar, whatever, you can discern for yourself as to how much of the ingredient is actually in the product. The higher the ingredient appears on the list of the ingredients, the more of the ingredient that it contains.

Since only 1-2% salicylic acid is really needed to be effective, don't worry if it's not toward the top of the list. Unfortunately, the whole acne thing is really a trial and error process, except in the event of the big guns like Accutane and Retin-A. However, the side effects of both of those treatments are annoying at best and icky and worst. I've known of several acquaintances who have had to go on multiple rounds of Accutane throughout their lives, and had to deal with intense peeling of their lips, hands, and feet.

Above all else, you need patience when going through any acne regimen. Sometimes the skin will purge itself before it gets better, but then you also need to draw the line as to how long you will put up with that. For me, my threshold is about 3 weeks. I can use makeup to cover breakouts while I figure it out. There is so much that has not worked for me, unfortunately.

For example, I really wanted to love Murad's best-selling Anti Aging Anti Acne lotion with 2% salicylic acid. It felt sleek going on the skin, didn't smell terribly and didn't give me any initial irritation, which is very important. I went through a purging process that wouldn't stop even after 2 months of diligent use of the product. (!!!!) It was only when I discontinued using this product that my skin actually got better. Sucks for me. I didn't notice any diminishing of fine lines, either, which is a pity, because many, many people enjoy this product.

The point of this whole story is that you need to find what works for you. Don't be afraid to go against the grain with what other people say, especially 'beauty advisors' and 'representatives' of any particular line. You are the one that has to live in your skin, as you see it on a daily basis Good luck on your pursuit to good skin. I will continually add to this entry as I uncover new information.


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      beauty gurl 7 years ago

      it also help light up dark marking on your skin