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The Science of Skin Care: Salicylic Acid

Acne Treatment
How to choose the right acne treatment.

In your declaration of independence from a dull complexion, you may have considered a chemical peel to help unburden your face of that dead stratum corneum. If so, you may’ve also encountered salicylic acid. Salicylic acid has long been an active ingredient in many acne-fighting products, but its action on the skin goes beyond clearing up breakouts.

Salicylic Acid as Acne Treatment

Salicylic acid is an effective spot acne treatment. In concentrations between 2-3%, salicylic acid helps to unclog pores that result in zits and pimples. Here’s how:

Salicylic acid is a betahydroxy acid (BHA), which is related to alphahydroxy acids (AHAs), but they differ by one carbon atom. That one carbon atom makes salicylic acid lipophilic—able to dissolve in oil and fats, which allows salicylic acid to penetrate skin layers that have lipid membranes and bind to sebum.

Salicylic acid is also a keratolytic acid—it removes keratinocytes, the uppermost layer of skin cells. As a lipophilic keratolytic acid, salicylic acid effectively penetrates pores and removes sebum. Because it encourages exfoliation and reduces pore size, pores are less likely to become clogged with dead skin cells and excess oil, which is why it is an effective acne treatment.

More than Just an Acne Treatment

The keratolytic action of salicylic acid makes it useful not only for acne, but also for all-over exfoliation. But what’s more, salicylic acid is a prodrug (a chemical substance that is metabolized into a drug inside the body) of aspirin, so it has similar anti-inflammatory properties. These properties make salicylic acid a gentle agent of exfoliation because it can soothe the irritation of newly exposed skin cells.

The exfoliation that salicylic acid fosters encourages more rapid cell renewal, which helps your skin maintain a glowing, youthful complexion. Some studies even show that this cell renewal leads to the diminishing of fine lines and wrinkles. Salicylic acid may also brighten skin by evening out pigmentation.

How to Use Salicylic Acid Products

Salicylic acid can be drying, so how and how often you use products containing salicylic acid will depend on your skin type.

In concentrations of up to 3% in facial cleansers, salicylic acid may be used twice daily. However, to counteract any drying, a moisturizer should follow. For oily skin types, a light, water-based lotion will restore your skin’s moisture without adding more oil.

Because salicylic acid is lipophilic, it is even more effective when given more time to penetrate the pores. So salicylic acid peels are a good way to regular exfoliate and deep-clean pores. Salicylic acid peels professionally administered will be sufficiently timed, but for at-home peels, follow the instructions as printed. For best results, choose a salicylic acid concentration that works with your skin type—higher concentrations for oily and acne-prone skin; lower concentrations for dry and aging skin. As with salicylic acid-containing cleansers, follow up salicylic acid peels with a nourishing moisturizer. It is not recommended to do any type of chemical peel more than once every two weeks.

Precautions for Salicylic Acid Use

While salicylic acid encourages the shedding of dead skin cells and oils, the new skin brought to the surface is very sensitive to UV radiation. If you use any products with salicylic acid, make sure to cover your skin with a broad spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15.

Also, because salicylic acid does affect pigmentations, darker skin types may want to avoid salicylic acid, particularly in high concentrations, to prevent unnatural-looking hypopigmentation.

Our Salicylic Acid Products

Hale Cosmeceuticals brings the gentle exfoliation action of salicylic acid to you in our Salicylic Acid Peel. We offer formulations with 20%, 35% and blended strengths. Salicylic acid is combined with alphahydroxy acides (glycolic and lactic) in our Dermist GSL-624 cleanser. If you have any questions about how salicylic acid may work for you, please ask! Contact us online or call us (800-951-7005)…a real person is there to answer!

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