What is Salicylic Acid? Everything You Need to Know About BHA

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What is Salicylic Acid? Everything You Need to Know About BHA
What is Salicylic Acid? Everything You Need to Know About BHA

What Is Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic Acid, also known as Beta-Hydroxy Acid (BHA), originates from plants. Initially, Salicylic Acid was extracted from willow bark. Nowadays since it’s produced in industrial quantities, it’s obtained synthetically in the laboratories from carbon dioxide and sodium phenolate.

In cosmetics, Salicylic Acid is the main ingredient when it comes to combating acne and clogged pores. It’s normally recommended for oily and combination skin types. However, dry or sensitive skin types may also benefit from lower concentrations of Salicylic Acid or when it is combined with moisturizing ingredients.

What Does Salicylic Acid Do?

1. Exfoliation – Salicylic Acid is a very powerful exfoliating agent. Just like AHAs, Salicylic Acid exfoliates dead cells from the skin’s surface. However, in contrast to AHAs, its molecule can penetrate much deeper into the pore lining and exfoliate inside the pores as well as the surface of the skin. Once it has penetrated the skin, it dissolves some of the inter-cellular ‘glue’ that holds dead skin cells together. As a result, it dramatically improves the skin cell renewal process, decreases the thickness of the outermost layer of the skin (stratum corneum), smooths out wrinkles, lightens pigmentation, and improves complexion.

2. Reduces sebum (oil) production – The main difference between AHAs and BHA is that AHAs are water-soluble, whilst BHA is fat soluble. Therefore, Salicylic Acid is able penetrate deeply through the pores to the sebum layer and exfoliate the dead cells accumulated in the sebaceous glands, thus reducing sebum production.  And this is why Salicylic Acid is an excellent treatment for problem skin (acne, pimples and blackheads).

3. Anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties – since Salicylic Acid is a derivative of aspirin, it also possesses anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, which help to reduce inflammation, kill bacteria that leads to acne, and improve the healing process. This makes it a perfect ingredient for acne treatment.

When and How Salicylic Acid Should Be Used?

The product should have a minimum concentration of 0.5 % (1-2% is ideal). pH level is a very important factor here. The level of acidity should be 3 to 4 (ideally 3). If the acidity level is greater than 4 then the efficiency of the product decreases.

Salicylic Acid can work well with:

  • Oily skin type with single and multiple spots, blackheads and enlarged pores
  • Normal and combination skin types with multiple comedonal acne (blackheads and whiteheads)
  • Dry skin with few spots and acne marks

Salicylic Acid isn’t recommended for dry and sensitive skin types. Although these types of skin are more likely to suffer from acne causing bacteria and inflammations.

It is not advisable to use Salicylic Acid during the winter, when the skin is dryer and thinner. Although if you have oily skin, you may continue your skincare routine as usual.

Allergic Reactions

Allergic reactions to Salicylic Acid are rare.  However, depending on the concentration and the number of applications, some people may experience dryness, peeling, redness, and some skin irritation. Therefore, I always recommend a patch test prior to first use of any product containing Salicylic Acid. You should always use sunblock to avoid pigmentation.

My Beauty Insider Recommends:

SkinCeuticals Blemish Age Cleansing Gel 250ml

Skinceuticals Blemish & Age Solution 250ml

 SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Defense 30ml

These products have been my favourite for a while now.  SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age helped me to get rid of my comedonal acne (whiteheads and milia).  When I stared to use these products, I experienced some stinging, peeling and dryness. However, over time, my skin has become accustomed to it and the side effects have lessened. I love how it makes my skin look instantly smoother and clearer. In fact, I had people asking me whether I was detoxing because my skin looked so healthy. I use this product together with my Chantecaille Flower Harmonizing Cream which instantly calms and soothes my skin or Sunday Riley Tidal Brightening Enzyme Water Cream.


Prior to my introduction to SkinCeuticals, I used Murad Blemish Control .  This powerful regime rapidly reduces breakouts. Of course, the main and key ingredient here is Salicylic Acid. I particularly loved Murad Clarifying Cleanser, which combats blemishes, while washing away the pore-clogging grime, oil and irritants. It definitely helped me reduce and prevent blemish breakouts. However, I would recommend Murad products for younger and more oily skins rather than combination, dehydrated or dry skin.



For more sensitive skin types I would advise Estee Lauder Clear Difference Advanced Blemish Serum. Although it has a lower concentration of BHA (0.5%), the pH of 3.8 ensures the Salicylic Acid will still work well as an exfoliant. This products is gentle on your skin and helps to reduce blemishes without drying out the skin.


→ This review is not sponsored and features product(s) purchased by MY BEAUTY INSIDER | MBinsider.com for review.


Written by

I'm a London based beauty researcher who is continuously on the hunt for the preventative and corrective skincare products and treatments and award-winning spas around the globe.

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A Few Words From The Founder & Editor-In-Chief

My Beauty Insider a one-stop-shop for information on the best preventative and corrective skincare products and treatments, and award-winning spas around the globe. Our mission is to inform you of the latest innovations in the beauty industry and provide an honest opinion based on personal experience. Finally, our readers' input is invaluable to us - so please leave comments and let us know if there is any particular product or treatment you would like to know about! Maria x