From what salicylic acid actually is, to what it can do for your skin & our top salicylic acid products, we give you the low down on this popular skin care ingredient

In the world of skincare, active ingredients are in the spotlight. From knowing your niacinamide from your hyaluronic acid, to understanding the differences between AHAs and BHAs, levelling up your ingredient knowledge is important in helping you take care of your skin.

So, you might have heard of salicylic acid, but what can it do for your skin? Here, we’ll talk you through all you need to know about salicylic acid and share some of our absolute favourite products.

What is salicylic acid?

Salicylic acid is a type of beta-hydroxy acid (BHA). BHAs help to exfoliate the skin and are often used to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and to improve skin texture.

Is it like other skin care ingredients such as glycolic or lactic acid? Well, not exactly – those are alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), which are also exfoliants but work in a different way to BHAs. AHAs work on the surface layer of skin to remove dead skin cells, whereas BHAs penetrate below the surface of the skin to unclog pores and dissolve sebum.

What are the benefits of salicylic acid?

Salicylic acid can help to exfoliate dead skin cells, unclog pores and dissolve excess sebum for brighter, smoother looking skin. It can also help to reduce the appearance of redness.

Who should use salicylic acid?

Salicylic acid is suitable for most skin types, including acne prone skin. If you have an existing skin condition, like eczema or rosacea, you can speak to a doctor or a Boots Pharmacist to understand which products are suitable for you.

How do I add salicylic acid to my skin care routine?

You can add salicylic acid into your skincare routine in the form of a cleanser at the start of your routine, or as a serum, topical solution or moisturiser that you apply after cleansing. You can also get toners and masks which contain salicylic acid, so there are lots of ways you can build it into your routine in a way that suits your skin.

When you first start using salicylic acid, apply a tiny amount to a small area of skin to check how you react to it, before starting to use it more widely. This is because salicylic acid can cause skin irritation when you first start using it. It’s also important to follow on-pack instructions for whichever product you choose, which will tell you how often you should be using the product.

It’s better not to layer different products that have salicylic acid in, as it might cause some skin sensitivity. The amount of salicylic acid in one product should be enough to deliver the results you’re after!

Because of the exfoliating properties of salicylic acid, it’s also important to use sun protection, as it can leave your skin more vulnerable to harmful UV rays. It’s recommended that you use a broad spectrum sun care product with a minimum of SPF30 and a high UVA rating to help to protect your skin from the sun.

Our top salicylic acid product picks

From cleansers formulated with salicylic acid to targeted serums, here are some of our top products to help you build salicylic acid into your skincare routine.

Salicylic acid cleansers

Try: The Inkey List Salicylic Acid Cleanser

• Size: 150ml

• 2% salicylic acid

Non-drying and lightly foaming, this cleanser removes make-up and dirt, whilst 2% salicylic acid unclogs pores and exfoliates, helping to reduce blemishes. Plus, the added zinc compound helps to reduce excess oil and 0.5% allantoin soothes irritation.

Try: CeraVe Blemish Control Face Cleanser

• Size: 150ml

• 2% salicylic acid

With three essential ceramides, niacinamide (to help boost skin hydration) and 2% salicylic acid, this gel-to-foam cleanser brings you a whole host of skin benefits, whilst still respecting the skin’s natural barrier. Formulated with oil-absorbing technology, it also helps to minimise shine.

Salicylic acid tonics, serums & solutions

Try: Nip+Fab Salicylic Fix Tonic 100ml

• Size: 100ml  

• 1% salicylic acid

Featuring 1% salicylic acid to remove congestion, plus white lotus flower extract to balance sebum production and witch hazel, Nip+Fab’s Tonic can be used on specific areas or all over, without stripping your skin. For best results, use three to four times per week.

Try: Revolution Skincare 2% Salicylic Acid Targeted Blemish Serum

• Size: 30ml  

• 2% salicylic acid

Help to tackle breakouts and enlarged pores with Revolution’s blend of skin-friendly ingredients. Lightweight and oil free, it’s gentle enough for everyday use and works under make-up to target blemishes while you get on with your day.

Try: The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Anhydrous Solution

• Size: 30ml

• 2% salicylic acid

Formulated to exfoliate and decongest the skin, The Ordinary’s solution helps to visibly reduce the appearance of pores and improve skin texture over time. Use twice a day, in the morning and evening, and apply directly to the target area or apply a small amount to the face for general use.