Salicylic acid is a skincare ingredient that is popular with both dermatologists and amateur skincare enthusiasts alike. It is a name you will often find in products that target and treat acne. But in reality, there is so much more to it. It is also a strong chemical exfoliant and can be found in peeling solutions and is used in chemical peels as well. But the most popular way of using this ingredient is to incorporate a salicylic acid face wash in your skincare routine. This transformative product can do wonders for specific skin issues and overall skin health, just keep these pointers in mind before using the same.

Benefits of salicylic acid face wash

Since salicylic acid comes with its own set of precautions and rules, we took the help of an expert to better understand how to use it. “A beta-hydroxy acid, its benefits are degreasing, de-clogging and superficial exfoliation of the epidermal layer of the skin in order to rejuvenate and rebuild a new layer without as much damage, pigmentation, acne and scarring as the previous layer,” elaborates Dr. Sravya C Tipirneni.

The best way to choose a salicylic acid face wash is based on the concentration. It can lie from anywhere between 0.5 to almost 4-5% and depending on your skin type, skin concerns, the grade of acne - your dermatologist will recommend the correct salicylic acid percentage to be incorporated in your face wash.


1. Benefits of salicylic acid face wash according to skin type

Salicylic acid face wash according to skin type

1. For oily skin:

Salicylic acid cleansers have oil dissolving properties, hence, they facilitate free oil gland canal flow. It doesn’t aggravate and also prevents future clogging of oil glands, thus avoiding acne occurrence as well.

2. For acne-prone skin:

Salicylic acid is a mild skin exfoliant and it comes in different formulations. It is mainly used as the first line of treatment for acne or acne-prone skin. It helps by de-clogging pores, which are responsible for the development of blackheads or whiteheads.

3. For combination skin:

Salicylic acid face wash can be used as a curative, preventive or maintenance measure in a daily skincare regimen for degreasing the skin. It is able to clear oil, sebum and keratin buildup that is responsible for greasy skin, oily T-zones, teenage or adult acne.

Pro tip: If you have sensitive skin, a salicylic acid face wash probably won’t be suitable for you. But if your skin leans more towards the normal spectrum, you can use a product which comes with added calming ingredients in it. Check the label for soothing ingredients like aloe vera or thyme extracts that can help balance out the potency of salicylic acid in the formula.


2. The ideal way to use a salicylic acid face wash

The ideal way to use a salicylic acid face wash

Salicylic acid face washes do not have to be left on for too long and largely depends on how oily your skin is. Dr.Tipirneni revealed, “I give different instructions to different kinds of patients depending on how long I want a product to be used for their skin. There are also some teenagers who only struggle with their T-zone, for whom I prescribe salicylic acid face washes just for that area. They are asked to avoid other areas like the sides of the mouth, the nose, or the eyes as it tends to dry out and cause more peeling.”

There are other smart ways of using salicylic acid products as well. You can use them as a spot application so that normal areas of the skin are not affected and only the acne-prone area is targeted properly. Also, always follow up with a nourishing and hydrating moisturiser in a catered formulation so that the salicylic acid-induced dryness doesn’t cause any discomfort or ugly looking white patches on your facial skin.


3. Precautions to take while using a salicylic acid face wash

Precautions to take while using a salicylic acid face wash

1. Do a patch test:

Before you start using a salicylic acid face wash, always begin with a patch test. Test it on an area for two to three days and watch if you have any reactions to it. If you notice any redness, tingling, irritation, skin peeling, breakouts, aggravated breakouts or just discomfort of the skin, discontinue use. In this case, inform your dermatologist and you can rethink the concentration and opt for a lower strength.

2. Set a realistic frequency of use:

Do not overdo it, there are usually very stringent instructions on how often salicylic acid should be used for your skin. It’s not like a cream cleanser or a normal face wash.

3. Be cautious of interactions with other products:

Salicylic acid has also shown the tendency to react with other products. Most of the cleansers only contain between 0.5 to 2% of concentration and this is to aid de-clogging and control the oil on your skin. But if you also have benzoyl peroxide or retinoids and other active ingredients in your regimen, it can cause excessive sensitivity, redness and peeling because of being too drying in nature.

4. Consult a dermatologist:

Talk to your dermatologist about your existing acne treatment or even daily skincare routine in order to avoid active molecules from reacting with salicylic acid. A lot of drug interaction does take place on a molecular level and if not paid attention to, can lead to disastrous effects.


4. How to combat the drying property of a salicylic acid face wash

How to combat the drying property of a salicylic acid face wash

According to Dr. Tipirneni, “The main side effect of using a salicylic acid face wash is external as its absorption to your system is negligible. But it can cause some peeling, excessive dryness, dry patches, redness, itchiness of the skin, irritation of the skin, discomfort, etc. However, these can be combated by adjusting the percentage, the way you use it, the duration for which you use it, the frequency with which the face wash is used, the area on which it is used and the moisturising properties of the formulations that you use after the face wash. All these can decrease skin issues to a large extent.”


5. Did you know?

Did you know? about salicylic acid

Salicylic acid treatments are available in the form of body washes as well and can treat a variety of issues. From acne that appears under your chin to breakouts on your back, chest and even booty, a lathering bath with one of these formulations will come in handy. Make sure to pick ones with a mild fragrance so as to make the whole showering experience a relaxing one!


6. FAQs about salicylic acid face wash

FAQs about salicylic acid face wash

1) Are there any side effects to using a salicylic acid face wash?

A. According to Dr. Tipirneni, “The only disadvantage is, if not used correctly or overdoing the face wash can lead to very dry and flaky skin - which sometimes results in peeling. If you do not have a skincare regimen that is catered to work with the salicylic acid face wash, it might react adversely sometimes. Hence, an entire skincare routine inclusive of a salicylic acid face wash should be followed in order to get the best benefits of both the face wash and the products applied before and after it,” she elaborated.

2) Which is the best salicylic acid face wash to use?

A. A major benefit of salicylic acid face washes is that it’s available in different forms. It can be a gel, cream cleanser or a foam one. Mostly, foamy face washes are the go-to formulation as the penetration percentage is better.

3) Can you apply acne medication after using a salicylic acid face wash?

A. Yes, it is perfectly safe and in fact, salicylic acid helps in better penetration of any acne medications or protein skincare products that are applied to the face after a good cleansing. Thus, it can be used as a deep cleanser and leaves you feeling very fresh.