Salicylic acid is a topical skin treatment commonly used to treat acne. You can usually find this medication in your local pharmacy and it is available over-the-counter. It is generally found in concentrations as high as 2%. It is found in creams, gels, and pads. Salicylic acid is a phytohormone found in plants and found naturally in fruits like blueberries and cantaloupes.

But here’s what you really want to know. Does it work?

Well, yes and no. Salicylic acid works by exfoliating skin and decreases the amount of clogged pores. It clears up dead skin cells. So basically, it decreases the chances of you getting another pimple. So it does work in that aspect. Generally to see improvement, you will have to use the product for weeks. People have seen much improvement from using this product.

But where does it not work? Salicylic acid dries out skin and irritates it. If your skin is irritated, it will break out because it will produce oil to compensate for that dryness. This is a warning that is generally not addressed by most dermatologists. If you believe that a 10% concentration of salicylic acid is more effective than a 2% concentration, then you are mistaken. A higher concentration of salicylic acid will dry your skin out even more. This will cause more acne. So here is an example where salicylic acid does not work.  

A personal example: When I first started breaking out with acne, I thought that salicylic acid would help. I saw great reviews online, and was pretty excited to see if this would work. I had tried many different products and hadn’t seen results, so I went to my local pharmacy to buy a 2% facial wash product. Like clockwork, I would use the product three times a day (which was probably too much) and after a few weeks, my acne was the worse that it had ever been. Coincidence? Perhaps. There were many other factors that were going on, but this personal example has definitely influenced my stance on using salicylic acid to treat acne.

So what is the solution? Well, this may sound outrageous, but I would argue for you to stop using all acne products.

What? Why? Well, the skin is a tightly regulated organ which does not need any other products to stay clear. The skin has evolved over years and years and is meant to stay clear. In the past, acne was almost nonexistent! In fact, chemicals may even worsen your skin condition because they hinder the natural biological mechanisms of your skin. I would argue for you instead, to fix your diet. This may sound crazy, but acne is an inflammatory condition and inflammatory foods will worsen your conditions. Inflammatory foods include grains, legumes, and dairy for starters. I have found that the Paleo Diet has helped me completely clear my acne. I have also found that when I “cheat” on my diet (eat foods I am not supposed to) I will break out!

But the choice is all up to you. I would recommend that you first try salicylic acid and see if it works for you. If it does, that is wonderful and hopefully you stay acne free. But if it doesn’t work, realize that all these chemicals may not be too good for your skin.