Skincare must be one of the most written-about subjects, and the info out there is daunting, especially if you don’t know your retinols from your salicylic acids. How do you know what to put on your skin when every ad, magazine and website is telling you something different? Though we love trying out new and innovative skincare products, we believe that the basics are most important – a good cleanser to remove dirt and impurities and a great moisturiser to hydrate the skin. Once you’ve got that down, determine which ingredient will solve your woes (and give your skin exactly what it needs!).
We’re on a mission to simplify skincare – one ingredient at a time. Today we take a look at salicylic acid.
What is it?
Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid known for its amazing anti-inflammatory properties and exfoliating abilities. It is oil-soluble, meaning it can penetrate the skin’s sebum to get deep into the pores. It addresses many of the causes of acne, breakouts, whiteheads and blackheads.
How it benefits the skin
Salicylic acid is your breakout’s biggest enemy. Because it can penetrate deep into pores, salicylic acid is great for unclogging them, meaning it can rid pores of dead skin cells, debris and oil which lead to white- and blackheads. It also makes the skin cut back on its oil production (another cause of breakouts) and has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that are extremely important when treating existing breakouts.
Important things to note
If you’ve never used it before, you may experience a stinging or tingling sensation upon application. It’s best to ease salicylic acid into your skincare regime, so start by using it a couple of times a week and slowly work your way up to every day.
Although salicylic acid tackles various forms of breakouts, it is most effective in fighting whiteheads and blackheads. You may find it’s not as effective on cystic acne, as this is usually caused by hormonal factors or P.acnes bacteria.
Salicylic acid is an active ingredient in aspirin, so if you have an aspirin allergy, best avoid it.
Products to try:
Bionike Acteen Quick Pen, R109.95
This intensive local treatment is applied directly to the blemish to help clear it more rapidly. The pen-like applicator makes application really easy and targeted, and the formula is gentle enough to apply several times a day.
Dermalogica Clear Start Breakout Clearing Booster, R329.00
This salicylic acid spot treatment kills breakout-causing bacteria. It makes use of Patented TT Technology and Phytoplankton Extract which works with the skin’s natural microbiome to help prevent the skin from drying out. Can be used directly on blemishes but also all over the face to prevent blemish formation.
Neutrogena Visibly Clear Spot Proofing Daily Wash, R114.95
Formulated with ClearDefence technology to not only clear existing spots, but also to prevent new ones from forming. It can be used twice a day and is suitable for sensitive skin. It has a gorgeous refreshing scent and is a great budget-friendly option.
Neutrogena Visibly Clear Spot Proofing Oil-Free Moisturiser, R114.95
A complement to the Visibly Clear cleanser, this light moisturiser helps heal blemishes and fight future blemishes from forming. Its lightweight formulation feels refreshing on the skin and provides hydration without clogging pores.
Avène Cleanance Mat Mattifying Emulsion, R219.95
Specially developed for skins that produce excess oil, this emulsion provides both soothing and mattifying effects. Absorbent microcapsules are responsible for the immediate mattifying effect, but despite this, there is no drying effect on the skin. Rather, it leaves the skin feeling soft and purified, with no sticky residue.
Avène Cleanance Cleansing Bar, R99.95
This purifying cleansing bar can be used on both the face and body and is suitable for even the most sensitive oily and blemish-prone skin. It helps regulate sebum production and shine while salicylic acid helps unclog pores and fight spots. Its delicate foam does not dry out the skin, and it is rich in Avène Thermal Spring Water, known for its soothing properties.
SKNLogic Multi Active Lotion, R295.00
Containing a high concentration of Alpha and Beta hydroxy acids and salicylic acid in a lightweight emulsion, this lotion increases cell turnover to restore the skin’s suppleness, clarity and texture. Can be applied after cleansing and before moisturising every second evening.
Bioderma Sebium Global Intensive Purifying Care Acne Prone Skin, R252.95
A powerful treatment for skin affected by acne and severe blemishes. Its formulation helps to regulate the fatty acids on the skin that cause spots and blackheads, leaving the skin clearer and less likely to break out. This works wonders for teens as well as adults struggling with adult acne.
Skin Republic Spots + Blemish Anti-Spot & Pore Refining Face Sheet Mask, R39.00
Drenched in spot-fighting tea tree and salicylic acid, this sheet mask cleanses pores and helps clear spots. Witch hazel helps tighten the pores, and together, these ingredients remove pore-clogging oil and reduces shine and redness.
I have painful pimples with no heads, they leave very dark spots. most of them ther apear on my chicks and chin. my skin feels oily and sometimes dry and silky. may you please help me.
I have combination skin and are battling with blackheads around my lips and spots please help
My daughter has terrible acne and to top it off has severe anxiety and the outbreak since she can’t buy it at Dis-Chem has just worsened the breakout. Acteen in the only thing that helps for her. Do you sell this during the Covid19 shutdown and do you deliver
Hi Marise, we don’t sell any products, but pharmacies are open during lockdown so we recommend popping into your nearest one for some assistance.
I have tried some spot treatments but i havent heard of salicylic acids. Great article with the easiest of explanations. I love the reasearch that BSA puts into these product reviews
I have a dry skin, and I read here that salicylic acid can dry out the skin even more. Any advice?
Hi Charize, that’s a great question. If your skin is dry, we would suggest a milky cleanser and moisturising ingredients like Hyaluronic acid rather than salicylic acid. If you struggle with breakouts despite having dry skin, your skin might actually be dehydrated rather than dry, in which case you need to increase your skin’s water content. This would mean using a moisturiser that restores the skin’s barrier, like Lamelle’s Restore Cream.
I will definitely try some of these products on my oily skin. Nice read on salicylic acid.