Salicylic Acid: What is it? Uses and Precautions


Today we talk about acids! To be specific, salicylic acid. This skincare ingredient is very versatile and has a host of benefits for your skin.

So, let’s start at the beginning!

What is salicylic acid?

It is a beta-hydroxy compound, unlike glycolic acid that is an alpha hydroxy compound. This is important to know because the structure of salicylic acid makes it better at treating your acne. This structure makes it more oil-soluble and helps in going deep into the pores to treat the damaged areas and those primarily affected by acne.

The magical uses of salicylic acid

Chemically good!

The chemical part of the compound helps in loosening the skin cells that are causing acne. The thing with acne is that these skin cells don’t behave normally. Instead of falling into the normal skin cycle of the skin and withering away, they tend to stick together and block pores causing more acne and whiteheads. Thus, it works by breaking that bond between these cells and curing your acne.

Exfoliation goodness

It is also considered to be extremely good in terms of exfoliating. The acid works by exfoliating your skin and removing the top layer that has been infected by bacteria, dirt, and dead skin cells. It’s considered to be one of the most important treatments for acne on oily skin. The exfoliating aspect of this also helps in the absorption of other active ingredients that you might be using for your skin.

In-depth moisture

Salicylic acid goes deep into the pores. What it essentially does is provide moisture that can dissolve or loosen the affected skin cells. Thus it also helps in rejuvenating the skin and making way for new skin cells.

A good cleanse

Salicylic acid can also give your skin cells a deep cleaning as well. This is possible because it helps in dissolving the attachments between the skin cells. It exfoliates and unclogs the pores with this process, thus giving your skin cells a thorough cleaning.

Less sebum = less acne

Salicylic acid can also reduce sebum secretion that in turn helps with acne.

The dirty business!

Another great benefit is that it helps with warts and corns that are usually found on the feet. It’s considered to be keratolytic, which means that it helps these warts naturally peel off. It achieves this by loosening the cells that are stuck together and dissolving them.

Precautions to keep in mind when using salicylic acid

However, there are a few precautions that you might have to keep in mind when you choose to use salicylic acid. 

  • Pregnant women should stay away from it.
  • People on medication should also be careful when they use this, so it’s best to consult your doctor.
  • If you have extremely dry or sensitive skin, it’s probably better to stay away from it. This is because one of the adverse effects of salicylic acid is that it irritates and dries up your skin to an extent.
  • Avoid contact with your eyes.
  • Avoid using it on warts unless advised by your doctor.
  • Keep it away from children.
  • Do not use it after shaving or waxing
  • Refrain from using it if you have hypersensitive skin.
  • Do not use near or around your genital regions as well.
  • Do not use it on open wounds or irritated skin.

Side effects

Salicylic acid might cause slight peeling and burning on your skin. Although your doctor can tell you if this is alright or not. There are usually no severe allergic reactions to this, if any are seen then it’s best to visit your doctor.

The silver lining

Salicylic acid is one of those wonder ingredients, especially when it comes to acne! But it has so many benefits for your skin that it is a favourite in the skincare industry.


1. Is salicylic acid good for ageing skin?

Yes, it is good for ageing skin, it helps in the process of rejuvenation of your skin.

2. Why is salicylic acid used in face washes? 

It is used in face wash because it helps clean and exfoliate the skin and is great when you need to treat acne.

3. Is salicylic acid good for hair?

Yes, it is good for your hair, in moderate amounts, as it helps in reducing dandruff by controlling the sebum levels on your scalp.

4. Is salicylic acid effective for warts?

Yes, it is effective on warts. It’s considered to be keratolytic which means that it helps warts naturally peel off. It achieves this by loosening the cells that are stuck together and dissolving them.

5. Is salicylic acid good for oily skin?

Yes, it is good for oily skin as opposed to dry skin because one of the downfalls of salicylic acid is that it could irritate and dry your skin, and if you have oily skin, this wouldn’t be a problem.


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Picture of Dr Jisha Gomez

Dr Jisha Gomez

She is a highly skilled dermatology physician with strong expertise in improving skin & hair health through the development of corrective treatment combinations. She completed her Post-graduate Diploma in Dermatology from Cardiff, UK & Fellowship in Aesthetic Medicine (FAM) from the Institute of Laser and Aesthetic Medicine, Delhi with over 5+ years experience treating skin patients. She has worked in Government hospitals in Trivandrum and Bangalore. She is actively involved in creating awareness for healthy skin, breaking the social stigma based on skin colour & stopping steroid abuse in our country.