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Salicylic Acid for Blackheads: Pros, Cons and Side Effects
Salicylic acid is the best ingredient to use for breakouts IF you use it in the right way.
We think it’s time we talk about… salicylic acid. A lot of our customers ask about this ingredient for dealing with acne and breakouts. But also we’ve come to realise… a lot of people are using this potent ingredient without fully understanding its effects and how using too much can actually have a negative effect on your skin.
So, what is salicylic acid?
It’s a hydroxy acid and a derivative of aspirin. There are two types - alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acid (BHAs). The reason we use hydroxy acids in skincare products is because they work to unclog pores and cleanse skin. Alpha hydroxy acids work mainly on the surface of the skin. Beta hydroxy acid, or salicylic acid, has smaller molecules than alpha hydroxy acids so can get deep into the pores and continues to work for longer.
It is a strong ingredient, which is why skincare products only ever have a strength of between 0.5-2%. You only need a fifth as much of the beta hydroxy acid as alpha hydroxy acids for the same intensity.
How does it help with acne and blackheads?
It works on a number of levels to help acne prone skin and clogged pores, which cause blackheads. A common cause of acne is an overproduction of oil in and around the hair follicles. This normally would work its way up the hair and out of the skin. Dead skin cells that get layered with excess oil and caught up with dirt, grime and pollutants trap the oil in, making it a ripe place for bacteria to grow and cause blackheads. Salicylic acid works to ‘unglue’ dead cells, making it possible for oil to escape, and also works deep in the follicles to regulate oil production, reduce sebum secretion and remove bacteria.
Are there any side effects of using salicylic acid?
Not all skin types react well to the use of skincare products with salicylic acid. If you have dry skin or sensitive skin, you may find some products inflame your skin. If you overuse products with salicylic acid this can also cause inflammation and irritation. When you are using any products that have potent ingredients you should be extra careful with sun protection as your skin’s sensitivity to the sun can increase.
Signs that you might be using too much salicylic acid include:
- Dry skin appearing, sometimes even with peeling areas
- Irritation and redness
- Skin that is hot to touch and inflamed
If you experience a reaction to salicylic acid you should stop using it and allow your skin time to heal.
Why do they use salicylic acid in skin care products for blackheads and acne?
We definitely don’t want to put a downer on this amazing ingredient. Used correctly, salicylic acid can be really helpful when you have acne prone skin! It has the potential to penetrate deep into your skin to regulate oil production and offer deep cleaning for pores. If you have oily skin that isn’t sensitive to this ingredient, using it correctly can help to reduce blackheads, cleansing pores of dirt and oil. It’s about finding the right products for your unique skin.
Can I use a salicylic acid face cleanser every day?
The answer to that… it depends on how your skin reacts, whether your skin would benefit from it and the type of product you are considering. Some products contain a higher concentration of the active ingredient than others.
There are some skincare products that are specially designed to be used daily that contain salicylic acid. A good example is Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant:
This is an amazing product for acne prone skin for a number of reasons, not just the active ingredients. Often when you have acne skin concerns you may avoid reaching for any exfoliant. You may think that could irritate the skin further. Actually, using a gentle exfoliant to clear away debris, oil and dead skin cells is really key to renewing the skin and getting rid of blackheads and whiteheads.
This microfoliant is a gentle powder that isn’t as harsh as normal exfoliants, designed to be used daily. It also has salicylic acid to help to unclog pores and treat blackheads.
Treating Blackheads with a Natural Source of Salicylic Acid
Looking for a less abrasive ingredient that works in a similar way to salicylic acid? Look for products containing Willow Bark. This can be less irritating to the skin but is a source of salicin, an anti-inflammatory, so mimics the effects of salicylic acid.
A good example of a product with Willow Bark in is Evolve Organic Beauty Rainforest Rescue Blemish Serum:
This is a gentle serum that helps to reduce sebum production and to de-clog pores. This is great for helping blackhead prone skin.
What if I want a more concentrated source of salicylic acid?
Prone to acne breakouts and want a treatment that really targets those troublesome areas, whilst working to prevent future breakouts? Then check out Dermalogica Overnight Clearing Gel:
This has 2% salicylic acid so is a more concentrated source. You apply a thin layer of the gel after cleansing skin at night and leave it on as you sleep. It can work really deeply and help prevent future breakouts.
Do salicylic acid acne treatments age the skin?
Premature ageing of the skin is often the result of sun damage. UV rays attack the collagen and elastin in your skin, which can make your skin seem hollow and saggy. So while salicylic acid doesn’t directly age your skin, it’s important to realise what it does do. Overuse of the ingredient can cause skin irritation and sensitivity, and in particular photosensitivity. In other words, it makes it more likely for your skin to be damaged by the sun’s rays. When you are using potent active ingredients it is always important to make sure you wear sun protection and avoid too much sun exposure to protect your skin.
How do I find the right skin care products for my acne prone skin?
At Jersey Beauty Company we get everyone’s skin is as unique as they are! We also know it can be hard to find the right products for your skin. Products that address your skin concerns but also suit your unique skin type. We offer free samples of the products we stock and are always on hand to talk through any questions about your skincare.