Salicylic Acid – What You Need To Know + Side Effects

Acne breakouts and the self-consciousness they cause are a major source of insecurity for many of the people who suffer from them. Acne is formed by oil glands in pores that over-secrete when triggered by hormone or stress levels. This oil combines with dead skin cells, bacteria, and dirt, resulting in clogged pores.

Clogs that are closed to the surface of the skin are called whiteheads. If the clog is exposed to air, it oxidizes and becomes a blackhead. If the clog become infected, the body’s immune response activates to fight the infection, resulting in redness and irritation around the pimple.

Despite the beneficial action of this response, this redness and swelling is uncomfortable and manages to more attention to the blemish. The best way to treat acne is to limit the availability of the dirt, oil, dead skin, and bacteria that cause acne. Salicylic acid, is a popular and effective acne treatment that exfoliates dead skin cells and helps keep pores clean and unclogged. Dr. Perricone includes salicylic acid in his Skin Clear products in formulations that help skin remain clear and unblemished without over drying.

This article will discuss:

What is salicylic acid and how does it work?

Salicylic acid fits into a class of drugs called salicylates. It is a beta-hydroxy acid, meaning it is a carboxylic acid connected to a hydroxy group with two carbon atoms. It is also referred as a keratolytic, or skin-peeling agent. Essentially, salicylic acid acts an exfoliant to remove dead skin cells from the stratum corneum, or the topmost layer of the epidermis.

Salicylic acid is unique among exfoliants in its ability to penetrate inside the pore and target the dead skin cells. It removes the cellular debris from the pore and limits the amounts of contaminants that are present to create a clog. By doing this, the salicylic helps regulate the natural desquamation of the skin, or the skin’s natural ability to shed old dead skin in order to make room for new cells. Inflammation decreases and skin heals faster while acne breakouts become less frequent and noticeable.

What are some side effects?

Like most medications, salicylic acid can have side effects associated with it. Fortunately, these side effects are rarely severe and easy to avoid and treat. The most serious and rare of these side affects is an allergic reaction, which can easily be detected with signs of swelling, hives, shortness of breath, or even the closing of the throat. A much more common potential side effect is skin irritation. This irritation can be minor or more serious, depending on skin sensitivity.

Common side effects such as irritation and peeling are generally minimal, but may still require medical attention if they continue over a long period of time. Since salicylic acid is a keratolytic, peeling on the microscopic level will occur. This is the action that removes debris from within the pores. However, if peeling occurs on a large scale over an extended period of time, it is best to discontinue use and consult a doctor. Other possible side effects of salicylic acid that are associated with general skin irritation are burning, redness, and itching.

Salicylic acid application

Since it works both to heal acne and to prevent new blemishes, salicylic acid functions best as a regular, full-face treatment. Spot treatments are not as effective because the invisible blemishes that have just started to form are not being prevented. Since salicylic acid can be drying, it’s best to take steps to reduce irritation and add moisture when using it as an acne treatment. Use a mild cleanser that doesn’t dry the skin and include a moisturizer to keep skin hydrated.

What products use salicylic acid?

Try Perricone's Skin Clear Hydrator.Salicylic acid is one of the most common ingredients in topical acne products because of its effectiveness at removing unwanted debris from within the pore. It is not an internal product, and if taken internally or if it gets into any open part of the body, such as mouth or eyes, contact a poison control center immediately.

Dr. Perricone capitalizes on the benefits of salicylic acid in his Skin Clear products. They counteract the side effects of salicylic acid with soothing natural oils such as eucalyptus and green tea. Unlike many salicylic acid products that should be used separately to prevent over drying, the Skin Clear Cleanser and Skin Clear Toner can be used together without unnecessary risk of peeling or irritation. To purchase any of the Skin Clear products, try using a Perricone coupon to lower the cost.

Dr. Perricone’s Anti-Inflammatory Diet is a great accompaniment to any salicylic acid adult acne treatment. It includes high levels of healthy fats and antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables to reduce the systemic inflammation that can contribute to acne formation. By reducing inflammation, these foods help to cure acne from the inside out.

Watch this video for an overview of Dr. Perricone’s Anti-Inflammatory Diet:


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15 Comments • Please comment below


  1. this is my email

  2. I had a problems with my skin ranging from breakouts to mild-moderate acne for about 9 months, until about 8 months ago. I use a simple cleanser from Made from Earth (the Grapefruit Glycolic Wash) about twice a week. NO BREAKOUTS! I have beautiful skin now. Tip: The more water you drink, the more you flush toxins and hydrate your skin from the inside out, helping with cell turnover and less sebum oil. Eating better also helps ;)

  3. [...] a doctor if  your symptoms persists after trying this over the counter acne treatment.Another over the counter acne treatment is salicyclic acid. Salicylic acid is an anti-inflammatory s…ound in numerous skin care products for other  skin disorders that involve overgrowth or scaling of [...]

  4. I’ve been using vichy products with salicylic for clog pores,acme. I find that in the morning after using at night my face is smooth but by afternoon its back to dilated pores. my problems are whiteheads what can i do.

  5. I already follow a diet very similar to the one described above. I feel better than I ever have. Thanks.

  6. I have recently been diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome and it causes me to break out fairly often. I am 34 years old, and this is the first time I have had to deal with acne. I am very interested in learning how to properly clean and moisturize my face and in learning to eat healthier foods.

  7. [...] Salicylic Acid [...]

  8. Holy Cow using Dr. Perricone’s Clear Skin Prescription diet, the supplements and exercise regimen is rock solid! From my view I think stress, intestinal health and hormones are all helped with the Clear Skin Prescription and now you can buy the supplements and topicals right from the source! How much easier this makes it. TRUST ME ON THAT! The other thing which troubles me is people who are not treating their acne in this holistic way-what will this long term inflammation cause in time? It was not easy for me to change my lifestyle but it has improved my confidence, my energy and taken away other issues I was having. It supports my body very well and I hope if you have acne you consider trying the Clear Skin Prescription.

  9. I still have acne even at my age (35)!

  10. I have tried about every line of acne products including Bare Minerals sulphur mineral product, also the Clarisonic skin brush. Benzol Peroxide dries out my face terribly. Even washing 2 times a day dries out my skin. However, I am constantly plagued by new acne breakouts. I am now using Burt’s bees cleanser, moisturizer and treatment with salicylic acid, but I don’t see many results. Does hard water exacerbate acne, I tried using distilled water at someone’s suggestion, but it didn’t make much difference. I would love to find some answers for myself and my sister.

    Zachary Peil

  11. I’m wondering if salicylic acid helps with breakouts other than those on the face. I’ve been working out a lot more than I used to lately and I was wondering if something with salicylic acid could help with that.

  12. will this work on acne associated with stress?

  13. I’m curious if this will work well on my sensitive skin. I still get breakouts at 26 :(

  14. I’ve tried Salicylic Acid products before and they were very drying. I tend to break out a bit more due to use of heavy sunscreens. I’m thinking to try the cleanser first and use along with the Facial Firming Toner.

    David Jerod
    Orange County, CA

  15. This cleanser is the only one that doesnt dry out my skin! I use it on my occasional breakout moments, like stressful days or before my monthly… works fantastic!