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the pros and cons of salicylic acid for acne

Salicylic Acid Pros & Cons and Results

When it comes to acne treatment products, there are thousands of products available in the market with each product claiming to be the miracle cure.

However, if you take a close look at the ingredients of the most popular products available for treatment of acne, you will find that almost all the products contain salicylic acid as it is one of the most effective ways to treat acne to prevent acne breakouts.

What is Salicylic Acid?

a tube of proactivs cleaning wash with salicylic acid

In chemical terms, salicylic acid is beta hydroxy acid or BHA.

It’s a natural compound that was originally derived from the leaves and bark of the willow tree and its name also comes from the Latin name for willow trees which is Salix.

It’s a close relative of aspirin which is also one of the most popular anti-inflammatory and pain relieving drugs available today.

Topical salicylic acid has antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory and exfoliating properties.

It is lipophilic which means it bonds with fatty compounds which allows it to penetrate into the pores for softening and loosening whiteheads and blackheads which helps in effective treatment and prevention of acne breakouts.

How is it Used to Treat Acne?

a woman washes her face with an acne treatment

To understand the effectiveness of salicylic acid in treatment and prevention of acne breakouts, you need to understand how acne is caused. Typically, acne is a result of clogged skin pores.

Sometimes, hormonal changes result in production of too much sebum oil from the sebaceous glands. Too much sebum oil results in clogging of skin pores with dead skin cells and oil.

These clogged pores are a perfect breeding ground for harmful bacteria and this combination of bacteria, dead skin cells and oil results in acne.

As mentioned above, salicylic acid loves fat which means it is able to penetrate deep into the skin pores. The cells in the lining of hair follicles multiply quickly in people suffering from acne.

These cells stick to one another and form a cement like structure which leads to clogged pores and provides breeding ground for bacteria which results in acne.

The key to effectiveness of salicylic acid is that it dissolves this cement like structure holding these cells together. When it dissolves this structure, it helps in clearing up the cloaked pores.

In addition, it also has anti-inflammatory properties which means it not only helps in getting rid of the dead skin cells but it also helps in decreasing inflammation.

In addition, salicylic acid also helps in increasing collagen production and in increasing cell turnover rate which gives a healthy glow to the skin.

The best thing about this compound is that it works effectively without doing any additional damage to the protective layers of the skin. It does not break any tiny blood vessels which is often the case with physical exfoliation.

It also helps in getting rid of the post-acne dark spots by getting rid of the dead skin cells.

It is important to mention here that salicylic acid remains effective only if it is applied continually even after clearance of acne. Without the cleansing and exfoliating effects of salicylic acid, the acne might return due to clogging of pores again.

The Pros & Cons of Salicylic Acid


a woman with beautiful acne free skin

One of the major reasons salicylic acid is widely used in skin care products targeted at acne treatment is that it is triple effective.

Skin Exfoliation

As mentioned above, salicylic acid helps in exfoliating skin. Since it bonds with fat, it helps in breaking up the fatty compounds that hold the dead skin cells together which leads to clogging of pores.

By exfoliating or getting rid of dead skin cells, it helps in getting rid of the excess sebum getting trapped in the skin pores.


It has anti-inflammatory properties. In simple terms, it means that it not only helps in getting rid of existing acne and in preventing further acne breakouts but it also helps in getting rid of the post-acne red spots.

It also calms down the skin which provides relief from the burning sensation usually accompanied with acne.


Since it is antifungal in nature, it helps in getting rid of the harmful microbes that lead to acne. Continuous use of salicylic acid-based products prevents further acne breakouts.

Great for Oily Skin

Salicylic acid-based products are especially effective for people with oily skin as it is able to break down fatty compounds clogging the skin pores.

It also helps in getting rid of the excess skin oil which, in turn, helps in balancing the skin. It is also able to prevent whiteheads and blackheads by penetrating deep into the skin pores.

Since it is able to get rid of impurities in the skin, it also helps in minimizing the appearance of skin ports.

While it is highly effective for oily skin, it does not mean that people with other skin types cannot use it. It is great to use for all skin types in low concentration.

It not only helps in soothing irritated skin but also helps in reducing pigmentation and redness, and it also accelerates healing of blemishes.


While salicylic acid is highly effective, it does not mean that it does not have any drawbacks. However, the drawbacks are quite minor as compared to the overall benefits but you should be aware of the drawbacks in order to make an informed decision.

It’s important to keep in mind that use of salicylic acid based products might lead to allergic reactions in people who are hypersensitive to salicylic acid as well as other related compounds. Simply put, people who are allergic to aspirin should not use salicylic acid as well as other related products for treatment of acne.

Another important thing you need to keep in mind is that salicylic acid is highly effective at the right concentration and right pH balance. It if it is used in higher concentration, it might lead to moderate chemical burns.

This is the reason, OTC preparations do not contain more than 2% of salicylic acid.

People who have extremely dry skin might experience discomfort and irritation in case they over exfoliate the skin with the help of salicylic acid-based products.

Which Salicylic Acid Works Best for Acne?

proactiv plus complete kit

If you search for salicylic acid products available for treatment of acne, you will find that there are thousands of brands.

However, it does not mean that all the brands are equally effective at treating and preventing acne breakouts. There are only a few products containing salicylic acid that have been found to be effective for treatment of acne.

One of the major reasons only a few products are effective is that salicylic acid needs to be in the right concentration and with the right pH balance to be effective for acne treatment. While there are a lot of acne products out there containing salicylic acid, we have found through active research that Proactiv offers the best treatment.

Before and After Results

Wonder if salicylic acid really works for acne and breakouts? There are plenty of before and after stories out there for you to check out, and we encourage you to read them.

Proactiv has some really impressive pictures on their website showing just how powerful this stuff can be, especially when used as part of their 3-step acne fighting system.

Here are just a couple we wanted to share here…

salicylic acid before and after results

another results picture

Why Proactiv’s Salicylic Acid is the Best for Acne

One of the major reasons Proactiv has been found to be effective by thousands of users is that it contains salicylic acid in the right concentration and with the right pH balance.

Additionally, it also contains 6% benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide is also a highly effective compound for acne treatment as it helps in killing acne bacteria.

Benzoyl peroxide works by delivering oxygen into the skin pores. Since the harmful bacteria are unable to live in an oxygen rich environment, it essentially helps in killing those acne causing bacteria.

It also helps in keeping the skin pores unclogged once the existing acne has been cleared. It also has anti-inflammatory properties which means it helps in reducing redness as well as soreness.

The overall effectiveness of Proactiv (read our Proactiv review here) comes from its balanced combination of salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. Both these compounds together along with other ingredients help in giving you a smoother and clearer skin.

These also help in getting rid of the unexpected blemishes due to their anti-inflammatory properties.

Learn More About Proactiv’s 3-Step System and Lock in Best Discounts Here.


Overall, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide have been used for thousands of years in various forms for treatment of various skin related disorders.

In our research, we have found that Proactiv delivers the best results based on the results shared by thousands of users.

It contains benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid along with various other effective ingredients in right concentration and pH balance to get rid of existing acne as well as to prevent new acne breakouts from forming.

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