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What Salicylic Acid Does to Your Skin


Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (that’s where the BHA abbreviation comes from). It’s a derivative of aspirin and differs from alpha hydroxy acids (like glycolic acid) as it exfoliates, unclogs pores and has antibacterial properties.

The structure of this compound is what makes it so hard-working as it can penetrate deep into the pores and dissolve the skins ‘glue’. This deep cleaning exfoliation is the reason why this ingredient features in some of our favourite skincare products.

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid, which makes it great at attacking pimples.

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid, which means the hydroxy part of the molecule is separated from the acid part by two carbon atoms, as opposed to an alpha hydroxy acid where they’re separated by one carbon atom,This structure is important because it makes salicylic acid more oil soluble so it can penetrate into the pores of the skin.

It works by attacking your skin’s “glue.”

Once it has penetrated the skin, the acid part of the molecule can dissolve some of the intercellular ‘glue’ that holds skin cells together,” says Schueller. In contrast, alpha hydroxy acids end up just exfoliating your skin when they touch the surface.


Salicylic acid is considered a keratolytic medication, which means that it’s perfect for supreme exfoliation.Salicylic acid also loosens and breaks apart desmosomes (attachments between cells in the outer layer of skin). This ‘desmolytic’ action encourages exfoliation of skin and unclogging of pores,Salicylic acid aids in removing and loosening these skin cells and helps to dissolve the blackheads.

It can even give your skin cells a deep cleaning.

This acid is also lipophillic, which means it can penetrate oily skin and clogged pores, resulting in a deep cleaning.Salicylic acid can reduce sebum secretion, which is another way it can help reduce acne. Lastly, it’s also an anti-inflammatory, which can help calm inflamed acne.


Salicylic acid is not the best choice if you have really dry skin, if you’re pregnant, or if you’re taking certain medications.

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