What Is Salicylic Acid?

November 18, 2023

Salicylic acid is a keratolytic compound in the same class of medications as salicylates, also known as acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin). Salicylic acid works by altering the expression of the COX2 gene to reduce the production of prostaglandins that promote inflammatory processes. The formation of this type of prostaglandin is stopped by the competitive salicylate that disrupts its formation process. Salicylic acid works as an antirheumatic in the body. Antirheumatics promote nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory actions to decrease inflammation. Salicylic acid is most often used in products made to heal the skin, as it is an exfoliant and allows the cells of the epidermis to slough off easier. This mechanism stops pores from becoming clogged up by cellular debris and provides an ample opportunity for new cell growth. Salicylic acid is used for conditions involving the overgrowth of skin cells like psoriasis, and problems evolving from obstructed skin pores like acne and blemishes.

Learn all about salicylic acid, starting with where it's found, now.

Where It's Found

Salicylic acid is a compound that originates from wintergreen and white willow leaves that can be synthetically prepared. It has fungicidal, bacteriostatic, and keratolytic characteristics. Salicylic acid is found in numerous skincare products designed to treat acne, calluses, keratosis pilaris, psoriasis, corns, and warts. Many dandruff shampoos contain salicylic acid as one of their active ingredients to help individuals who experience the condition frequently. Salicylic acid is found in many professional chemical peels that may contain twenty to thirty percent of it. Over-the-counter salicylic acid products cannot exfoliate the skin to the same degree superficial professional chemical peels can. These peels are used in individuals who have moderate to severe acne that does not resolve with other methods. Professional chemical peels with salicylic acid can be done in a physician's office, or they may be given to the individual to do at home with detailed instructions and guidelines. These chemical skin peels are not typically used independently, but are used alongside other types of treatment for acne.

Keep reading to learn about the reported health benefits of salicylic acid next.

Reported Health Benefits

The health benefits of salicylic acid come from its mechanism that causes dead skin cells to slough off easily and keeping the pores from becoming plugged up with dirt, grime, bacteria, and cellular debris. Salicylic acid is a lipophilic, or a substance effective at penetrating oily skin to help with deep cleaning. Salicylic acid is known to help regulate the production of oil, which is a common cause of acne and blemishes. Too much oil on the skin can easily trap irritants and bacteria that cause further inflammation. Salicylic acid is beneficial because it can help even out an individual's skin tone and decrease abnormal discolorations of the skin. The mechanism it uses has to do with its astringent properties that decrease the appearance of pores. A youthful and smooth appearance is the result because salicylic acid helps induce skin tightening. In addition, salicylic acid is also an ingredient in a popular medicine along with bismuth that is used for the relief of digestive symptoms such as nausea, gas, diarrhea, and heartburn.

Read about the side effects linked to salicylic acid next.

Side Effects Of Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid, like all other ingredients in skincare products and medicines, has some side effects that should be considered before use. Common and minor side effects include peeling, rash, irritation, and color changes in the treated area of skin. Some individuals who have used salicylic acid have reported a slight stinging feeling upon application of the medication. These minor side effects do not usually require any type of medical treatment and should dissipate as the individual's body has time to adjust to the medication. Many individuals who use salicylic acid describe its side effects to be a nuisance at worst that can be managed by using an oil-free cream or moisturizer daily. Rare, but serious side effects that may occur from the use of salicylic acid that require urgent medical attention include severe headache, problems with hearing, severe stomach pain, diarrhea, shortness of breath, severe skin dryness, ringing in the ears, thinking problems, severe burning of the skin, vomiting, and lightheadedness.

Get the details on when and how often to use salicylic acid next.

When And How Often To Use It

When using salicylic acid to treat warts, the plaster form should be applied to the affected area every forty-eight hours as needed, or applied at bedtime and removed in the morning. Plaster can be used for up to twelve weeks in duration or as directed by a physician. When using salicylic acid shampoo, the scalp and hair should be rinsed with lukewarm water before applying enough of the shampoo to form a lather. For between two and three minutes, the shampoo should be rubbed well into the scalp before rinsing it out. When using the topical salicylic acid solution to treat warts, corns, or calluses, wet a cotton pad or ball with the solution before gently wiping it onto the affected areas without rinsing. An individual should ensure they cover each corn, callus, or wart with the solution and allow it to dry without disturbance. For the treatment of warts, this process can be repeated once or twice a day as needed for a maximum of twelve weeks or as directed by their physician. For calluses and corns, this process should be repeated once or twice a day for a maximum of fourteen days or as directed by a physician.

Learn about when to avoid using salicylic acid next.

When To Avoid Using It

An individual should avoid using salicylic acid in combination with any abrasive cleansers or soaps, preparations that contain any alcohol, soaps, or cosmetics that dry out the skin; medicated cosmetics; or any other topical medications for the skin. Any other topical treatment that contains a peeling agent such as resorcinol, vitamin A acid, sulfur, and benzoyl peroxide should not be used with salicylic acid. Individuals affected by moderate or advanced kidney or liver disease should not use products with salicylic acid, as it can cause them to develop salicylate toxicity. Salicylic acid should not be used in individuals under eighteen years old when flu-like symptoms, fever, or chickenpox are present, as ingredients in salicylic acid can leech into the bloodstream and produce a life-threatening condition referred to as Reye's syndrome. An individual should avoid using salicylic acid on skin that is windburned, sunburned, irritated, or dry. Salicylic acid should not be used anywhere near an open flame, as it is a highly flammable substance. An individual should not smoke until the salicylic solution has completely dried.

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