Salicylic Acid (What it is and When To Use It!)

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Salicylic Acid is derived from the bark of the willow tree it is used in thousands of everyday products like lotions, creams, shampoos etc, but rarely in its purest form. Doctors (expensive) & Dermatologists (even more expensive!) would only use pure concentrations to treat skin complaints from face to body (even callouses, warts & corns can benefit!).

More often than not research will often end up referring you to phrases such as "Chemical Peel" etc, EEK!


This is often just the term used for topical treatment (i.e/ the process of applying salicylic acid to the skin) and neutralising it (i.e/ rinsing it off in salicylic's case).
Many skins (but perhaps not so much "dry & sensitive") often have no redness or flaking (except perhaps on the first few applications until a tolerance is built up).
More often than not a slight stinging sensation/ redness/ light flaking might occur, similar to say, only a mild sunburn!
Its true to say that you really should know your own skintype and tolerances & common sense will always prevail!
( example: A person with dry/ sensitive skin would not tolerate products meant for stronger & thicker oilier skin)

So! Im here to reassure you that using salicylic acid is not going to turn you into a monster like that you would see on one of those makeover programs! (that would be something much harsher like Trichloroacetic Acid or T.C.A for short)

Here are a few examples (of which there are many) of what salicylic acid can be used for:

  • congested pores
  • uneven skin tone
  • acne
  • sun damage
  • blackheads
  • whiteheads
  • scarring
  • rosacea
  • fine lines & wrinkles
  • collagen stimulation & production
  • ingrown hairs (including shaving bumps)
  • age spots
  • hyper-pigmentation
  • oiliness (over-sabaceous glands connected with acne & relative issues)



Skin Management

I really could go on all day about how this has helped me personally (teen & adult acne, scarring issues, excess oils etc). Now im pretty much over my problems, im more than happy to tell everyone that the best mind-set to get into is one of "Skin Management" rather than quick-fixes, short sharp harsh certain "acne products" and fake cures. Skin needs to be managed effectively. Thats it. "managed". This, overall, will help towards physical & mental improvement. We all know how it feels to wake up one day and feel better because our skin is slightly improved on the days or weeks before. Work towards that goal. Dont "over-treat" skin, and dont be tempted to "over-run" treatment strengths and lengths of cycles, and even rest periods in between. Patience is the commodity here. Some of you will see results quickly, others take time, dependant on numerous factors, including skin type, tolerance, etc.
Getting yourself into a cycle of skin management will be like a timetable for school: what to go to & when.

You'll know your goal when you have realistic expectations and can go ahead & plan for consistent results

If youre reading this you'll know your skin type & if youre older you'll know that it can change with age/ lifestyle/ illness etc, so its important to know what it currently is. There are a few exceptions but mainly skin is either Dry & Sensitive/ Normal/ Combination (normal to oily in areas)/ Oily (sometimes acne prone). But of course, dry skin can get spots and have scars too! Common sense prevails normally in the world of skin care, you wouldnt use harsher regimes on dry & sensitive skin, just as you wouldnt use rich creams on oilier skins.
If youre considering starting out on a course of salicylic acid, start mild and work out your skin tolerance on the way (except for perhaps severe acne/ cysts and deep scarring issues & of course those who may be used to other types of chemical peels but you should never attempt to treat your skin with, say 30% BHA, BHA is the medical abbreviation for salicylic acid and can sometimes be found on bottles or article headings).
An experienced seller will always point out exactly which treatment is right for you, and should answer queries directly.

The treatment process is very simple

Once youve found your strength(s), follow the procedure included in the instructions either on the bottle and/ or included with the product. But its generally the same & goes like this:
Apply the treatment on cleansed skin (preferably after a shower & at night about an hour before bed). Night time is the optimum time for the skin to repair itself.
How long to leave it on for should be stated in the instructions but as a rule of thumb, you should work up in increments of 30 secs to 1 min to a maximum of around 5 mins. (e.g/ so your first treatment would be 30 secs to 1 min, 2nd treatment 2 mins, 3rd treatment 3 mins, you get the picture....)
After the treatment is on for the allocated time, it should be removed by splashing the skin with cool/ tepid water. This neutralises the acid & you can feel a cool, calming effect on the skin.( ***neutralisers*** let me take this opportunity to say neutralisers are not necessary for salicylic acid apart from WATER. Stronger treatments such as TCA need to be effectively neutralised with bicarb or the like, but everything else you may be sold is the equivalent of a simple Aloe Vera gel. This is absolutely fine if thats how you prefer it!! I would always recommend splashing your face with water anyway).
Next you apply a moisturiser, richer ones are fine if thats what you normally use, but "anti-ageing" products usually contain salicylic acid or suchlike, so I would recommend that you use that sort of night cream/ lotion in between treatments;  and just use a simple but effective moisturiser after the application of salicylic acid. (Note to those with oilier skins: sometimes after a few treatment cycles, oily skin can tolerate "normal" skin products if they are not on the rich side i.e/ leaning towards drier skin, but most combination skin products you may tolerate now).

Over-treating is counter-effective!

I wouldnt advise using a whole skincare regime consisting of salicylic acid products (salicylic soap + toner + moisturiser) as overdoing it can aggrevate the skin, causing irritation, excessive redness which of course makes acne, rosacea etc and sensitive skin look worse than they already might be.
Use a more pure product like a peel & discard the rest.
Some people see results much more quickly than others, think theyve found the holy grail and proceed to over-do things, maybe by extending treatment times or even extending cycles.
This really is detrimental, youre taking a step backwards. Try to think of it this way: the skins appearance is improving in the midst of the repairing process, you cant speed it up & you must know its limitations (otherwise we'd all be on the same strength, same length of cycle, all the time, this isnt how it works, remember skin management?)
Acne sufferers: Remember this acid is LIPID-SOLUBLE, meaning that it dissolves and passes through oil, clearing impurities as it goes, this solubility is what makes it so effective & why Dermatologists charge a small fortune for it, its effective and non-irritant. BUT!  This "purging" of impurities of the skins structure means, by its very nature, acne can appear much worse before it gets better. You may have heard this before, but patience really is the key here, this is not one of your over the counter remedies filled with thousands of preservatives and harsh aggrivating chemicals.

Skin WILL retexturize as the treatment cycle regenerates the repair process!

Try to have a realistic view of what your skin can achieve over a certain period of time. Deep scarring (& certain types of scarring) repair in different time cycles, espescially those with say active acne underneath. As previously stated, using scrubs before during and after treatments is a no-no, but of course, in rest periods between cycles (normal treatment cycles go on for about 4-6 weeks then rest for a few weeks), they can be used. be sensible about using face masks, steaming the pores etc, just stick to a general rule of thumb: Dont do everything at once!
Fine lines and wrinkles benefit greatly from this repair process too as does hyper-pigmentation and the like. Age spots do well too, often people may progress from salicylic acid to slightly more invasive and repair-intensive peels like TCA or indeed, they may be used as top-ups (sensibly with time constraints) in between these treatments too.

Skin protection is a vital part of the repairing process & an absolute MUST

Do NOT skip sun protection. Here is why:
Photosensitivity and skin vulnerability are at their peak after using chemical peeling products. You are susceptible to UVA/B damage and cell damage. You may accelerate skin ageing & damage if you do not adequately protect yourself. I recommend:
An SPF30+ at the very least. Personally I use SPF50. Some may find that excessive but there's no such thing in sun defence. Formulations now are advanced and come in creams, lotions, sprays, even mineral makeup. What suits you as an individual may vary, but just get the numbers right and experiment with the formulations. Some arent as chalky as others either, you wont look like youre going skiing in the Alps.
*Also as a side note: Be aware that SPF can become ineffective if its not waterproof/ sweatproof/ rub-proof etc and some can take up to half an hour before exposure to be totally safe & effective, pay attention to the labels, and skins that are oilier and prone to acne etc, go for oil-free formulations every time.
Make-up wearers: Be aware that gently applying make-up is the safest way to go also. Rubbing and scrubbing will cancel the effectiveness of the SPF and ALSO, it would be wise to let the sun protection settle into your skin (say 10-15 mins) before applying makeup. (you may have SPF in your makeup but be aware that its usually a low dose of around SPF15 and that makeup wears off).

Finally, Salicylic Acid is not just for people with skin concerns!

"Normal" skin reacts fantastically to the benefits of salicylic acid. It can be used as a "stepped-up" part of a healthy skincare regime, to deeply purify, gently resurface or manage periods of "difficulty". 
Ive included a little gallery below to show some of the before & afters, you can see for yourself all of the points ive mentioned above coming to fruition.

I Hope this article is of use to anyone thinking of using salicylic acid who may have been scared of the word "peel" & wanted a few more facts in order to make up their minds, or as a reference point to those who may be concerned about the prices of dermatology bills and the safety of administering treatments in the comfort of their own home.
And for those of you with problems who may have found your way to this article, I hope you realise a way to manage whatever your condition might be, and that eventually you find an improvement both in your perception of your appearance, and ultimately in your self-esteem.



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