June is National Acne Awareness Month and the perfect time to get up close and personal with salicylic acid. One of the first and still highly effective tools in the anti-acne tool box, it is closely related to the aspirin we take for pain and fever. Salicylic acid is found primarily in the bark of the willow tree,and wintergreen leaves. If you see willowbark extract on a label of a skin care product , the active ingredient here is salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is also known as Beta Hydroxy acid, and is often compared to its more famous cousin, glycolic acid.
Salicylic Acid—Your Skin’s BFF
Salicylic Acid has three valuable properties for the skin:
- Even in low concentrations, it dissolves the dry,dead cells on the skin surface, leaving healthy ,young skin that is soft and fresh. Even better, by removing this layer stimulates the lower levels of skin to grow. By speeding up the growth process, it can aid removal of darkened skin cells, to brighten the overall complexion.
- Salicylic acid is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent reducing the cascade of events that lead to red, tender skin.
- It is one of a handful of ingredients that can actually be absorbed by the skin. In fact it can absorbed by clogged pores and dissolve the keratin and oil that is a key part of the acne process.
Salicylic acid has mild antibacterial activity, but less so than another popular acne fighter, benzoyl peroxide. BP, as it is commonly called is widely used because it can attack the bacteria in the pores that trigger outbreaks. It is especially useful in teenage acne while bacteria play a big role. In adult acne, bacteria are not as important and the triggers are inflammation and clogged pores- both of which are handled better by salicylic acid.
Salicylic acid is used in cleanser for acne and oily skin (eg NeutrogenaOil Free Acne Wash ) , toner ( eg Clinique Acne Solutions Clarifying Lotion), and spot creams for breakouts (eg Murad Acne Spot Treatment) It is also a valuable ingredient for both office and home based peels ( eg Dr Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Face Peel) . They clean out cl pores and hasten removal of minor scarring. These peels can also be used safely by women of color to deal with both acne and irregular pigmentation. But wait there’s more. Salicylic acid has similar cell stimulating properties as Retin A that give it anti-aging street creds. To bottom line it, salicylic peels can be as effective as stronger glycolic peels without concerns of irritation. And that’s a good thing.
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