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Ready to feel more confident when reading your beauty products ingredient labels? Enter, the Allure Ingredient Index. In this comprehensive guide, youll find everything you need to know about the most in-demand (and under-the-radar) ingredients in your favorite skin-care products. In the over-the-counter battle against breakouts, there are a few key ingredients you should know about, and salicylic acid is at the top of that list. Simply speaking, salicylic acid is one of acnes biggest enemies. You reach for a spot treatment within the second you see a zit invading your face. You slather it on a pimple overnight and you might wake up in the morning with a pimple that is dried up and much less noticeable. But, what does salicylic acid do for the skin, and what are the best ways to reap its benefits?
To find out, we consulted board-certified dermatologists to help break down exactly how salicylic acid works on the skin, who should (and shouldnt) use it, and why its a cornerstone ingredient in the battle against breakouts.
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If you’re someone who currently has acne, you may be experiencing dry skin caused by harsh acne treatments. Here’s how to fix flaky, dry skin fast to get your skin back to being calm, clear and healthy-looking.
How Can I Get Rid of Dry Skin Caused by Harsh Acne Treatments?
Many acne treatments can unfortunately also be quite drying and stripping. When a product strips and dries out your skin, it’s actually causing damage to your moisture barrier. A damaged moisture barrier causes invisible cracks in the skin that allow moisture to evaporate out and irritants to get in more easily. This is why the skin becomes tight, sensitive, and flaky. Learn more about your skin’s moisture barrier and how to protect it.
Here are four things you can do when your skin’s moisture barrier has been damaged by harsh, drying acne treatments.
What is Salicylic Acid?
Salicylic acid is a type of beta hydroxy acid found in the bark of the willow tree. It is derived naturally from the metabolism of salicin, which is an anti-inflammatory agent produced from willow bark. In the plant itself, it acts as a hormone, participating in growth and development, photosynthesis, and plant defenses.
Salicylic acid, in its natural form, can also be found in blackberries, blueberries, dates, raisins, kiwis, apricots, green peppers, olives, tomatoes, mushrooms, radishes, and chicory, as well as in almonds and peanuts.
For commercial use, however, salicylic acid is typically prepared by treating sodium phenolate (sodium salt of phenol) with carbon dioxide at high pressure and temperature. It is then treated with sulfuric acid to create salicylic acid.
How Does it Work?
Salicylic acid helps kill the bacteria that create acne, and also helps encourage exfoliation, which opens up clogged pores and kills the bacteria inside. It can also constrict the pore diameter, helping to reduce the risk of future clogging.
To continue to see results, however, you must continue to use salicylic acid on a regular basis. This is not a cure for acne, but rather a tool to use in the daily battle. Recommended Reading:
How to Reduce Dryness, Flaking and Peeling from Surface Acne Medicines
Using topical treatments for acne can be frustrating. Most of them are drying to the skin, causing flaking, redness and sometimes irritation.
What is salicylic acid?
First off, lets establish what salicylic acid is. Its a little complicated, but understanding the salicylic acid structure is important in learning why (and how) it works so well. When it comes to skin-care products, there are two classes of acids youll see often: beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) and alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs).
“Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid,” says cosmetic chemist Randy Schueller. “[This] 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 theyre separated by one carbon atom.”
Furthermore, salicylic acid is actually derived from willow bark, says cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson, and it belongs to a class of ingredients called salicylates. Are you still with us? Good, because this is where it gets fun. “This structure is important because it makes salicylic acid more oil-soluble so it can penetrate into the pores of the skin,” Schueller says.
Both alpha and beta hydroxy acids exfoliate the skin, but AHAs are water-soluble, while BHAs are oil-soluble, explains New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Sejal Shah, M.D. Examples of AHAs, for reference, include glycolic and lactic acids.
“Generally, oil-soluble ingredients penetrate through the lipid layers between the skin cells more readily,” Dr. Shah explains. In other words, oil-soluble ingredients can penetrate the skin at a deeper level than their water-soluble counterparts.
Robinson sums up their differences succinctly. “AHAs work well on the skins surface to loosen old, dead skin and reveal fresh newer skin,” he says. “Salicylic acid works deeper [and is] able to penetrate into the pores to unclog them.”