Rock your world moment – you can exfoliate your skin without scrubbing! True story. If you have a combination or oily skin type, salicylic acid is your best ‘I don’t need to lift a hand’ exfoliating side kick.
…but hold up.
What the heck is salicylic acid?
How can salicylic acid exfoliate skin without a good ol’ scrub?
What’s going on here?
What exactly is salicylic acid and how can it help your oily or sometimes combination skin type?
I have your back dear friend, you’ll be amazed at how many skills this one ‘oh so modest’ ingredient beholds for your oily skin type.
HINT – it goes way beyond simple exfoliation.
What Is Salicylic Acid? An Analogy.
Ever made chocolate brownies from scratch? Remember the mixing part that has you at trip to the gym? The bit where eggs and sugar are whipped in a frenzy to make a light fluffy white bowl full of soft peaks?
If you’ve manually made yourself those elusive soft peaks, I’d like to hire you for chocolate brownie making duties – you’re awesome, I need your arms!
Whisking up sugar and eggs with arm power is one path on the multi-dimensional journeys you could take to soft, fluffy peaks.
There’s another that’s a sure-fire arm saver.
It goes by the name of electric whisk!
This other choice of multi-dimensional journey to soft, white, fluffy peaks transports your gym-kitchen back to kitchen.
No elbow grease required. No gym pass needed. Batteries only.
Wondering what the heck soft, white fluffy peaks has to do with salicylic acid and exfoliation?
Well dear friend…
Option 1. Whisking up a frenzy with that awesome power of your arm strength is like exfoliating with a facial scrub.
Option 2. Adding an electric whisk to your kitchen gadgets is like taking a notch up the exfoliation ladder to salicylic acid.
No elbow grease required. No gym pass needed. Salicylic acid is your one, stop exfoliation shop.
What Is Salicylic Acid?
Where’s your relationship with this somewhat famous skincare ingredient? Have you heard of salicylic acid? Have you seen salicylic acid proudly mentioned on the front label of a new skincare pick? Or perhaps, you’ve never, ever heard of salicylic acid, but have an oily/combination skin type and you’ve been hunting for skincare solutions that really work?
If you’re nodding along, I have answers dear friend.
Salicylic acid is an active skincare ingredient. It’s added to skincare in about the same way you’d add seasoning to soup. A sprinkle is all that’s needed.
In fact, here in the EU, 2% is the maximum amount of salicylic acid you’ll be finding in your skincare. That part’s law.
Salicylic acid has lots of uber helpful skincare skills. Let’s take a peek at those skills from top to bottom.
- Chemical exfoliant (don’t let that chemical word scare you, I’ll explain all later…)
- Anti-bacterial – goodbye spot bacteria.
- Collagen promoting.
- Oil soluble – uber important for your oily skin type.
In other, useful words, that means when you use salicylic acid on your skin you’ll be…
- Treating hyperpigmentation or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
- Helping wave goodbye to spot causing bacteria.
- Preventing your pores from becoming clogged with dead skin – leading to pimples.
- Using a product that has anti-ageing, collagen protecting benefits.
- Reducing redness and inflammation (acne bumps are inflammations).
Not bad ‘eh!
Salicylic acid – a skincare ingredient with many skills. Skills that are oh so perfectly suited to your oily/combination skin type.
The Other Names Salicylic Acid Hides By…
Courgette, zucchini. Aubergine, eggplant. Tomayto, tomahto. What’s yours? Nicknames can be super helpful… when you know them! Ever wondered whether you know a Catherine well enough to call them Cat? Well, salicylic acid is oh so open to being nicknamed.
So open, salicylic acid has done it a few times.
When looking for salicylic acid active skincare, you may find it nicknamed as one of these;
- beta-hydroxy acid – yup that’s the long hand version of the short hand nickname.
While not all beta-hydroxy acids (BHA’s) are salicylic acid… when you see these nicknames used in the world of skincare – it’s salicylic acid that’s being talked about.
— Cheryl Woodman (@HonestyForSkin) 3 January 2017
Skincare Pro Note: I recently had a question from an uber lovely Honesty for your Skin community member who in overhauling her cosmetics draw to safe and natural, was worried her new recommended miracle worker – Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% Bha Liquid Exfoliant, £40/88ml, wasn’t so healthful. The reason? BHA is also a nickname used for another skincare ingredient called Butylated hydroxyanisole.
Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) is a synthetic antioxidant that’s gotten a lot of attention for the wrong reasons. Consider it a ‘to watch list’ ingredient. Even though the miracle worker that is Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% Bha Liquid Exfoliant is called Bha, it’s talking about salicylic acid, not Butylated hydroxyanisole.
Butylated hydroxyanisole will never be made famous anywhere other than the ingredients list. If you see BHA on the label, product name or description it’s salicylic acid being talked about. See BHA on the ingredients list and it’s Butylated hydroxyanisole that’s being talked about.
Want to stay up to skincare date with more uber helpful skincare tips like these? Be sure to join our HonestyFYSkin community on the #Skintips series, it’s free and the best bit is… we get to be friends!
Why Chemical Exfoliants aren’t Scary
Now, to that bit about salicylic acid being a chemical exfoliant. The term that shouldn’t cause you any worry.
Salicylic acid works as an exfoliant but without the need to scrub. That means instead of being called a physical exfoliant, salicylic acid earns the name of chemical exfoliant.
That’s it. Job done.
No physical stuff needed.
Chemical exfoliants work like using those washing powders that are still effective in a cool wash.
They don’t need heat or in this case scrubbing to work, that’s because they have chemistry!
Chemical exfoliants work because they gently dissolve the glue that holds dead skin cells together. A bit like nail polish remover but way, way healthier for your skin.
This means chemical exfoliates have big benefits over your average facial scrub;
- They work on deeper layers of skin – having a bigger impact on your skin’s appearance.
- No irritation’s caused by scrubbing or over-scrubbing.
- They continue to work after application – slowly and surely.
The Big Picture: How Can Salicylic Acid Help Your Skin?
I opened this article with the promise of a wonder ingredient for your oily/combination skin type. Salicylic acid is picky. It only chooses to work with certain (read: the best) skin types.
While dry or even normal skin types could use salicylic acid, it only gets to work all of its magic on oily/combination skin types.
Your skin is oily and salicylic acid dissolves in oil.
That means instead of sitting pretty, salicylic acid can absorb into your skin and release all of its activeness.
Salicylic acid is the exfoliant for oily/combination skin because when you have this kinda skin type, it’s likely you’re also a sometimes acne or spot sufferer.
Raising my hand!
Using a salicylic acid exfoliant once or twice a week helps put a door-wedge in your acne causation triangle.
If you suffer from acne, you’ll have a bacteria on your skin called propionibacterium acnes. This bacteria feasts on dead skin, becomes strong and makes off-spring. Salicylic acid is not only an anti-bacterial, it also helps stop dead skin making itself available for dinner. If there’s no food at your restaurant, acne causing bacteria will be made weak.
As a bonus, salicylic acid is also able to reach into your sinks pores. This is where your oily skin type is first created, it’s literally where your sebum glands live. Here’s where dead skin can become trapped and when dead skin’s trapped in a pore, pimples are just around the corner.
Where to Find Salicylic Acid
Are you ready? Ready to add salicylic acid’s miracle box to your skincare armoury? If you are, you’re probably looking for some direction ‘eh. It’s a candy store out there and choosing great skincare takes time, trial and error – that is if you don’t have a skincare scientist as a best bud.
Luckily you do.
For you dear friend, I’m sharing below some of my well researched favourites.
- Paula’s Choice Clear Regular Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution With 2% Salicylic Acid, £11/30ml – this is a leave on toner & a cheaper version of my favourite Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% Bha Liquid Exfoliant, £40/88ml
- Kind on the pennies but full of active ingredient The Ordinary’s Salicylic Acid 2% Solution £4.20/30ml
- First Aid Beauty Skin Rescue Blemish Patrol Pads, £22.00/60
- Pür Cosmetics Dirty Girl Detoxifying Mudd Mask, £18.00/120g
- Dr. Nick Lowe acclenz™ Deep Down Clearing Mask, £38.00/50ml
Out of all of these options, number 1 is my recommended favourite for results. As a toner, you leave this one on giving it maximum time to make great results. That’s also teamed up with a load of helping ingredients that soothe and de-flame lurking pimples.
Tell me best bud – have you been whisking up your brownies with awesome arm power or electric marvels? Had you heard of salicylic acid? Do you use it? Have questions? Leave them for me below…
Cheryl Woodman is a scientist & award winning skincare formulator who is more friend next door than bow tie wearing professor. As creator of Honesty For Your Skin her aim is to help you care for your skin in the best ways possible. She is founder of the natural & fragrance free skincare brand Honesty while also hosting 1 to 1 skincare coaching to help you get your best skin yet. Find out more here.