We promise it's not as scary as it sounds
If you head to your bathroom cabinet, you'd be surprised at just how many of your products include salicylic acid in their ingredients list. Although the word 'acid' calls to mind red, shiny skin from a chemical peel gone wrong, you definitely have nothing to fear from this acid that's potent, but will only ever make up 2% of any product at most. A small dose will gently exfoliate, but 2% will zap and then heal blemishes.
Need a serum to banish blemishes? Look no further than this quiz
We all get spots. Squeezing them successfully = undeniably satisfying. Having a lingering spot, however = a royal pain in the backside. So while we’re as mesmerised as anyone by the spot-popping YouTube phenomenon (there is actually a woman called Dr. Pimple Popper. Seriously.), we’d prefer to avoid having the blighters in the first place - or at least kill them off before they get too big and juicy.
That's where salicylic comes in. Derived from willow bark, this Beta Hydroxy Acid is more oil-soluble than most other varieties, so it has the ability to penetrate deeply into the pores and break the 'glue' of your skin that's binding the sebum and dead skins cells that make up blackheads and whiteheads apart.
RELATED: Those Little Red Bumps On Your Arms And Legs Are Called Keratosis Pilaris. This Is What You Can Do To Get Rid Of Them
On a more day-to-day basis, salicylic acid exfoliates wonderfully without damaging the skin’s barrier as it’ll slough off dead skin and break apart excess sebum that may lead to clogs.Two things to note before you buy everything in our edit: 1) do a patch test - salicylic acid may not get on well with sensitive and dry skin, and 2) though it may help to keep hormonal or cystic acne at bay, it is not a complete solution - as always, consider your diet, lifestyle and stress levels when looking at causes of break outs.
If we've piqued your interest, and you feel like you and good old salicylic could become best pals, then read on for our top picks of products that do all the heavy work for you.
1. Mario Badescu Drying Lotion, £16
What it does: Shrivels spots and helps them heal
Probably the most famous acne-fighting bottle of all time, this drying lotions seriously packs a punch. Just the tiniest dab of the pink calamine and salicylic solution onto offending pimples shrinks them overnight, cutting the angry red phase in half and fast-forwarding straight to the healing stage. Kylie Jenner's sung her praises for this pink stuff, and girl always has perfect skin, so we're sold.
2. Eve Lom Dynaspot, £22
What it does: Calms and zaps angry, red blemishes
This little tube has definitely earned its rightful place in our medicine cabinets. It zaps spots while reducing inflammation, plus we love anything that uses clay to its full potential.
3. The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution, £3.90
How it works: Zaps and calms spots, and clears out excess sebum
Salicylic joins forces with witch hazel in this little bottle to delve into pores and clear them out - for the price of a flat white. Yet another of The Ordinary's crazily affordable superheroes, this serum can be used to target individual spots, or over any congested, oily areas for clarified and refined skin.
4. Sunday Riley U.F.O. Ultra-Clarifying Face Oil, £68
What it does: Locks in moisture and conditions while exfoliating all over and tackling spots
Sunday's skincare is the stuff of legends, but this clarifying oil really stands out. With an army of 1.5% salicylic acid, tea trea and black cumin seed oil, congested skin is no match - but milk thistle, camomile and cucumber seed oil ensure that your skin isn't too wiped out. We especially love it mixed in with our foundation, so it can work its magic all day long.
5. Skyn Iceland Blemish Dots, £17.50
What it does: Seals spots in an overnight cocoon of salicylic to shrink them faster
The best thing about these little dots is that they do all the hard work for you while you catch up on beauty sleep. Just pop one over a spot, and it simultaneously protects it from bacteria while the salicylic acid tackles it. Come morning, you'll definitely be astonished.
6. Peter Thomas Roth Max Complexion Correction Pads, £27
What it does: Quickly exfoliates like a toner, with texture for extra refining
There's something really rewarding about swiping a cotton pad over your skin. These correcting pads are saturated with correcting solution, and are double-sided for either a gentle exfoliation, or a super pore-refining job. Plus, you don't get that horrible medicated smell that too often comes with pads - these have a lovely peachy scent which isn't too overpowering.
7. Dr. Dennis Gross Dark Spot Sun Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50, £38.00
What it does: Offers sun protection while gently exfoliating to lighten dark patches
Imagine our ecstasy when we discovered that even sunscreen can be cocktailed with salicylic! This one is seriously a skin-saver - it helps fade sun spots over time while still ensuring your skin can protect itself for that much longer.
8. Ole Henriksen Fresh Lips, £11
What it does: Exfoliates, protects and moisturises lips
Okay, we all know that cocoa butter is a superhero when it comes to skin, but when you pair it with salicylic acid, the results are truly too good. Rather than just placidly sitting on your lips, this balm gets your circulation going, it sloughs off dead skin, and heals and protects against the sun with vitamin E and SPF.
9. Perricone MD Intensive Pore Minimizer, £50
What it does: Applies like a toner/primer to smoothe and mattify whatever area you choose
Now, this stuff does exactly what it promises. From the first use, skin feels smoother and tighter, and more matte in the T-Zone. When hormonal breakouts arise, this is our saviour!
10. Super Facialist Salicylic Acid Anti Blemish Clay Mask, £6
What it does: Detoxes skin without drying it out (ideal for just the T-zone)
Salicylic acid and Dead Sea mud make a heavenly combo, plus avocado oil and acacia honey mean skin doesn't feel tight or itchy after use. If you're still not convinced, then £6 is such an absolute steal. You simply need one of these on hand!
11. CosRx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid, £22
What it does: Works like a toner to exfoliate, remove blackheads and lighten acne scars
This powerful essence hails from Korea, so we know it's got to be something. Its main ingredient is willow bark water, the stuff salicylic acid is made of, and just one swipe of it effectively breaks apart blackheads and brightens dark spots. A must-have for days when your skin is totally against you.
12. Tata Harper Regenerative Cleanser, £38
What it does: Gently exfoliates and brightens while cleansing
Despite the fact it's fighting acne, this cleanser feels seriously dreamy. Right after cleansing with this stuff, your face looks brighter and feels a lot smoother, and any angry patches seem calmer as well. As well as chemically exfoliating, it has some subtle grit to it, thanks to tiny pieces of apricot seed.
13. Alpha-H Clear Skin Daily Face Wash, £35
What it does: Removes bacteria to avoid acne in the first place
Alpha-H knows their acids, and it they definitely prove it with this cleanser. Not only does it clear up acne-forming bacteria, it also helps your skin stay elastic and moisturised thanks to aloe and castor oil. Another win for Alpha-H!
14. Farmacy Invincible, £55
What it does: Evens out hyperpigmentation, moisturises and plumps
We just adore how Farmacy cultivates all the ingredients for their skincare range themselves. They've injected their original Echinacea GreenEnvy complex into this powerful serum, meaning skin gets rejuvenated whilst being evened out... it truly is invincible.
15. Mario Badescu Fruit & Vitamin A Hand Cream, £10
What it does: Exfoliates and moisturises hands while giving sun protection
This hand cream contains collagen - aka our skin's soulmate - as well as exfoliating alpha hydroxy acid and trusty salicylic acid. What's more, it'll protect the wrinkle-prone skin on your hands against the harmful sun. A total all-rounder.
16. Bliss Foot Patrol, £18.50
What it does: Exfoliates dead skin while invigorating and increasing circulation
Whenever a foot product is infused with peppermint, we (and our tired toes) breathe a sigh of relief. This one from Bliss refreshes and soothes, while alpha hydroxy and salicylic acids shed dead skin.
17. Murad Clarifying Body Spray, £30
What it does: Tackles acne and dead skin all over the body
Congestion doesn't just target your face, it can be a body-wide issue. Any back-ne or kerastosis pilaris sufferers will adore this spray, which harnesses a combo of salicylic acid and lemongrass oil to shift dead skin cells and combat bacteria. We'll be spritzing this everywhere in preparation for our summer closet.
18. Margaret Dabbs Foot Hygiene Cream, £20
What it does: Moisturises, kills odour-causing bacteria, and exfoliates
Crusty, cracked and blistered feet, be gone! Margaret Dabbs' antimicrobial cream tackles every foot concern, from dryness to odour, while the salicylic acid gently exfoliates. A must have for neglected toes.
19. HealGel Body, £25
What it does: Soothes dry patches, heals scars and pigmentation
Not only does this wonder product combat dry and distressed skin, it does its job on scars and sun damage. We especially love the anti-inflammatory arnica, which, paired with salicylic acid, is no match for scaly patches.
20. Pixi by Petra Flawless and Poreless Primer, £24
What it does: Mattifies under foundation or alone while clearing pores and moisturising
We love a good primer. We love Pixi's even more than most, largely because it works wonders on our skin as a bonus to doing its main gig. Salicylic acid clears pores, willow bark halts shine, and skin hero shea butters up our complexions.
21. Cover FX Custom Blot Drops, £34
What it does: Mattifies skin and transforms the finish of liquid makeup
This truly is a multi-use wonder. Either use the mattifying drops alone as part of your skincare routine, or mix them into any liquid product and customise your degree of matte. That foundation that's perfectly dewy on your cheeks but turns your T-zone into an oil slick can instantly cater to any area - plus the formula of the drops help control sebum production and reduces pore size and fine lines over time.
22. Pür Disappearing Act 4-in-1 Concealer, £21
What it does: Conceals with high coverage while working to remove spots underneath
We seriously love the idea of covering imperfections whilst improving them at the same time. Not only does Pür's concealer help vanish both blemishes and dark circles, it also uses salicylic acid, retinol and ceramides to give your skin a helping hand with continued use.
23. NYX Matte Blotting Paper, £3.50
How it works: Soaks up excess oil while clearing skin
These are a must have in every makeup bag. When the lunchtime shine starts to show, whip one of these out and press over the offending areas - they're laced with salicylic so any blemishes and excess sebum will be cleared away in no time.