Dealing With Cystic Acne, Severe Acne, Pimples, Comedones, and Blackheads; Is Salicylic Acid The Remedy For Your Acne?

Having experienced severe and cystic acne for my entire life, there’s a sense of ownership in understanding which skincare regimens and ingredients can help us mitigate pimples, comedones, and blackheads, especially during the most important events of our lives.

If you’ve been around the block, Salicylic Acid is a familiar term, serving as a staple ingredient for many facial cleansers and toners. We’ve actually written about it briefly in an article titled “5 Key Ingredients for Men’s Skincare Products.” 

To truly appreciate the power of Salicylic Acid and it’s many beneficial properties, let’s break down the problem it’s best at solving - acne.

What is acne?

You might be surprised to know that acne is actually a skin condition; hair follicles are connected to oil glands which can become plugged with dead skin cells and sebum (an oily liquid that our bodies’ sebaceous glands produce). Pimples grow when these follicles become clogged due to our naturally produced oils building up underneath our skin.

Since men naturally have more oily skin than women, it’s important for us to understand what this distinction means for the moisturizers we use so we aren’t clogging our pores,

It’s also important to note that bacteria that live on our skin can contribute to the severity of acne and the infection of pimples, something important that we’ll touch on soon. You might be experiencing this first hand in the form of Maskne (mask acne) if you’ve been wearing a face mask for prolonged periods of time.

When it comes to bacteria inducing acne, this can better be tackled with an ingredient like Benzoyl Peroxide, a hasher but more effective acne fighting ingredient.

In order to mitigate the presence and severity of acne, we’ve got to keep the bacteria away and we’ve got to keep our pores unclogged; enter Salicylic Acid.


What is Salicylic Acid and how can it help with your acne?

A Beta Hydroxy Acid, known in part for its exfoliating capabilities, Salicylic acid is an oil soluble keratolytic medication, speeding up cell turnover rate by ridding our skin of dead skin cells and excess sebum. It’s actually known to be a better exfoliator than Glycolic Acid, an Alpha Hydroxy Acid common with other chemical exfoliating ingredients. It’s more potent than Glycolic Acid, requiring a lower concentration, having similar efficacy with considerably more irritation.

I personally love incorporating salicylic acid into my skincare regimen because it’s considerably milder and non irritating compared to other acne cleansing ingredients. Since Salicylic acid is oil soluble, it’s geared to help clear men’s faces as the oil we produce naturally can be compromising for our pores.

Salicylic Acid serves as a peeling agent, helping you shed the outermost layer of your skin. When used in parallel with other active ingredients, it can help those additional medicines penetrate our skin more deeply and effectively.

It’s great to combat blackheads, comedones, and pimples as it addresses acne created by a build up of dead skin cells, where applying it can decrease the severity of inflammation and redness.

How can you incorporate Salicylic Acid into your skincare routine?

Salicylic acid is most popularly used in cleanser and toners, as it can be irritating on your skin when left in, and is best washed from your face along with the broken down sebum and exfoliated dead skin cells. 

I personally like the Oil Buster cleanser of Geologie, which incorporates 2% Salicylic Acid, the marginally most effective concentration of Salicylic acid. For its price point, Neutrogena’s oil free cleanser is a great salicylic acid incorporating substitute.

When applying these cleansers, I typically try to leave it in for a minute before cleansing. 

As with all ingredients, some work well with others, and some don’t.

When it comes to applying retinoids, it’s best to separate the application of salicylic acid. For instance, cleanse with Salicylic acid during the morning, and apply adapalene at night time.

Also avoid combining salicylic acid with alcohol based skincare products, as salicylic acid can be too drying as it is.

Do pair Salicylic Acid with plant based compounds like Witch Hazel, Aloe, and L-Absorbic Acid (Vitamin-C).

Topical salicylic acid can be applied to address pimples on your nose, blackheads on your chin, comedones on your cheeks, and even acne on your beck and back.

There are side effects to be aware of, some of which I’ve experienced with my own personal use of Salicylic acid. Though considered safe overall, salicylic acid may cause skin irritation when first incorporating it into your skincare routine. It may also remove too much sebum, resulting in dryness, itchiness, and peeling skin.

If your acne becomes more severe after trying increased concentrations, it could be a good idea to look into incorporating Benzoyl Peroxide, as mentioned earlier. When doing so, you’ll want to keep an oil-free moisturizing agent handy. 

You should also consider the severity of your acne.

When dealing with cystic acne, ingredients like salicylic acid (and Benzoyl Peroxide) will not be able to penetrate your skin that deeply.

In conclusion, Salicylic Acid can be a workhorse for your skincare routine, especially if your skin leans more on the oily side of things. It’s a tool like anything else, it’s best when solving certain skin related conditions, but not all of them. 

You’ll find that salicylic acid is the hammer to your utility belt of skincare, dependable and strong.

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