04/04/2018 15:17 BST | Updated 04/04/2018 17:18 BST

What Is Salicylic Acid And Why Is It In My Face Wash?

Salicylic acid has been cropping up in spot gels, washes and serums.

Salicylic acid is currently a super trendy ingredient in skincare, one you will have seen listed on many a bottle positioned carefully in Instagram #shelfies. But can it live up to the hype?

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The Buzz

Salicylic acid has been held responsible for all sort of grand claims: it has been said to “cure” acne, soothe irritation and balance an uneven texture as well as reducing oil and refining pores when applied topically.

What Has Been Proven:

Anything that is hailed as an “acne cure” is immensely appealing, but Dr Emma Meredith, pharmacist and director of science at Ctpa, the UK cosmetic trade association, urges caution when these claims are applied to a cosmetic product as opposed to a medicine. 

“Cosmetic products cannot treat acne or skin irritations, as these are adverse conditions,” she explained. “However I am aware that salicylic acid is used in topical medicines for skin conditions.” So you may well find it listed as an ingredient in an acne medication.

In cosmetic products such as cleansers however, it functions as an exfoliating agent, which Meredith explains can improve skin tone and texture, and make pores look refined.

Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid, which works in a similar way to alpha-hydroxy acids (also known as fruit acids)  and can be used at low concentrations to gently speed up the skin’s normal exfoliation process.  “Exfoliants are ingredients which initiate or accelerate removal of the layers of dead skin cells from the skin surface,” Meredith explains. “The result is a shedding of dry surface cells and an improved appearance and feel to the skin.”

It can also work as an anti-dandruff agent when included shampoo.

How Much Do You Need To Apply?

Under EU law salicylic acid is allowed in wash-out hair products in a maximum concentration of 3%,  but in skincare it is only allowed up to a maximum concentration of 2%.

If you are using a product containing salicylic acid in your skincare routine, there is no need to use any other exfoliating products, so you can save money by leaving the scrubs at the store.

Anything To Watch Out For?

If you use an acid in the morning it is important you wear SPF or this can cause sun damage.

Also, salicylic acid is not an ingredient that will suit everyone. “Some individuals’ skin may not tolerate exfoliating products and salicylic acid may be an irritant for some people,” advises Meredith. “However, the only reasons for an individual to avoid a certain ingredient is if they have been diagnosed as allergic to it following patch testing by a dermatologist or if they find it irritates their skin. They can then avoid cosmetic products containing that ingredient by checking the list of ingredients labelled on the product.”

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Where Is It Found?

Salicylic acid is found in Origins Super Spot Remover Blemish Treatment Gel, 10ml for £15.50, and The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution 30ml for £5, which are to be used sparingly on breakouts. But if you would rather have salicylic acid within your face wash you can go for, Super Facialist’s Salicylic Acid Purifying Cleansing Wash, 150ml for £5.33, or Garnier’s Pure Active Intense Charcoal Gel Wash, 200ml for £4.99.

Alternatively, The Face Theory serum, 30ml for £18.99, can be used after cleansing. Press a large pea-sized amount into the skin in the same way you would use a face cream. (It is advised not to be used if allergic to aspirin).