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In the over-the-counter battle against breakouts, there are a few key players you should know about, and salicylic acid is at the top of that list. Simply speaking, salicylic acid is one of acne's biggest enemies. You reach for a product within the second you see a zit invading your face. You slather it on a pimple overnight and oftentimes, you wake up in the morning with a pimple that is dried up and much less noticeable. But, what exactly does salicylic acid do, and what are the best ways to reap its benefits? To find out, we consulted dermatologists to help break down exactly how salicylic acid works on the skin, who should and shouldn't use it, and why it's such a popular choice for staving off breakouts.


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If you purchase something through our links, we may earn a commission. Pricing and availability are accurate as of publish time. But what is it, and why is it so popular? A beta hydroxy acid BHA that can penetrate the skin to help remove excess oil and unclog the pores, salicylic acid possesses keratolytic properties that enable it to exfoliate dead skin cells and improve texture and tone, noted board-certified dermatologist Marisa GarshickMD.

To help you find the right options for you, we consulted medical doctors on the benefits and limitations of salicylic acid in skincare. Although salicylic acid is best known for its ability to treat whitehe and blackhe, it can also help eliminate buildup and scaling on the skin caused by psoriasis, warts, calluses and dandruff, said Garshick. Since salicylic acid can also buff away dead skin cells, it boosts the efficacy of your face moisturizer by allowing it to better penetrate your skin, she added.

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You can also utilize salicylic acid face products on your body if you prefer. Salicylic acid can be paired with popular ingredients like hyaluronic acid and niacinamide if you want to decongest your pores and avoid dryness. Pairing salicylic acid with benzoyl peroxideretinol or retinoids like adapalenehowever, might result in over-exfoliation and further irritation, as well as increased sensitivity to the sun, noted Garshick.

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If you do opt for those combos, you will need to be especially diligent about using moisturizer to prevent dryness and sunscreen to prevent sunburn. Most over-the-counter salicylic acid products, whether for the face or body, are usually formulated with a 2-percent concentration of the ingredient while hair care treatments like dry scalp shampoos are generally made with a 6-percent concentration, Murphy-Rose added.

You may notice some improvement in just a few days, but the most ificant will appear in about four weeks, noted Murphy-Rose. To that end, salicylic acid skin care products are available at Shopping reader favorite retailers like WalmartSephora and Amazon.

You can also find these anti-acne items at TargetUlta and Dermstore.

Salicylic acid for blackhe: how it works, efficacy, best products

To help you sort through the seemingly infinite amount of face products infused with salicylic acid, we rounded up 10 expert-recommended items that range from cleansers and toners to spot treatments and serums. She advised cleansing your face and body with this oil-free wash no more than twice daily to help reduce blackhe and breakouts, plus prevent new ones from forming.

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Beyond salicylic acid, it contains glycolic acida popular type of alpha hydroxy acid AHAplus fruit enzymes that help to reduce discoloration, she noted. While you can dot it on your breakouts up to three times a day, Garshick recommended starting with one or two applications a day and only increasing the frequency if necessary. This Clean at Sephora acne spot treatment received a 4.

As a bonus, St. Ives claims this non-comedogenic and paraben-free formula is stored in a percent recycled bottle. This acne face wash earned a 4.

12 ways to get rid of blackhe

Viscusi called this her "favorite" drugstore salicylic acid product and noted it "gently and instantly" unclogs and tightens pores for a noticeably clear complexion. La Roche Posay's toner received a 4. In addition, the brand claims this fragrance-free product is oil-free and non-comedogenic, meaning it will not clog your pores.

Viscusi is a fan of SkinMedica's salicylic acid-infused face wash and cream — they contain fruit enzymestocopheryl acetate and panthenol provitamin B5which protect against free radical damage as well as soothe, moisturize and replenish the skin.

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The face wash boasts a 4. As one of Viscusi's "go-to" salicylic acid face washes, this " super concentrated" formula "deeply cleans pores," removes oil and impurities and employs salicylic and lactic acids to exfoliate the skin.

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According to the brand, it is also made with sucrose lauratea cleansing agent that doesn't strip away moisture. This cleanser earned a 4. It also features mandelic acidone of her favorite ingredients to help promote cell turnover and collagen production. Drunk Elephant is a popular Clean at Sephora brand and its T. Framboos serum boasts a combination of pore-clearing salicylic and glycolic acidswhich is why it earned a recommendation from Murphy-Rose. The raspberry extract found in this serum offers many skin benefits, including cleaning the pores, soothing the skin and targeting fine lines, she added.

10 blackhead treatments dermatologists use on themselves

It received a 4. They are also made with antioxidant-rich green tea extractwhich help soothe your skin and calm irritation. Like with all salicylic acid products, you should ease yourself onto the AlphaRet Clearing Serum — start using it every other night and increase to nightly use, but only if tolerated, advised Murphy-Rose.

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Salicylic acid for acne and blackhe: a dermatologist weighs in

By Nicole Saunders. Shopping Tinted sunscreens: Benefits and limitations. Shopping What to know before using vitamin C serum. Shopping Why MDs prefer mineral sunscreen — and which to buy. La Roche Posay. Revision Skincare. Lovely Skin.

Doctors recommend the best salicylic acid products for acne

Drunk Elephant T. Drunk Elephant. Skinbetter Science. Shopping How pimple patches can help heal maskne. Nicole Saunders.

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Of all the over-the-counter OTC blackhead treatments available, salicylic acid is one of the best known — and for good reason.