Main content


To reduce the occurrence of breakouts and improve tone and texture, acne-prone skincare routines need to feature a few steps. Gentle cleansing, some exfoliation and rebalancing moisture are pillar steps in attaining clarity across skin.

what is salicylic acid

Salicylic acid products sit in the exfoliative component. A beta-hydroxy acid, using salicylic acid for skin can help to manage oil-flow and is highly compatible with other ingredients. If you haven’t yet implemented this hero formula or are unsure how to use salicylic acid in your routine, this guide acts as an easy explainer.

There are a myriad of efficacious ingredients out there – but for those with oily skin, salicylic acid skincare can be a transformative addition. Ahead, discover which of our plant-powered products to include, alongside how often to use salicylic acid for clear, radiant skin.

What is salicylic acid?

A nature and science inspired ingredient common to Kiehl’s formulas, salicylic acid is an organic acid belonging to the beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) family. Naturally present in plants like willow tree and meadowsweet, we use salicylic acid for skin because of its exfoliative and anti-inflammatory properties.

So how does salicylic acid work? BHA’s are oil-soluble acids that are able to penetrate hair follicles and pores deeply. Being oil-soluble, salicylic acid products are able to dry out excess sebum and dead skin cells – which is big news for clogged pores.

Benefits of salicylic acid for skin

Conventionally, the main use of salicylic acid for skin was in acne-spot treatment formulas. In modern formulations, other steps also benefit from the helpful exfoliant. The benefits of salicylic acid skincare include:

  • Oil reduction:
  • Excess sebum is one of the main contributors to breakouts and blemishes. As a BHA, salicylic acid products clear oils from underneath skin’s surface – which can reduce imperfections alongside the appearance of pores in skin.

  • Anti-inflammatory:
  • As a ‘salicylate’, salicylic skincare is able to provide antiseptic and anti-inflammatory comfort to skin. This helps in the aftercare of breakouts, by reducing the appearance of redness and skin discomfort.

  • Exfoliates dead skin:
  • Salicylic acid is also a keratolytic, which means that it helps to clear away dead skin cells. This in turn encourages cellular turnover, helping to surface new skin and preventing clogged pores.

    How to use salicylic acid products

    Salicylic acid skincare features in pore refining products. There are a few ways to implement this ingredient – see how to best match it to your routine below.

    Clearly Corrective™ Dark Spot Solution

    Skin discolouration is a common concern for acne-prone skin types, which result from post-breakout marks. To even skin tone and brighten complexions, the inclusion of a product that addresses past imperfections can help. Clearly Corrective™ Dark Spot Solution is formulated with salicylic acid alongside antioxidants vitamin C and peony extract. Regular use can reduce the appearance of discoloration and boost radiant skin tones. Targeted dark spot correctors can be used morning and night, right before moisturiser application.

    Breakout Control Targeted Acne Spot Treatment

    One of the most well-known salicylic acid products, spot treatments are used to reduce the appearance of already apparent blemishes. Breakout Control Targeted Acne Spot Treatment includes niacinamide and mineral sulphur alongside salicylic acid to balance surface layer oil without over-drying skin. For how to use salicylic acid spot treatments, apply a thin layer to blemishes after cleansing and blend into skin.

    Blue Herbal Acne Cleanser Treatment

    Oily-skin types will be familiar with the importance of cleansing. As the first step in morning and evening routines, a cleanser helps to rebalance skin by removing excess oil, dead skin and other impurities. To further promote clear skin, Blue Herbal Acne Cleanser Treatment is formulated with salicylic acid alongside ginger root and frankincense, to refine skin texture and reduce oil production. Use twice daily to reduce the appearance of blackheads, whiteheads and other blemishes.

    blue herbal acne treatment

    How does salicylic acid work in skincare?

    Each step in a skincare routine needs to support one another in order to deliver skin-boosting results. Salicylic acid is an efficacious exfoliant on its own, so the additions of other exfoliants isn’t necessary. To get the most out of salicylic acid products, we recommend combining them gentle properties such as humectants. Wondering ‘how long does salicylic acid take to work’? With regular, proper use and alongside the below complimentary ingredients, visible results can usually be seen in 4-6 weeks.

    Use salicylic acid skincare with:

  • Niacinamide: the comforting and moisturising properties of vitamin B3 compliment the skin-clearing work of salicylic acid.
  • Hyaluronic acid: a powerhouse at hydrating oily skin without causing shine or feeling of greasiness on skin, this humectant helps to restabilise moisture after skin is exfoliated.

  • Avoid the use of salicylic acid products with:

  • Retinol: as another potent ingredient, retinol may increase sensitivity when used alongside exfoliants like salicylic acid. If both ingredients feature across your routine, we recommend applying retinol and night and salicylic acid skincare in the morning.
  • Glycolic acid: this AHA is also great at removing dead skin from the surface layer. Combining the two isn’t necessary – they’re both powerful on their own!

  • Loved this guide? Discover the benefits of calendula in skincare next.


    Orientation message
    For the best experience, please turn your device