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A woman pressing a blemish on either side with the fingers from both her hands.

How Does Salicylic Acid Clear Acne?

When you think of acne treatments, odds are salicylic acid comes to mind. This beta-hydroxy acid has a long history of treating acne effectively, efficiently — and gently. By exfoliating skin, deep cleaning pores and preventing future breakouts, this superstar skin care ingredient does wonders for those suffering from acne. Salicylic acid helps clear acne and prevent future breakouts without irritation. Read on to discover how.


Unlike AHAs which are water soluble and work primarily on the skin’s surface, BHAs like salicylic acid are oil soluble. This characteristic allows them to penetrate below the skin’s surface and dive deep into your pores. According to ELLE, “not only do they exfoliate the top layer of skin, but they can penetrate blocked pores by making their way into the oil glands, dissolving the paste-like mixture of sebum and dead skin that can lead to spots.” By penetrating pores more deeply, BHAs are able to clear blockages as well as destroy acne-causing bacteria lingering within the pore.

Exfoliates Skin

One feature of acne-prone skin is that it doesn’t self-exfoliate efficiently. Women’s Health says that as a result, “dead skin clumps together instead of sloughing off — leading to more pimples and blackheads.” Salicylic acid counteracts this by dissolving the “glue” that holds dead skin cells together. By removing and loosening the bonds between skin cells, salicylic acid helps skin shed its outer layer, clearing it of pore-clogging debris.

Infographic: How Salicylic Acid Exfoliates And Unclogs Pores

Deep Cleans Pores

In addition to exfoliating the skin’s surface, salicylic acid permeates the pore lining, working to clear the dead skin cells that have built up and caused congestion. According to Marie Claire, “The reason salicylic acid is able to give such a deep clean is because it can penetrate deep into the pore lining… It’s therefore able to exfoliate inside the pore as well as the surface of the skin, helping to clear congested skin.”

The reason salicylic acid is able to give such a deep clean is because it can penetrate deep into the pore lining.


Whitney Bowe, MD tells Teen Vogue about salicylic acid: “This ingredient is unique because it's very effective at fighting acne, but it has a soothing, calming effect on skin. The anti-inflammatory properties of this ingredient are not surprising, given its close chemical relationship to one of the most well-known anti-inflammatory drugs available, acetylsalicylic acid (also known as aspirin).” As an anti-irritant, salicylic acid is able to exfoliate and deep clean pores while also reducing redness and calming angry skin — two common acne-related issues.

Encapsulated salicylic acid

If you are prone to irritation, look for salicylic acid with a time-release encapsulated delivery system. The encapsulation helps the salicylic acid evenly deposit and slowly exfoliate skin over time, keeping the look of the complexion calm. The result: Skin is cleared quickly and effectively, without the look of irritation associated with other acne-fighting ingredients.

Prevents Future Breakouts

Not only does salicylic acid fight existing breakouts, it also prevents future ones from occurring. According to Vogue: “Because it is oil-soluble, BHA is great at clearing pores of sebum and dirt without manual exfoliation. As well as treating existing blemishes, it also helps to prevent future breakouts by neutralizing bacteria within the pores before it has the chance to develop into spots.” With regular use, adding salicylic acid to your skin care routine helps your skin become clear and remain breakout-free for longer.

The Best Products With Salicylic Acid


1. Clear Skin Probiotic Cleanser 

Our Clear Skin Probiotic Cleanser is crafted with yogurt, cucumber and tea tree oil to manage oily skin and mattify the complexion. It does so without stripping the skin of moisture. This cleanser also contains a Biocomplex2™ which is a booster of antioxidants that improves the appearance of vitality and radiance.

2. Acne Advanced Clarifying Hydrator

The Acne Advanced Clarifying Hydrator is an ultra-lightweight mattifying lotion containing salicylic acid to reduce blemishes and breakouts. This hydrator gives you a more even-looking complexion and improves the appearance of acne-related scarring. You can also find this hydrator as part of our Acne Advanced 3-Step Treatment System, which treats acne in 28* days. 

3. Clear Skin Willow Bark Exfoliating Peel

The Clear Skin Willow Bark Exfoliating Peel helps to treat problem skin with breakouts and blemishes. Gentle salicylic acid removes surface impurities and dirt, helping clear your complexion. This peel also features willow bark which calms the look of skin, and lilac and azelaic acid which reduce the appearance of redness. 

4. Clear Skin Probiotic Masque

The Clear Skin Probiotic Masque helps problem skin thanks to cucumber, refining yogurt and salicylic acid. This rich mask also leaves the skin feeling soft and noticeably smoother while reducing the appearance of pores. 

Experience the benefits of salicylic acid with the above products, or in a professional acne facial at your favorite Eminence Organics Spa Partner

*In vivo clinical study results, based on application of the complete system for 28 days.

This article was originally written in September 2018.