Can You Use Salicylic Acid Every Day?

Salicylic acid is a common skincare ingredient used to treat a diverse range of skin conditions and concerns. A beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that works to exfoliate the skin, this non-comedogenic ingredient unclogs pores and removes dead cells (via CeraVe). Though salicylic acid has been used for around 4,000 years — it derives from willow bark and was traditionally used as pain relief — modern skincare gurus are hailing the ingredient as a game-changer (via Smithsonian Magazine).

According to Net Doctor, salicylic acid is specifically recommended for those with acne or oily skin. Its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties make it a powerful tool for dealing with pimples, and it can also reduce sebum secretion and diminish the appearance of blemishes. Layering salicylic acid with other products containing acids or active ingredients should be avoided without the guidance of a dermatologist, as this can lead to irritation. However, when used on its own, salicylic acid is generally safe for most people to apply topically. But can applying this potent product every day cause more harm than good to the skin?

How and when to use salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is present in a variety of skincare products, including creams, serums, gels, exfoliants, and skin cleansers. When used medically, it can also come in the form of medicated pads and concentrated solutions (via Insta Natural). According to London-based skincare brand Procoal, it's safe for most people to use salicylic acid on a daily basis when using over-the-counter products that contain a strength of .05% to 2%. As salicylic acid can sometimes result in skin irritation or dryness, experts recommend only applying it up to three times a week in the beginning. As your skin adjusts and you determine that the ingredient is not causing you any irritation, you can gradually increase your frequency of use until you're applying it every day.

It's important to test your salicylic acid product on a small area of your skin first to ensure that it won't give you an allergic reaction (via MasterClass). One of the best ways to incorporate the ingredient into your skincare is with a gentle cleanser or exfoliant, which you can rub in for up to 60 seconds and then follow with a moisturizer and SPF (if used during the day). If you use a spot-treatment serum containing salicylic acid to relieve acne, ensure that you only apply it to the problem area. Avoid combining salicylic acid with retinol, as this can lead to irritation. Daily use of salicylic acid is generally safe, but in some cases, the ingredient can lead to negative side effects.

The side effects of salicylic acid

Despite its many benefits, salicylic acid can cause a range of potential side effects. Healthline explains that salicylic acid may remove too much oil in some skin types, resulting in dryness. Generally, those with naturally dry skin may find that their skin reacts negatively to the ingredient. Other side effects that have been linked to salicylic acid include a stinging, itching, or tingling sensation in the skin, peeling skin, and hives. To reduce your chance of experiencing severe side effects, avoid using salicylic acid products on your eyes and mouth and avoid consuming medications containing salicylic acid while using it topically, including Aspirin (via Medical News Today). If you notice any of these side effects, stop using the product and contact your healthcare provider.

Additionally, Medical News Today outlines that salicylic acid may not be safe for people who have kidney or liver conditions. Though it has been speculated that salicylic acid can be problematic for pregnant or breastfeeding people, the outlet confirms that the ingredient is safe in this case due to "limited systemic absorption."

Ultimately, salicylic acid is safe for most people to use every day, and the practice can significantly improve the appearance of acne and residual pigmentation. For best results, introduce the ingredient slowly into your routine with a cleanser, exfoliant, or serum, and only increase the frequency of use if the product agrees with your skin without causing irritation.