Salicylic Acid for Skin: Uses, Side Effects, Precautions

Salicylic acid

Salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid. Due to its effectiveness in treating dandruff, psoriasis, pigmentation, and acne, it is referred to as "keratolytic acid." It is also used to remove corns, calluses, and skin warts from the feet.

Salicylic acid works by exfoliating the skin and maintaining clear skin pores. As a result, it reduces blackheads and acne. Due to these benefits, it is the preferred ingredient in numerous OTC skin creams. Let us understand the other aspects of it.

What are the uses of salicylic acid?

Salicylic acid works as a peeling agent, causing the outer layer of the skin to shed. It is one of the best solutions for treating acne and avoiding future breakouts. This "facial acid" can penetrate the skin and remove dead skin cells from the pores. It aids in skin exfoliation and the removal of

  • Age Spots

  • Scars

  • Pigmentation

  • Wrinkles

It is especially true for products with higher salicylic acid concentrations.

How and when to use salicylic acid?

Your doctor will recommend its dosage depending on the skin type you have and your present skin condition. They also advise you to use it for two or three days. It is highly recommended to test the reaction on a small patch of skin or affected area before properly using it. At first, start using this by applying less and then scale up gradually.

Ointment, lotion, or cream: Apply it to the area that is affected and carefully rub it in.

Gel: Place wet packs on the region that is affected for fifteen minutes before applying the gel. Later, gently rub the gel on the area that is affected after applying it.

Use the pad to gently wipe the affected area. Avoid rinsing the medication off for a few hours.

Do not use the medicines near a flame or heat, as they are flammable. Do not inhale any of the medication vapors.

What are the side effects of salicylic acid?

Some of the common side effects of using salicylic acid are

  • Skin irritation

  • Itching

  • Change in the colour of the skin

Some serious side effects of using salicylic acid are

  • Rapid breathing

  • Difficulty in breathing

  • Tinnitus

  • Diarrhoea

  • Vomiting

  • Severe stomach pain

  • Light-headedness

  • Dizziness

  • Severe headache

  • Thinking problems

  • Severe burning of the skin or dryness

  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue, or throat

  • Buzzing in the ears

If you experience the above symptoms, then consult your doctor immediately for more advice and medical help. Try to avoid salicylic acid if it shows any negative effects and seek medical advice.

What precautions are to be taken while using salicylic acid?

Be aware of the following before using salicylic acids:

  • Allergies: If you have allergies to salicylic acid or any other drug, let your doctor know.

  • Drug interactions: Salicylic acid and the majority of other drugs don't interact. However, inform your doctor before using any medications.

  • Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Salicylic acids are considered to be safe to use when you are pregnant. If you're expecting or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor before using salicylic acid.  

Inform the doctor if you have any of the following medical issues:

  • Liver disease

  • Kidney disease

  • Heart disease

  • Diabetes

  • Chicken Pox

  • Flu

The first few days of using salicylic acid to treat your acne may cause the skin to become dry or irritated. To avoid this, use the product lightly at first and gradually increase the amount once you have gotten used to it. Salicylic acid should not be used on broken, red, swollen, itchy, irritated, or infected skin.

What if you missed the dose of salicylic acid?

If you have missed the dose, apply it as soon as you remember. However, if the time for the next dose has arrived, then skip the previous dose. Do not apply in excess amounts to make up for the missed dose.

What if I overdose salicylic acid?

There is a possibility that using more salicylic acid than recommended will have a negative impact on how your body works. It will worsen the symptoms mentioned before. Hence, always contact your doctors and inform them if there is an overdose.

What are the storage conditions of salicylic acid?

Direct exposure to air, heat, and light can affect your medicines. Ensure the medicine is out of children’s reach and stored in a safe and good place. It is strongly recommended that the medication be stored at room temperature between 20 °C and 25 °C (68 °F and 77 °F).

Can I use Salicylic Acid with other medications?

The serious interactions and harmful effects of salicylic acid with other medicines are not known. However, there are some medicines that may have some interactions, such as

  • Adapalene

  • Alitretinoin

  • Bexarotene

  • Clascoterone

If using these or any other prescribed medicines is necessary, then consult your doctor for safer alternatives.

How quickly will salicylic acid show results?

It can take weeks or longer to see the results of the salicylic acid. During the initial few days of treatment, your condition might get worse as the active ingredient may cause your skin to purge. Therefore, strictly follow all the dosage instructions to prevent complications.

Comparison of Salicylic Acid with Benzoyl Peroxide


Salicylic Acid

Benzoyl Peroxide


It is a beta hydroxy acid that is used to treat acne and blemishes by shedding the skin and maintaining clear pores.

Benzoyl Peroxide is known as an effective acne-fighting ingredient.

Side Effects

Most common side effects of using Salicylic Acid are the following:

  • Skin Irritation

  • Itching or redness

  • Light-headedness

  • Buzzing in the ears

  • Severe head pain

Most common Benzoyl Peroxide side effects are the following:

  • Eczema

  • Seborrheic Dermatitis

  • Psoriasis

  • Light headed


Your pharmacist or doctor will recommend a dosage depending on the skin type you have and your present skin condition. It is also advised to use it for two or three days.

The concentration of 2.5% of benzoyl peroxide first causes less dryness and irritation before increasing to the concentration of 5%. It is recommended to use it two times a day.





Disclaimer: The information provided here is not meant to substitute an advice from a healthcare professional. The information is not intended to cover all the possible uses, side-effects, precautions, and drug interactions. This information is not intended to suggest that using a specific drug is suitable, safe, or efficient for you or anyone else. The absence of any information or warning regarding the drug should not be interpreted as an implicit guarantee from the organisation. We strongly advise you to consult a doctor if you have any concerns about the drug and never use the medication without a doctor’s prescription.