Salicylic Acid Lotion

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Unusual Skin Care Ingredients Image Gallery Salicylic acid lotions can help remove calluses. See more pictures of unusual skin care ingredients.

Movies and television frequently poke fun at pimply-faced teenagers, and it's easy to laugh along -- for most of us, acne was a temporary inconvenience that we begrudgingly endured. But for some people, acne continues into adulthood. Bad skin can cause low self-esteem, interfering with social situations and making it difficult to project confidence. If you have a skin condition such as acne or psoriasis, you've probably searched for ways to clear up or at least improve your complexion. Salicylic acid lotions are one way to do this.

Salicylic acid lotion is a common treatment for many skin conditions, including acne, psoriasis, warts and calluses. These lotions help remove excess skin cells -- an issue all these skin conditions share [source: Mayo Clinic]. If you have mild acne, salicylic acid can even help unclog pores and minimize the appearance of acne scars through gentle exfoliation. There are many over-the-counter lotions that contain salicylic acid, but if your condition is especially serious, your doctor may prescribe a stronger dose [source: WebMD]. Salicylic acid comes in many different forms -- from lotions to creams and from cleansing pads to shaving gels. Understanding how salicylic acid works will help you decide how to incorporate these products into your routine.


Your skin can benefit from salicylic acid lotion, but, like all medications, it isn't for everyone. Salicylic acid lotions can be drying when used improperly, and some people may have allergic reactions to them. If your current skin care routine isn't working wonders on your skin, you may want to look into the benefits of using salicylic acid lotions. Read on to learn more.

Benefits of Salicylic Acid

Normal skin cleansing may not be enough to keep your skin clear and bright, but incorporating a salicylic acid lotion can help exfoliate your skin and reveal the healthy, new skin underneath. Salicylic acid lotions aren't for everyone, but they can benefit many skin types when used appropriately.

Salicylic acid lotion works by gently removing excess skin. When it's applied, the lotion causes the uppermost layer of skin to swell, soften and then peel, removing dead skin cells [source: WebMD]. Salicylic acid also prevents pores from clogging by slowing the shedding of cells inside hair follicles, which helps prevent acne. Salicylic acid lotions can even break down whiteheads and blackheads -- types of acne that are difficult to treat because they form within pores [source: Mayo Clinic]. However, although these lotions unclog pores and treat existing acne, they don't kill acne-causing bacteria.


If you have psoriasis -- a condition in which skin cells build up on the skin's surface, forming scales and dry patches -- salicylic acid lotion also may be a helpful treatment. Because salicylic acid serves as a peeling agent, it will cause the outermost layer of skin to shed, which will soften and remove scales. However, this treatment can occasionally cause an allergic reaction if the lotion is too strong, so it's important to talk to a doctor before you begin using it [source: National Psoriasis Foundation].

Salicylic acid is also found in products besides lotion, including wart-removal products. These products work in the same basic way as creams used to treat acne and other skin conditions: They cause excess skin that's built up to soften and fall off [source: WebMD]. However, they also use a much stronger concentration of salicylic acid than acne treatments do, so you should not use wart removal creams to treat acne.

Keep reading to learn how to use salicylic acid lotions effectively.


Using Salicylic Acid Lotion

Salicylic acid lotions can benefit many skin conditions, but they can cause skin irritation if they're not applied correctly. Knowing how and when to use salicylic lotion is the best way to ensure that you benefit from the treatment.

If you're using salicylic acid lotion to treat acne, you'll need to incorporate an extra step into your nighttime skin care routine. Simply cleanse your face -- and any other area where you'll be applying the lotion -- and then spread a thin layer of the lotion on your skin [source: WebMD]. In the morning, wash the lotion off your skin and complete your normal morning skin care routine. If the lotion causes your skin to dry, apply an oil-free moisturizer to the area [source: Mayo Clinic]. You can use most over-the-counter lotions more than once a day if needed, but be sure to talk to your dermatologist first if you're using a prescription-strength lotion.


If you're using salicylic acid lotion to treat warts or calluses, soak the affected area in warm water for five minutes to soften the skin. Then apply salicylic acid lotion one to two times a day until the wart or callus disappears. This will usually take up to 12 weeks for warts and up to two weeks for calluses [source: Mayo Clinic]. Also, try to avoid getting salicylic acid on unaffected areas -- it can cause skin irritation [source: WebMD].

Keep reading to learn how salicylic acid can help you get a closer shave.


Salicylic Acid Aftershave

When you already have a skin condition such as acne, shaving your face can be an added irritation. Shaving over pimples, if not done carefully, can make acne worse. You'll need to follow a careful shaving routine, and you may want to consider using a shaving product that contains salicylic acid.

If you have acne along your cheeks, you'll need to be especially delicate when shaving. First, wet your face thoroughly with warm water to soften the hairs, and use a sharp blade, which will help you avoid nicks and cuts that can further irritate acne. Shave your skin lightly with the grain of the hair -- the direction it naturally grows -- and don't shave over the same area more than once [source: Lawrence].


Shaving creams and aftershaves that contain salicylic acid can help you get a closer shave and help prevent breakouts. Shaving creams with salicylic acid prevent pores from clogging while you shave, which will help you avoid razor burn. Using an aftershave with salicylic acid can also help narrow pores and tighten the skin, creating a strong barrier between your skin and acne-causing bacteria. Also, aftershaves that contain salicylic acid -- instead of alcohol -- will help keep your skin better hydrated [source: Jaret].

For more information on salicylic acid lotion and how to use it, see the links on the following page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • AcneNet. "Skin Care for People with Acne." American Academy of Dermatology. (Accessed 9/13/09)
  • Jaret, Peter. "Men's Skin Care for Your Face." WebMD. 7/21/09. (Accessed 9/13/09)
  • Lawrence, Star. "Getting a Close Shave." (Accessed 10/7/09)
  • Libov, Charlotte. "Adult Acne: Why You Get It, How to Fight It." WebMD. 8/21/08. (Accessed 9/13/09)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Over-the-Counter Acne Products: What Works and Why." 4/18/08.
  • Mayo Clinic. "Salicylic Acid (Topical Route)." 6/1/09. (Accessed 9/13/09)
  • National Psoriasis Foundation. "Treating Psoriasis." (Accessed 9/13/09)
  • WebMD. "Cosmetic Procedures: Skin Care for Acne-Prone Skin." (Accessed 10/7/09)
  • WebMD. "Salicylic Acid." (Accessed 10/7/09)
  • WebMD. "Salicylic Acid Preparations for Treating Warts." 9/11/08. (Accessed 9/13/09)
  • WebMD. "Understanding Acne --Treatment." 11/10/08. (Accessed 9/13/09)