Acne Treatment Journal

Salicylic Acid Anti-Acne Drug Information
A guide to using the anti-acne drug "salicylic acid" including side effects, usage tips and patient precautions.

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Salicylic acid is a topical anti-acne drug that works by causing a shedding of the outer layer of skin.

This type of anti-acne medication is known as a "keratolytic" and can also be used to remove warts, corns and other skin disorders besides acne vulgaris.

Salicylic acid can be found as the active ingredient in various types of topical medications including gels (Compound W), solid bars (Neutrogena Acne Wash Bar Soap), shampoos, and pads (Oxy).

Salicylic acid by itself is somewhat effective at reducing acne lesions but it does even better when paired with a topical antibiotic or benzoyl peroxide to kill the P. Acnes bacteria that causes inflammatory acne lesions.


Some of the common but mild side effects of salicylic acid include burning, stinging, peeling, burning, redness, itching, and other irritation. Most people find that these mild side effects tend to diminish after a few weeks of use while your skin becomes accustomed to the medication.

The severe but rare side effects of using salicylic acid include an allergic reaction that might cause swelling of the throat, face, lips, or tongue. If you experience any of these severe side effects, stop using salicylic acid and consult with your doctor or dermatologist immediately.

Whatever product that you purchase that contains salicylic acid, try to avoid applying it on sensitive areas of your face such as the lips, eyelids, and inside of the nose.

In my experience, salicylic acid does best when combined with a gentle 2.5% benzoyl peroxide product. Start off by washing your face with the salicylic acid to clear away dead skin cells, pat the skin dry, and then apply a thin film of the benzoyl peroxide. The benzoyl peroxide will now easily penetrate down to the hair follicle and kill any P. Acnes bacteria colonies that could cause a pimple or inflammatory acne lesion.

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