Salicylic Acid in Skincare
Salicylic acid is one of the longest medicinally used active ingredients. It works externally against pain and helps with diseases such as acne, cornification disorders, warts, and psoriasis. There are different forms of administration of salicylic acid (cream, ointment, etc.). Here you can read everything you need to know about this active ingredient.
This is how salicylic acid works
The human skin is constantly regenerating. It is subdivided into epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous tissue, whereby the epidermis is continuously re-formed: the older skin cells die off, keratinize and finally die off.
This exfoliation is promoted by externally applied salicylic acid – on the one hand by direct dissolution of the connection between the horny cells, on the other hand by the acid properties of the active ingredient, which activate the enzymes that dissolve the cell connection. As a so-called beta-hydroxy acid, salicylic acid can penetrate the skin more deeply than alpha-hydroxy acids (such as fruit acids, which are used for facial peeling) and promote the detachment of the outer skin cell layers. The accelerated peeling also stimulates the skin to renew itself more quickly.
Because of this keratolytic effect, salicylic acid is suitable for treating cornification disorders and inflammatory skin diseases such as acne and psoriasis. In addition, externally applied salicylic acid has a pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory, and weak growth-inhibiting effect on certain bacteria and fungi that can colonize the skin.
Some of the active ingredients enter the blood and tissue through the skin. Half of it is broken down from the blood in about three to four hours and excreted via the kidneys.
This is how salicylic acid is used
There are numerous liquid (solution, tincture) and semi-solid (cream, gel, ointment) dosage forms of the active ingredient available, which have to be dosed differently depending on the area of application. In general, it is used once or twice a day on the affected areas of the skin.
For eczema and other skin diseases, it can be useful to combine salicylic acid with cortisone or cortisone derivatives. This allows an increased anti-inflammatory effect to be achieved. For a stronger horn-dissolving effect, for example in the treatment of warts, salicylic acid is often combined with lactic acid, an alpha-hydroxy acid.
Side effects of salicylic acid are concentration-dependent. Especially with more concentrated preparations, skin irritation, redness, burning sensation on the skin, and dehydration can occur. Overall, however, side effects rarely occur (in one in a thousand to ten thousand patients), especially at low concentrations.
The active ingredient is no longer taken due to undesirable effects. The better-tolerated derivative acetylsalicylic acid is now available for internal use.
What should be considered when taking salicylic acid?
Salicylic acid preparations should not be applied to open wounds.
The use of salicylic acid can increase the absorption of other active substances absorbed through the skin (such as pain plasters, nicotine plasters, hormone creams).
Salicylic acid, which is absorbed into the blood through the skin, delays the breakdown of methotrexate, an active ingredient used to treat cancer and arthritis. Its effect is thereby increased.
The effect of sulfonylureas (orally taken blood sugar-lowering agents against diabetes) can also be increased. Diabetes patients should not use drugs containing the active ingredient salicylic acid on their legs, as diabetes often affects the natural pain sensation. This can lead to severe burns (especially with highly concentrated preparations).
Women during pregnancy and breastfeeding are allowed to use salicylic acid-containing drugs over small areas. In order not to endanger the infant, however, it should not be applied to the breast.
The statements made on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and represent the opinions of the authors. The authors are not medical doctors and do not engage directly or indirectly in diagnosing disease, dispensing medical advice, or prescribing the use of any products or services as treatment for sickness or disease. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a qualified medical professional.