How Does Salicylic Acid Work?

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Even if you’re not super into skin care, chances are you’ve heard of salicylic acid. This stuff is all over the face wash aisle, promising to banish zits and leave behind a squeaky-clean complexion. But is the hype warranted? Honestly, yes. It’s the MVP in a bunch of Black Wolf products because, as far as we’re concerned, nothing does it like SA does it. 

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What Is Salicylic Acid?

For something that sounds like it came straight out of a chemistry textbook, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that salicylic acid is lowkey high-tech. But what actually is salicylic acid and why should you GAF? Fair questions with good answers. Here’s a quick high-level rundown:

Simply Put: Salicylic acid is a skin care ingredient used to treat acne, including persistent pimples and blackheads. It seeps into the pores and cleans out acne-causing oil, dirt, dead skin cells and bacteria.

Not as Simply Put: Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that’s lipid-soluble and acts as a chemical exfoliant. Basically, this means it can sink way down into the skin and break down oil to clean pores.

Because of its impressive ability to spiff up pores, salicylic acid is a great option for treating and preventing breakouts. It’s also safe for sensitive skin, so it’s fine to use once or twice a day.

What Does Salicylic Acid Do?

Often considered a gold standard ingredient for treating problem skin, salicylic acid has a few key functions that make it pretty great for the skin. Here are the specific ways salicylic acid works, hence why it’s in heavy-lifters like our Activated Charcoal Face Wash and Activated Charcoal Body Wash.

  • SA Exfoliates — First and foremost, salicylic acid exfoliates skin — meaning it lifts away the dirty top layer and clears out the pores — using a chemical reaction. Just like a good skin scrub might use mechanical exfoliants like crushed up walnut shells (we see you, Bamboo Face Scrub) to get rid of that crusty old top layer, SA uses a chemical reaction to do so gently and evenly.
  • SA Purges Pores — We all know that it’s the garbage that gets trapped in the pores that causes zits and blackheads, but not all ingredients do that great of a job at getting down in there and getting rid of it. This is where SA shines. It’s the master of penetration and leaves pores spotless. On top of that, salicylic acid is also known to be extra tough on blackheads because it has the ability to unplug the toughest pores.
  • SA Chills Out Inflammation — Beta-hydroxy acids like salicylic acid have proven anti-inflammatory effects, which means they can help chill out cranky skin. This makes it one of the best skin care ingredients for people with more sensitive skin types because it’s a lot less likely to worsen annoying issues like redness, dryness or flaking. Plus, while some ingredients make you more prone to sunburn, SA actually has subtle photoprotective effects. But please, whatever you do, don’t skip the SPF!
  • SA Breaks Down Oil — Unlike alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA) like glycolic acid and lactic acid, which are water-soluble, salicylic acid is lipid-soluble, meaning it dissolves in oil. For people with oily or combo skin, this is a pretty badass feature because it allows SA products to cut through the oil to properly purge pores and deliver healing ingredients deep.

mans hand with oil in it

Source: Ricwhite/

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Go with the OG

Bottom line: SA is one of the OG skin care ingredients that really works and it’s perfect for dudes who want a routine that’s super straightforward. If your goal is clear skin without having to learn a whole new language or change your entire life, grab one of our salicylic acid skin care bundles that gives your pores a stern talkin’ to so your perfect complexion gets a chance to shine.

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