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When it comes to the battle against clogged pores, salicylic acid is one of the top ingredients on skincare’s list, amongst other familiar ones like retinol, benzoyl peroxide, and tea tree oil.

Take spot treatments as an example: salicylic acid is often found infused in these tiny but mighty products – dab the cream onto a pimple at night and you’ll see it shrink by morning.

While this hero acid keeps showing up on our anti-acne skincare products, not many of us are familiar with just how salicylic acid works or what exactly it does.

Read on, because we share everything you need to know about salicylic acid, including the 14 best products that’ll give you clearer, blemish-free skin!

What is salicylic acid?

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) and chemical exfoliant, and it works by loosening the bonds between skin cells.

And although BHAs are right next to alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) in skincare today, the two classes of acids are not created equal.

AHAs are water-soluble, working at the surface layer of the skin cells. However, salicylic acid is oil-soluble, allowing it to pass through the lipid layers and penetrate deeper into the skin.

salicylic acid

Photo source: Pexels

In other words, AHAs such as glycolic and lactic acids peel away the outer layer of cells to reveal fresher skin underneath, whereas salicylic acid clears out the debris trapped deep within the pores.

Since salicylic acid dissolves the bonds between the skin cells and loosens debris, it’s highly effective at clearing blackheads, whiteheads, and superficial acne (breakouts that are the result of a buildup of balled-up skin debris, oils, and dirt).

Benefits of salicylic acid

Although we mentioned that salicylic acid is often found in acne spot treatments, clearing clogged pores is not all that this BHA is good for.

Infused in cleansers, serums, and facial masks, salicylic acid works to control shine, minimise pores, and soothe the skin too.

Due to salicylic acid’s oil-soluble properties, it’s able to absorb excess sebum in pores and reduce the shine on oily skin; even as it degunks clogged pores, it also helps to prevent blackheads and whiteheads from showing up again in the future.

salicylic acid

Photo source: studioredcup/Freepik

As it is an astringent ingredient, salicylic acid is great for tightening the pores and refining the skin’s texture. It also soothes and calms skin that’s irritated by acne, thanks to its anti-bacterial properties.

At the end of the day, salicylic acid isn’t just for those with breakout-prone skin. Used on regular skin types, salicylic acid thoroughly cleanses the complexion, allowing it to better absorb other skin-loving ingredients in the next steps of your skincare.

The result? Skin that’s clearer and fresher than before!

Best salicylic acid cleansers

COSRX Salicylic Acid Daily Gentle Cleanser

salicylic acid

Korean brand COSRX’s products never seem to let us down – the same goes for its Salicylic Acid Daily Gentle Cleanser, which helps to reduce breakouts, blackheads, and whiteheads on the skin.

A cream-to-foaming formula, the cleanser foams up into microbubbles that slough away dead skin cells and remove impurities, all whilst delivering a low dose (0.5%) of salicylic acid to the skin.

The low concentration of salicylic acid in this formula means that it’s gentler for sensitive skin and a good product for those who’ve never used the BHA on their complexion.

Infused also with tea tree oil and willow bark, COSRX’s Salicylic Acid Daily Gentle Cleanser effectively fights inflammation on multiple fronts!

COSRX Salicylic Acid Daily Gentle Cleanser retails for S$10.40 instead of S$16 on Shopee, and S$12.66 on Watsons.

CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser

salicylic acid

CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser might not look impressive, but it delivers a surprising double dose of benefits by clearing pores and intensely hydrating the skin.

Besides the star ingredient salicylic acid, which unclogs crusty pores, the cleanser is also infused with hydrating hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and ceramides, which keep the skin oh-so-moisturised.

It’s not just one type of ceramide that’s present in this cleanser either: the three essential ceramides (1, 3, and 6-II) help form a natural protective barrier on the skin, locking in moisture and making skin feel supple and smooth.

For anyone who wants to thoroughly cleanse and keep skin hydrated, CeraVe’s Renewing SA Cleanser is the product not to be missed.

CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser retails for S$19.85 (one bottle) and S$39.50 (pack of two) on Amazon, or S$24.20 on Lazada.

Paula’s Choice Clear Pore Normalizing Cleanser

salicylic acid

Infused with a smaller dose of 0.5% salicylic acid, Paula’s Choice Clear Pore Normalizing Cleanser is a gentle face wash that’s comfortable even for sensitive skin.

The lightweight gel texture and fragrance-free formula mean that your skin is cleansed like a soft hug – no irritation, no squeaky skin texture, and your face is left feeling very, very loved.

The Clear Pore Normalizing Cleanser is not just Paula’s Choice, it’s dermatologists’ too.

Paula’s Choice Clear Pore Normalizing Cleanser retails for S$11 (30ml) or S$29 (177ml) on Shopee.

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Micro-Peeling Purifying Gel

salicylic acid

The brand that’s recommended by over 90,000 dermatologists worldwide, La Roche-Posay’s gifting us with another formulation that’s tried-and-true for acne-prone skin: the Effaclar Micro-Peeling Purifying Gel.

This salicylic acid cleanser doesn’t just work to deeply unclog pores and remove excess sebum on the skin, it also helps to fade the appearance of acne blemishes and prevent breakouts in the long run.

Besides salicylic acid, the cleanser features the BHA’s derivative, LHA, which works to gently exfoliate the skin without causing irritation in the process, and zinc, which encourages the skin to heal.

Plus, the Effaclar Micro-Peeling Purifying Gel can be used on both the face and body, meaning that you can bid pesky back acne goodbye.

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Micro-Peeling Purifying Gel retails for S$25.80 instead of S$36.90 on Guardian, and S$27.67 on Watsons.

Best salicylic acid exfoliants

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

salicylic acid

We’re back with another holy grail product from Paula’s Choice that touts salicylic acid as its hero ingredient.

The Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant is a leave-on exfoliant that dissolves the dead cell at the uppermost layer of the skin. The result is that it clears clogged pores, smoothes rough skin, even out the skin tone, and (surprise, surprise) reduces fine lines.

The usual, you cleanse and tone your skin; then you drench a cotton pad with this liquid exfoliant and swipe it across your skin – no rinsing required after that!

The brand’s bestselling product, this one’s certainly one that you need in your bathroom.

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant retails for S$48 (118ml) on Paula’s Choice, Shopee, and Zalora.

Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel

salicylic acid

Tear and swipe are all you have to do when using Dr. Dennis Gross’ Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel.

The first set of pre-drenched pads is soaked in BHA salicylic acid, alongside other effective AHAs such as glycolic and lactic acids for exfoliation. The second set of cotton pads features retinol and resveratrol (antioxidant) for anti-ageing benefits.

It takes but two simple steps – tear and swipe the first pad, then the second – to achieve skin that’s instantly clearer, more refined, and smooth as silk. It’s no wonder that this one takes the podium as a massive crowd-favourite.

Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel retails for S$142 (30 treatments), or S$29 (5 treatments) on Sephora.

Nip + Fab Salicylic Acid Fix Night Pads

salicylic acid

One fell swipe, and your skin becomes clearer and less congested with Nip + Fab’s Salicylic Acid Fix Night Pads.

The salicylic acid loosens the gunk trapped inside the pores to effectively clear blackheads and blemishes overnight.

At the same time, hyaluronic acid delivers a deep dose of moisture to the skin, keeping it from flaking (since acids can be drying to the complexion).

All you have to do is use these pads two to three times a week after cleansing and before bedtime. Soon enough, you’ll begin to wake up to clearer, smoother skin.

Nip + Fab Salicylic Acid Fix Night Pads retail for S$15.50 (60 pads) instead of S$25.50 on Lookfantastic.

Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant

salicylic acid

A dash of Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant is all you need to unclog pores and brighten the skin.

The Daily Microfoliant, uniquely, comes in a powder instead of liquid form; you have to mix it with water to form a paste, which you apply to your skin after cleansing.

How it works is that the rice-based powder activates in contact with water. It releases degunking salicylic acid, skin-soothing papain, and rice enzymes, all of which work together to give your skin a brand-new glow.

A best-selling product, the Daily Microfoliant has earned glowing reviews from customers because it’s just that good at polishing the skin and soothing it in the process.

Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant retails for S$103 on Sephora.

Best salicylic acid serums

Sephora Collection Targeted Pores Serum

salicylic acid

Sephora Collection’s Targeted Pores Serum really shrinks the appearance of your pores, as if magic.

The secret ingredient in this potent potion is none other than salicylic acid coupled with PHAs (polyhydroxy acids, the gentler exfoliant compared to AHAs) in a 6% concentration.

While salicylic acid penetrates the skin deeply to clean out clogged pores, PHA works at the outermost layer of the skin, sloughing away dead cells on the surface.

Together, the star acids contribute to skin that’s mattified, refined, and clear as day – just the way we like it.

Sephora Collection Targeted Pores Serum retails for S$32 on Sephora.

Caudalie Vinopure Blemish Control Infusion Serum

salicylic acid

The Caudalie Vinopure Blemish Control Infusion Serum’s clean, green packaging speaks to the authenticity of its ingredients too.

Infused into this serum is 100% natural-origin salicylic acid that’s extracted from the leaves of the Wintergreen, and the formula is also made up of 97% natural ingredients.

Spread across your entire face, it helps to diminish pores, control sebum production, and dissolve impurities; applied directly to blemishes, it fades imperfections and gives you the clearer, glassier skin of dreams.

Caudalie Vinopure Blemish Control Infusion Serum retails for S$68 (30ml) on Sephora.

You can also get the Vinopure Anti Blemish Control Pack Set, which includes the Vinopure Purifying Gel Cleanser (30ml) + Vinopure Clear Skin Purifying Toner (50ml) + Vinopure Blemish Control Infusion Serum (30ml) for S$46.50 instead of S$62 on Watsons.

The Inkey List Beta Hydroxy Acid Exfoliant

salicylic acid

A more affordable salicylic acid serum on the list, The Inkey List Beta Hydroxy Acid Exfoliant still effectively reduces blackheads and degunks pores to give smoother skin.

The serum also pairs drying salicylic acid with low molecular hyaluronic acid for a moisture boost so that skin is stripped of its impurities but not its hydration.

The Inkey List Beta Hydroxy Acid Exfoliant retails for S$20 on Sephora, or S$25.30 on Amazon.

Best salicylic acid masks

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque

salicylic acid

The Ordinary’s Salicylic Acid 2% Masque is extraordinary it comes to unclogging pores and clearing acne on the skin.

The mask is spiked with 2% salicylic acid, which helps to dissolve the skin debris that causes acne, blackheads, or whiteheads.

With pore-purifying ingredients like kaolin clay, silica, and charcoal, The Ordinary’s Salicylic Acid 2% Masque does a thorough job of absorbing the excess oil and impurities on the skin, without stripping it of its moisture.

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque retails for S$23 on Sephora.

Neogen Dermalogy A-Clear Soothing Overnight Mask

salicylic acid

Soothe skin overnight with Korean skincare brand Neogen Dermalogy’s A-Clear Soothing Overnight Mask.

Besides exfoliating with salicylic acid, the A-Clear Soothing Overnight Mask also taps on co-star ingredient, Centella Asiatica, to calm and repair the skin through the night.

Exfoliate and repair, out with the old and in with the new. That’s how Neogen Dermalogy’s miracle mask works to give you comfy, balanced, rejuvenated skin by morning!

Neogen Dermalogy A-Clear Soothing Overnight Mask retails for S$28.23 on Yesstyle.

innisfree Green Barley Gommage Peeling Mask

salicylic acid

Get twice the exfoliating action with innisfree’s Green Barley Gommage Peeling Mask!

It’s a mask that offers not just chemical but physical exfoliation too. Made with green barley vinegar, which contains three types of AHAs, and infused with glycolic acid, also an AHA, the mask easily peels away the surface layer of skin cells to reveal fresh skin.

Besides the many AHAs, this mask also features the BHA we’re looking out for: salicylic acid. While the AHAs work on the top-most layer, salicylic acid penetrates deeper to absorb the gunk that’s trapped within the pores.

AHAs, BHAs, not forgetting, physical exfoliant cellulose – it’s the ultimate peel party for baby-smooth skin.

innisfree Green Barley Gommage Peeling Mask retails for S$16 at innisfree stores, or S$12.20 (including a special gift) on Shopee.

Feature image credit: Nip + Fab, COSRX

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