Also called beta hydroxy acid (BHA), this multifunctional ingredient addresses many of the systemic causes of acne.  For decades dermatologists have been prescribing salicylic acid as an exceedingly effective keratolytic (exfoliant), but it’s also an anti-irritant because it is a derivative of aspirin (both are salicylates—aspirin’s technical name is acetylsalicylic acid), and so it also functions as an anti-inflammatory. [2, 3]
Another notable aspect of salicylic acid for treating breakouts is that it has antimicrobial properties.  It has the ability to penetrate into the pore lining and exfoliate inside the pore as well as on the surface of skin, which makes it effective for reducing breakouts, including blackheads and whiteheads. [2, 3]
It is also well documented salicylic acid can improve skin thickness, barrier function, and collagen production. [2, 3, 5] As an exfoliant, in concentrations of 8% to 12%, it is effective in medications to remove warts. In concentrations of 0.5% to 2%, it is far gentler, and, much like AHAs, can exfoliate the surface of skin.
- Hartmann A. The influence of various factors on the human resident skin flora. Semin Dermatol. 1990;9(4):305-8.
- Bowe W, Shalita A. Effective Over-the-Counter Acne Treatments. Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2008;27(3):170-176.
- Kornhauser A, Coelho S, Hearing V. Applications of hydroxy acids: classification; mechanisms; and photoactivity. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2010;20(3):135-142.
- Pannu J, McCarthy A, Martin A, Hamouda T, Ciotti S, Ma L, Sutcliffe J, Baker JJ. In vitro antibacterial activity of NB-003 against Propionibacterium acnes. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2011;55(9):4211-7.
- Harding C, Watkinson A, Rawlings A, Scott I. Dry skin, moisturization and corneodesmolysis. Int J Cosmet Sci. 2000;22(1):21-52.