There are a few things in this world that are truly annoying, and while acne doesn’t top the list, it sure is up there. Whether you fall victim to pesky pimples during that time of the month, once in a blue moon or whenever you’re within four metres of chocolate, it seems no one is immune to acne. The change in routine, possibly a shift in diet and added stress caused by the pandemic and isolation only adds to the problem.

When it comes to treating acne, there are a few ingredients known to give it a move along order and get things back to normal, one of them being Salicylic Acid.

Salicylic Acid is a beta-hydroxy acid or more commonly referenced as a BHA on cosmetic products. According to Dermal Therapist Giulia D’Anna from Dermal Distinction, you shouldn’t be alarmed when you hear the word acid in skincare.

“Our skin is actually acidic in itself, and it sits at a pH level of 5.5. Whereas neutral is a pH level of 7, so we’re already starting with an acid layer,” says Giulia. “Acid is a part of who we are, and it provides an environmental defence system because bacteria don’t like to live in acid.”

Salicylic Acid is used in acne treatments because it is oil soluble. It can penetrate deep into the pore and dissolve excess oil, which is usually a cause of acne. For those with normal skin, it can help with exfoliation, anti-inflammation and hyper-pigmentation.

“Salicylic Acid is not what people typically think of when they hear exfoliation. They instead think ‘I must physically scrub my skin’,” Giulia adds.

Over exfoliation with physical exfoliants can make matters worse when treating acne as it strips the skin of its oils. These are necessary to keep the skin balanced, and by removing them, you can send the skin into a cycle of oil overproduction.

“For acne to exist, you need to have a certain type of bacteria in your skin, skin that is not being exfoliated enough and a sluggish oil. These are the three things that make acne happen. Working on each of these areas can be the solution to fix acne,” says Giulia.

Salicylic Acid can target two of those factors; exfoliation and oil. When introducing Salicylic Acid into your regime, Giulia advises to start with a cleanser, as this is where the ingredient is mostly used alongside AHAs such as Lactic Acid.

“I tend to look for skincare that is based around a pH level of 5.5, which is the skin’s normal state,” Giulia explains.

From there, you can start to introduce spot treatments for targeted solutions or moisturisers to combat oiliness.

However, when it comes to Salicylic Acid, “more can just be more” warns Giulia. Consumer products can sit anywhere between 0.25 per cent to 3 per cent in concentration. When choosing between brands, it’s essential to have a close look at the ingredients list.

“Look for the concentration of the actives and the number of ingredients. A lot of the cheaper brands tend to have a lot of fillers, and these can be quite irritating,” says Giulia.

Dehydrated skin is usually the leading cause of redness and irritation by Salicylic Acid, or the concentration is too high. It’s still important to moisturise even when battling with acne. A hydrating moisturiser (read; not heavy) combined with the right treatments can work wonders for problematic skin.

And if, after trying all of the above, you’re still lost in troubleshooting your skin, it’s advisable to seek professional help. Clinics like Giulia’s have the technology and knowledge to diagnose and treat skin issues.

“If you can go to dermal therapy, they have done all the research for you, and they can point you in the right direction. It’s just about finding the right product for your skin.”