Using Salicylic Acid For Blackheads

Salicylic Acid

Blackheads can be difficult to get rid of and even with a good cleansing routine, these stubborn blemishes often remain. Even though they are stubborn, it is not difficult to get rid of blackheads or to reduce their occurrence. Salicylic acid is a very effective ingredient in treating oily skin prone to blackheads and open pores.

Blackheads can develop at any stage of one’s life but generally start from our teens during which time our hormones are usually out of balance. We start producing more androgens or hormones that stimulate oil production. These oils along with dead skin cells get clogged up in the pores where they get exposed to oxygen from the air which turns them black and solid. The areas affected the most appear to be the oily areas on the face, mostly the nose, chin and cheeks.

What causes blackheads

These are some of the most common causes of blackheads formation and include:

  • Hormones – An imbalance or a surge in the female sex hormones can result in the excess production of oil from the sebaceous glands. The excess oil fills up within the pore with dead skin cells resulting in a build-up.
  • Skincare products – Excessive use or layering of foundations, makeup, sunscreens and moisturisers may quicken the process of developing blackheads by clogging pores.
  • Excessive sweating – Increased sweating, especially when paired with external products, may add to the obstruction of pores.
  • Medications – Certain medications raise testosterone and/or oestrogen levels which causes an increase in oil production.
  • Harsh skincare products – Many skincare products recommended to achieve clear skin can be either too drying or irritating resulting in excess oil production.

How to treat blackheads

Preventing blackheads is obviously the best approach in the first instance and an appropriate skincare routine might be of great value. It does not have to be time consuming. Simply use a warm face flannel to open up the pores and then follow this with a good gentle cleanser. There are many gentle cleansers on the market which also help minimise the appearance of open pores.

For blackheads that have already developed, there are a few approaches that help in eradicating blackheads, some more effective than others. The obvious method is to squeeze the blackheads but this can cause trauma to the region especially if the blackheads are hard. Facial steaming opens up the pores allowing blackheads to be gently squeezed out.

Exfoliation is a process which you use to get rid of dead skin cells on the skin’s surface. You should only carry this out twice a week as overuse can lead to irritation and inflammation leading to excess oil production.

How to use salicylic acid serum to clear blackheads

Salicylic acid is a very effective ingredient for treating oily skin types prone to open pores and blackheads. It is a beta hydroxyl acid (BHA) and is available in serums to be used as a chemical exfoliant or peel with excellent pore cleaning ability.

Salicylic acid, because of its large molecular size, stays on the surface of skin longer giving it fantastic pore cleaning abilities. Salicylic acid is stronger at a lower concentration than alpha hydroxyl acids (AHAs) such as lactic acid and glycolic acid. A 10 percent concentration of lactic acid and glycolic acid is considered mild whereas a 10 percent concentration of salicylic acid would be quite irritating for new users.

In terms of a good salicylic acid serum, look for around two percent. You should be able to use both in the morning and evening to help prevent acne flare-ups over a period of time. For blackheads, use salicylic acid for a few weeks to give them time to clear on their own. Once the blackheads have cleared continue using salicylic acid to prevent the pores from clogging.

If you are not seeing results with the salicylic acid alone, then use a combined serum containing alpha hydroxyl acid (AHA) and salicylic acid since sometimes the lower concentration may not be sufficient. Using a combination of AHA and BHA solution helps remove the dead skin cells on the surface of skin which may be impeding the effectiveness of salicylic acid.

Please note that any exfoliant, whether beta hydroxyl acid or alpha hydroxyl acid, exposes fresh skin to the sun and hence it would be prudent to use a sunscreen during the day.

Please note that some people may experience some light flaking or dry patches but this is completely normal – salicylic acid breaks down the bonds between dead skin cells accelerating their removal and is not peeling off healthy living cells.

Incorporating GoW Salicylic Acid 2% Serum, £9, into your daily skincare routine will help to prevent and treat blackheads, as well as ease acne and spots. By breaking down the plugs that block pores causing blackheads, it gives pores a chance to decrease in size over a period of time. If you have sensitive skin and find salicylic acid too irritating, add a couple of drops into your cleanser, massage into skin and rinse off.

For those who have used salicylic acid before and want something a little tougher on blackheads, look to QRx Labs Salicylic Acid 20% Gel Peel, £12. The concentration on acid is much higher and you only need to leave the peel on for five to 10 minutes, once a week. QRx Labs has also formulated a Chemical Peel Neutralizer, £15, to help reduce redness and irritation after you’ve used the peel.

This content is not intended to replace conventional medical treatment. Any suggestions made and all herbs listed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, condition or symptom. Personal directions and use should be provided by a clinical herbalist or other qualified healthcare practitioner.

Shabir Daya | , , , , , , , , , , , ,
  • Liz Millington

    Hi Shabir
    I would like to encorporate Salicylic Acid 2% into my routine to treat and prevent blackheads. At what stage would I use this in my routine and would it just be once a day? Thanks Liz

  • Victoria Health

    Hi Liz, being a water based solution, I tend to recommend Salicylic acid before the use of anything else however many people use it after other serums. I just believe that anything like a cream stops its effectiveness so best used first before anything else. You can use it twice daily. Shabir

  • Fatima Bhana

    Hi, thank you for this informative article. I have been using Salicylic Acid by The Ordinary on my nose, as this is where I have very visible pores and lots of blackheads. I have also been using the Niacinamide 10% + Zinc PCA 1% over the Salicylic Acid. I only apply both products in the PM. While it has certainly reduced the oiliness on this area, I am yet to see any improvement with the blackheads. I was wondering what you would suggest? I currently follow their “anti aging” regimen which includes the use of their Retinol 2%… Thanks :)

  • Victoria Health

    Hi Fatima, I am glad that the Niacinamide is helping to normalise oil production. I would recommend that once a week you use Salicylic acid as a treatment mask leaving it on the area for about ten to fifteen minutes and then rinsing off before the application of other serums. It might also be prudent to consider using NIOD’s Sanskrit Saponins to clean skin, remove oil and debris and improve pore appearance without stripping skin of its natural oils since this could lead to more oil production. Shabir

  • Fatima Bhana

    Thank you for your swift reply! I am already using SS by NIOD :) I started using it about 2 weeks ago and, I must say, it is a rather dreamy product! But, again, yet to see any change with the blackhead situation.

    I’ll certainly give the Salicylic acid as a treatment mask a go, as I haven’t tried this yet. Is it OK to apply this all over the face as a weekly exfoliator? Then, rinse, and apply Niacinamide on the nose, and Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane on the rest of the face, followed by Rosehip oil as I have been doing?

    Also, would you advise still applying the Salicylic acid and Niacinamide every night as I have been, or to stop this and just trial the Salicylic Acid as a mask once a week instead?

    Finally, I read that Niacinamide is good for uneven skin tone too… and i suffer from uneven skintone around my mouth… I’m wondering if it is a good idea to apply this before/after Retinoid in the PM?

    Thanks again :)

  • Victoria Health

    Hi Fatima, glad you are enjoying SS and I am sure with time this will prove to be useful. You can used Salicylic acid all over the face and then follow this with the routine mentioned with rosehip oil being the last topical at night.
    I would still recommend daily use of Salicylic acid because the weekly mask treatment is more of a deep cleanse routine but you still need to unclog pores and remove dead skin on a daily basis. Niacinamide has been used for hyperpigmentation alongside alpha arbutin and the vitamin C derivative Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate. Use niacinamide before retinoid. Shabir

  • Fatima Bhana

    Awesome. Thank you for your advice :)

  • Victoria Health

    You are welcome Fatima

  • Shauna Elder

    Hi there, just started using The Ordinary’s Salicylic Acid 2% in the morning and Granactive Retinoid 2% emulsion before bed but worried I amnt using the products correctly… do I cleanse in the morning then use salicylic acid before I moisturise then cleanse again in the evening and reapply Salicylic acid and the Retinoid emuslsion together? Thanks in advance

  • Victoria Health

    Hi Shauna, You can use Salicylic acid after cleansing or you can add a few drops to a face wash and then rinse off or you can use it as a mask to apply to the areas an d then rinse off after a few minutes. You can definitely use Salicylic acid and follow this with the retinoid.

  • Chloe

    I bought The Ordinary salicylic acid to treat blackheads. I currently cleanse, tone and moisturise every morning and night. How would I incorporate this into my skincare routine? Also, how do I apply? Do I apply to cotton wool, wipe over affected areas and then tone and moisturise, morning and night? Or do I apply, leave on and rinse off?

  • Victoria Health

    Hi Chloe, You can dab on the Salicylic acid after cleansing and toning and before using the moisturiser either all over the face or simply on the areas prone to blackheads. Alternatively you can mix a couple of drops into your face wash, leave on skin for a few minutes before rinsing off.
    Best wishes,

  • Farrah

    HI there, I suffer with blackheads just under my armpits and around my bikini line which are driving me crazy. I wash twice daily with a tea tree oil body wash (I have tried various brands, body shop, an Australian brand and a more essential oils one too) and no difference. I have just read this article and was wondering if salicylic acid would be worth trying to help stop the blackheads from appearing and get rid of the ones I have! Super embarrassing now the summer is coming with the under arm ones!
    Please help….

  • Victoria Health

    Hi Farrah, I would recommend that you use the gentlest of cleansers because some of these essential oil cleansers can be harsh which would cause more sebum production. Yes you can use Salicylic acid 2% solution directly every night on the areas concerned.
    Best wishes,

  • Farrah

    Hello Shabir
    Thank you so much for your reply, is there a gentle cleanser you would recommend at all please? I was considering the Dermalogica conditioning body wash, would this be too harsh.
    I’ll order the Salicylic acid today.
    All the best, Farrah :-)

  • Victoria Health

    Hi Farrah, without doubt the body cleanser of choice would be Botanical Therapeutic Shampoo and Body Wash which is free from any nasty preservatives and contains several herbs to calm any underlying inflammation. Please see link below.

    Best wishes,

  • Farrah

    Fantastic, thank you so much Shabir.
    All the best

  • Victoria Health

    You are welcome Farrah.

  • Namadhira

    Hi. please recommend a harsh free chemical, perfume free and alcohol free face, body wash and cream for my acne prone sensitive skin. I have lots of blackheads from hormonal ace. Salicylic acid 2% i see is recommended but no i dont want to use it. I have to go to the dermatologist in june but i want a more good like at least 90% natural cream for face and body and face wash as 2% salicylic acid may seems as a low percentage but every time using it still i die? Its a no no for me.I am allergic to dairy, gluten, honey, tomato, citrus fruit, ginger, onions

  • Victoria Health

    Hi Namadhira, an excellent face and body wash free from chemicals and great for all compromised skin conditions is Botanical Therapeutic Shampoo & Body Wash as per link below.
    For blackheads you might want to consider Azelaic acid which is a skin friendly acid that helps calm down inflammation, enhance cell renewal and prevent blackheads. Please see link below to the Garden of Wisdom Azelaic acid.
    Best wishes,