Can you use too much salicylic acid?

Salicylic acid is an acne-causing ingredient. No wonder it’s popular with dermatologists and skin care enthusiasts. It’s one of the most commonly used beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) that penetrate deep into pores to remove excess sebum, bacteria, dirt, and debris that can lead to a variety of skin issues like blackheads, pimples, and acne. You’ll find that salicylic acid penetrates deeper than other popular active ingredients like glycolic acid due to its oil solubility and smaller molecule size. It’s very effective for cleansing oily and acne-prone skin types, but often comes with the side effects of drying and irritation. Before we dive into today’s blog post, let’s briefly summarize the benefits of salicylic acid and its effects on the skin.

What are the benefits of salicylic acid for skin?

Breaks the connection between dead skin cells so they can be easily removed from the surface layer of the skin, revealing vibrant, fresh skin underneath.

Clears clogged pores and skin congestion by penetrating deep into the lower layers of the skin.

Helps regulate sebum production and secretion, making skin more manageable.

Helps reduce signs of inflammation and redness, making active large pimples look better.

Fights skin blemishes and breakouts like whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples.

Chemically exfoliates the surface of the skin and breaks down the keratin in the top layer of the skin.

If you want to know more about this clever powerhouse, check out our dedicated blog post on salicylic acid and its skincare benefits.

Is it bad to take salicylic acid every day?

Not necessarily, but only if you use them correctly. What I mean by that is that since salicylic acid is a highly potent ingredient, it can often have some drying side effects.

As I mentioned before, due to the acid’s oil-soluble structure and smaller molecular size, it can penetrate deep into the pores. This works great for those with oily skin that are often prone to rashes and acne. However, if you have a dry and sensitive skin type, applying salicylic acid to your skin too often can cause some issues. Not only is it too irritating to the skin, it also strips away essential oils and moisture from the skin barrier. This creates a domino effect as your skin feels the need to produce more sebum, which leads to increased rashes and blemishes. This cycle can feel endless if you keep using the wrong formula for your skin. Therefore, I recommend that you do a 24-hour patch test before applying anything to your face. This will help you determine how satisfied your skin is with the product's effectiveness.

Remember: If you have concerns about using a product, seek the advice of a doctor or dermatologist. This should give you peace of mind that you won't cause further damage or irritation to your skin.

How do you know if you're using too much salicylic acid?

There are some signs that your skin has been exposed to too much acid. This could be because you mistakenly applied too much acid to your skin or used a formula that was too strong. Here are some examples of signs that your skin has been exposed to too much salicylic acid.


You may find that your skin type falls into the dry category, which is why it's important to use acids with caution. Many people believe that salicylic acid is too irritating for their skin if they have a dry skin type, so they choose other acids, such as lactic acid or polyhydroxy acids (also known as PHAs). These have a larger molecular size and can't penetrate the skin as deeply as salicylic acid, but can easily exfoliate the upper layers and slough off dead skin cells.

If you start using a salicylic acid formula, your skin may feel tight, uncomfortable, and dry. You may find yourself having to grimace because the need to stretch your skin is overwhelming.


This is the most common sign that your skin has been overexposed to acid. Some people find their skin itchy, others find it red, flaking, or even painful to the touch. If you experience any of these symptoms, even the mildest, stop using salicylic acid products and see a dermatologist.

Breakouts and Acne Breakouts

As I mentioned earlier, you can find that the lipid barrier loses important oils and water that healthy skin needs if the formula you use is too harsh on the skin. When the skin is deficient in this substance, it triggers excessive sebum production, which builds up on the surface of the skin and clogs the pores, leading to blackheads, pimples, and other breakouts.

If you experience any of the above symptoms, it may be time to take a break and rethink your skin care routine. Many people fall into the trap of thinking they need the most potent formula to achieve the best exfoliation results. This is not the case and can cause you more trouble than benefit. Spend some time studying your skin and getting a better understanding of your skin type and what ingredients it likes.

Can Too Much Salicylic Acid Cause Acne?

Yes, if you notice acne after using a new product containing salicylic acid, BHA may be at work. There are two reasons why this can affect your skin. For example, this could be because the formula works at a lower level, clearing dirt, excess sebum, bacteria, and other impurities from the pores. You'll often find that all of this "gunpowder" is pushed to the surface and manifests as acne. This is common and often happens around four weeks after using a new product. Skin care experts call this skin clearing, and it slowly starts to disappear after six weeks.

Another reason why salicylic acid can cause acne is what I mentioned earlier, that the skin barrier has been stripped of water and oil. This weakens the barrier, allowing free radicals to penetrate the skin and cause breakouts. Excessive sebum production can also cause acne flare-ups.

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