Is Salicylic Acid Good for Blackheads & Enlarged Pores?

Salicylic acid can help keep your pores clean and your skin looking gorgeous.

Photo: Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images

If you could check out your skin under some serious magnification, you'd find that it's not nearly as smooth as close-up glossy magazine shots might lead you to believe. Your skin is a canvas of little pores, and wherever there's a pore, there's an opportunity for for blackheads and blemishes. Salicylic acid is one weapon in the arsenal of products designed to keep your pores, and anything that flames up inside them, under control.

The Truth About Pores

Oily pores may seem like a problem, but producing oil is precisely what your pores are designed to do. The oil-producing glands secrete the slippery substance to keep your skin hydrated. Most pores are barely noticeable, even up close, but enlarged pores are easily discernible pits in your skin that are super-producers of excess oil. Pores expand with age, but if you let dirt, oil and dead skin build up in your pores, they'll grow under the pressure, and the resulting blackheads will be large and noticeable. The first step in stopping pores in their tracks is cleaning them out, and that's where salicylic acid comes in.

Salicyic Acid to the Rescue

Salicylic acid is in the highly esteemed class of beta hydroxy acids that are old standbys for the cosmetics industry. In its topical form, salicylic acid is a potent ingredient that sloughs away dead skin that fills up enlarged pores and traps oils and bacteria. Unclogged pores are pores that can expel their oil without creating blackheads. Salicylic acid will not shrink enlarged pores back to size, but will keep pores free and clear of dead skin and excess oil, making them low-maintenance.

Lotions and Creams and Foams, Oh My!

If you want to attack your pores and blackheads with salicylic acid, you've got several options. For everyday use, an array of salicylic-acid-enriched cleansing face washes will deliver a low dose of the powerful ingredient. Some face washes include small bits of sands or dissolving beads that exfoliate and slough away dead skin so that the acid can do its work deep in your pores. When a blackhead pops up and you need it gone, pronto, creams with 0.5 to 2 percent salicylic acid will deliver a powerful overnight blow to inflammation and redness. If your blackheads are serious trouble, a dermatologist may prescribe you a more potent cream with up to 5 percent salicylic acid.

Potential Pitfalls

If you're using any type of acne treatment, it's likely that you're already using salicylic acid, but if you're upping your regimen or introducing a new product to the war on problem skin, a few words of caution. The National Library of Medicine notes that skin irritation and dryness are the most common side effects of salicylic acid treatments, but more serious side effects like nausea can occur if you happen to be allergic. If you have sensitive skin, tone down your use to every other day to avoid drying yourself out.

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"Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman's Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin"; Ellen Marmur; 2009 Medline Plus: Salicylic Acid Topical Salicylic Acid Blackheads and Enlarged Pores Blackheads

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