First published on the forbes.com
A good facial cleanser pulls oil and grime away from the skin, but a really effective one clears away dead skin cells and cleans blocked pores, too. And one of the top ingredients for doing so? Salicylic acid, which dissolves the layer of dead cells that sits on top the skin, called the stratum corneum.
It may sound intense, but salicylic acid is actually a naturally occurring ingredient typically found in willow bark, berries, and vegetables. It is what’s called a beta hydroxy acid, or a BHA. Similar to alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs, like glycolic and lactic acids) though much more gentle, BHAs work to exfoliate the skin without any friction.
“It gets rid of what looks nasty, then peels and flakes,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Paul Dean, of La Mesa, CA. He’s the founder of SkinResource.MD, a skincare line that also makes one of the best salicylic acid face washes. That peeling and flaking is typically mild, especially when administered through daily cleansers. According to Dean, the ingredient is great for those who are prone to acne.
“They usually have an abundance of dead skin, especially around hair follicles, which prevents the hair follicles from draining,” Dean explains. “Once you dissolve the surface layer of dead skin cells, your skin can then absorb whatever you are putting on therapeutically.”
Dean notes that salicylic acid will also help buff away fine lines and wrinkles. Overall, it leaves skin smoother, brighter and clearer.