Salicylic acid is a more-or-less common treatment for acne. Despite its name, some dermatologists classify it as a natural acne treatment. It is made from willow bark, and was apparently known to the ancient Greeks as early as 5th century BC. Salicylic acid, or at least its original willow bark extract, was also known to other ancient civilizations like Sumeria and Assyria for its medicinal properties. Even the native Americans like the Cherokee used it for its pain-killing property and as a cure for fever and other ailments. Today, modern man uses it as one of the treatments for acne.
Of course, in our modern civilization, we no longer need to process the willow bark ourselves. We can just buy the refined part of it, salicylic acid, over-the-counter. So, how does salicylic acid work as an acne treatment? Basically, it acts as a peeling agent, sloughing off the outer layers of the skin. As such, it helps to open pores and unplug follicles. An important point to note is that usage is preventive. In other words, you apply it to skin which is at risk of acne in order to prevent pimples from forming. Applying salicylic acid to your pimple after it forms is like locking the barn after the animals have run away. Once the pimple forms, you should be using something else like benzoyl peroxide or tea tree oil to get rid of it. Remember: apply salicylic acid continuously to prevent acne.
If salicylic acid is so good for acne prevention, why doesn't everyone use it? Simple. It is known to irritate skin. A normal acne treatment regimen includes the use of non-oily moisturizer to soothe your skin after you apply the salicylic acid. Given this, it is better for you to be patient and careful and start at the 0.5% concentration of salicylic acid. Only if you do not get the effect you want should you slowly start raising the concentration. If you start at the upper end of 2%, you could find yourself in pain, much like the after effects of a bad sunburn. The key is regular use at lower concentrations. If 0.5% everyday causes redness, then reduce it to 0.5% every two days. If two days is too often, reduce accordingly, and so on, and so forth.
Despite its 3000-year old roots, not everyone can use salicylic acid, even if you only apply it on your skin. Apparently, pregnant women and children should avoid it due to the risk of Reye's syndrome. Ditto for people who have kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes or poor circulation.
Anyway, here is the normal acne treatment regime using salicylic acid:
- Wash face with a gentle cleanser
- Gently pat your face dry with a clean towel (Do not rub your face dry. This will irritate your skin and possibly cause worse acne)
- Wait 5-10 minutes for your face to dry in air
- Apply salicylic acid cream or lotion over your face, avoiding the eyes and lips
- Wait for the cream or lotion to dry
- Apply non-oily moisturizer
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