As you get older, your skin changes. You may start to notice wrinkles around your eyes and mouth, dark spots or patches on your skin, uneven skin tone or even acne breakouts. Plenty of beauty products available at drugstores and department stores as well as through dermatologists promise to make these signs of aging less visible. One ingredient you'll spot in some of these preparations is salicylic acid.
Salicylic acid is a topical medication commonly used to treat skin issues. It may come in moistened pads, cleansers, lotions, creams and gels in varying concentrations. Dermatologists can prescribe higher concentrations of salicylic acid. In addition to anti-aging treatments, salicylic acid can be used to treat acne, dandruff and skin conditions like psoriasis.
Salicylic acid works like a chemical exfoliant, speeding up cellular turnover to remove dead skin cells and reveal new skin beneath. It has mild inflammation-fighting powers, so it can reduce redness and swelling on the surface of your skin. In places where skin is thick or scaly, salicylic acid can loosen cells so that the thickened patches disappear more quickly. The acid also helps dissolve oil on the surface of your skin and in your pores.
Salicylic acid helps minimize the signs of aging in several ways. By removing cells on the surface of your skin, it can improve skin tone and texture and make fine lines, age spots and wrinkles less noticeable, says dermatologist Jeanine Downie, M.D., in Elle magazine. Salicylic acid also helps fight acne outbreaks caused by clogged pores--since your pores open wider as you get older, it's easier for them to get clogged with oil, explains dermatologist Fredric Brandt, M.D., in Allure magazine.
If you're using salicylic acid to minimize the signs of aging, your efforts will be most effective if you also use a daily sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher. Sun exposure increases the appearance of wrinkles, age spots and other signs of aging, says Downie, so skipping it can counteract the benefits of salicylic acid treatments.
Though it's fairly rare, salicylic acid can occasionally cause serious side effects. If you're using the acid as part of your anti-aging skin care regimen and you experience confusion, dizziness, weakness, hearing loss, vomiting, nausea, ringing in the ears, rapid breathing, diarrhea or other unusual symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. If you swallow salicylic acid, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 to seek guidance.