Salicylic Acid Peels

It’s common to seek outside help when your skin becomes older and shows fine lines and wrinkles. Or perhaps it’s just trouble – full of enlarged pores and blackheads and whiteheads.

That outside help can come in the form of a chemical peel and one of the most popular is a salicylic acid peel, which provides many of the same benefits as other chemical peels, but is often gentler to the skin.

Basics of salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is part of the beta hydroxyl acid family. It’s a natural product that is usually fairly gentle to the skin.

Salicylic acid is often used as an ingredient in products that provide care for acne and those that are used for exfoliating purposes. In these products, the salicylic acid concentration is usually limited to less than 5%.

Salicylic acid is also found in chemical peels. In this formulation, salicylic acid might be found in a concentration of up to 30%. When used a chemical peel, salicylic acid is successful at reducing fine lines and wrinkles and diminishing the look of whiteheads and blackheads and is helpful at making the skin look more toned and even.

How salicylic acid peels work

As with most other chemical peels, you can get a salicylic acid peel done at a doctor’s office, or you can perform one at home. The at-home versions are generally going to be of a lesser concentration and might not provide the same (possibly dramatic) results that an in-office peel might provide, but they are generally cheaper.

When you have a salicylic acid peel done in an office, a peel is placed on your skin and left for 10 to 20 minutes. The concentration can vary, but most in-office salicylic acid peels are usually at a 30% concentration.

After the peel has been on your face for those 10 to 20 minutes, it will be removed. Most people suffer no discomfort like what they might encounter with a glycolic acid peel. It’s possible to have some slight irritation or redness, but it’s usually quite minor and clears up quickly.

It’s important to know that just one session of a salicylic acid peel isn’t usually enough. It’s ideal to get more than one – most doctors and aestheticians will recommend a series of 6 to 10 sessions to get the best benefit.


After having a salicylic acid peel, your skin might be shiny and could be red for just a few hours. Some people report having itchy skin as well.

As with many other kinds of chemical peels, a salicylic acid peel will make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Be sure to wear a high SPF when you go outside, particularly for the first few days after having the peel.

People with dark or black skin should be aware that repeated salicylic acid peels (or repeatedly using products that contain salicylic acid) can cause hypo pigmentation and possibly light scarring.

Anyone who is having a salicylic acid peel should stop exfoliating their skin in the days before the peel is performed. Not doing so might cause the peel to absorb fairly deeply into the dermis of the skin and cause damage.