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What is Salicylic Soap?

Jessica Ellis
Updated: Jan 30, 2024

Salicylic soap is a type of cosmetic cleansing product that contains salicylic acid. Usually used to treat acne on the face and body, salicylic soap may contain other beneficial acne-fighting ingredients, such as sulfur, benzoyl peroxide, or charcoal. It is easy to find salicylic soap at any beauty store or drugstore where cosmetics are sold.

Salicylic soap gets its name from salicin, a derivative of willow bark and some herbs, such as meadowsweet. Like its fellow willow-bark substance aspirin, salicin has anti-inflammatory properties that can soothe and treat a variety of conditions. Originally, ancient medicine incorporated salicin into compounds to treat fevers, but it was later realized that high doses of the substance caused serious gastric problems. Today, it is used primarily in the treatment of skin conditions, such as acne and rosacea.

Often, salicylic soap is offered as part of a skin regime to reduce acne. Other products in the regime may include a toner, spot treatment, and moisturizer. It is not uncommon for salicylic acid to be present in all of the products in a treatment line, but the soap is usually the first and one of the most important steps. In addition to the cleansing properties of regular soap, salicylic soap provides a boost of acne fighting salicylic acid to skin at its cleanest and most open.

It is important to know that not all soap is created equal. Read ingredients lists carefully, as many types of soap is made with ingredients that may dry or irritate the skin or even be counterproductive to acne fighting. Soaps that contain alcohol, sodium laurel sulfate, parabens, and lots of artificial scents may be irritating to sensitive skin. Look for soaps that are alcohol-free and that contain the fewest amounts of ingredients, to help avoid most irritations.

The strength of the soap is also an important consideration. Salicylic acid comes in different solution strengths, usually 2.5%, 5%, or even 10%. Salicylic soap with a 10% solution may be marketed as “extra” or “maximum strength.” Generally, as the solution percentage rises, so do the drying effects of a product. Some studies have found that lower percentage solutions may actually be more effective for treating acne overall.

When using salicylic soap for face and body, wet the skin with warm water to encourage pores to open. Rub the soap on, creating a thick lather. Even if the formula is for facial skin only, the soap may also be good for treating acne breakouts on the chest or back. Be sure to rinse thoroughly and dry using a clean towel.

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Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for WiseGeek. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By donasmrs — On Jan 12, 2015

Salicylic soap works well for oily and acne-prone skin. The issue is that it sometimes works too well and dries out skin.

In the beginning, I was using this soap daily and it made my skin very dry and itchy. My face felt tight and irritated from the dryness. So I reduced how often I use this soap. I now only use it a few times a week which seems to be the right frequency for me. And it's important to follow up with an oil-free moisturizer.

By serenesurface — On Jan 11, 2015

@stoneMason-- I use a salicylic soap and it works great. It really clears up acne. The one I use also has sulfur so I'm not sure how it compares to the product you're using but I'm happy with it. Sulfur is another ingredient that fights acne.

I discovered salicylic soap a few months ago after my doctor recommended it. Salicylic acid is great for acne. It's basically a chemical exfoliant. It exfoliates the top layer of skin and reduces oil and bacteria build-up. Since I've started using salicylic soap, my skin has basically cleared up. I just have a few blemishes from old acne spots but those are also getting lighter.

By stoneMason — On Jan 10, 2015

I use a liquid facial cleanser with salicylic acid but I didn't know that it's also available as a solid soap. I think that's even better. I much prefer soap and it would be easier to travel with too.

Does anyone here use salicylic soap? Does it work as well as other salicylic acne products?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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