Salicylic acid is an effective skincare ingredient that exfoliates and unclogs pores for a clearer, more radiant complexion. Here are our recommendations for the best salicylic acid products.

Our Recommendations

1. AHA & BHA Daily Clean Toner

Mizon AHA & BHA Daily Clean Toner

Mizon Product for Gentle Exfoliation

Mizon AHA & BHA Daily Clean Toner

This toner is an excellent product if you’re looking for gentle daily exfoliation. It contains AHAs, BHAs, and papaya enzymes that exfoliate to unclog pores and smooth tone and texture.

Skin types: All Skin Types
Best for: Gentle Exfoliation
Tested on animals: No
How to use: After cleansing, soak a cotton pad with the toner, and then swipe all over the face, neck, and chest. Follow up with a moisturizer.
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This exfoliating toner contains glycolic acid and lactic acid, which are alpha hydroxy acids. These AHAs work on the surface of the skin to improve tone and texture and minimize signs of aging. It also contains salicylic acid, a BHA that works deep in the pores to unclog and prevent acne.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Exfoliating

Cons

  • Contains fragrance

In addition to the AHAs and BHAs, this toner contains glycerin, which hydrates, and papaya fruit extract, which further exfoliates.

Water, Glycerin, Sodium Lactate, Alcohol, Butylene Glycol, Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid, PEG-60 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Portulaca Oleracea (Green Purslane) Extract, Carica Papaya (Papaya) Fruit Extract, Arnica Montana (Arnica) Flower Extract, Artemisia Absinthium (Mugwort) Extract, Achillea Millefolium (Common Yarrow) Extract, Gentiana Lutea (Yellow Gentian) Root Extract, Salicylic Acid, Disodium EDTA, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Fragrance

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "An antiaging skin care system containing alpha hydroxy acids and vitamins improves the biomechanical parameters of facial skin"

    Accessed Aug. 26, 2021.
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Over-the-counter Acne Treatments"

    Accessed Aug. 26, 2021.

2. Advanced Pore-Refining Treatment 4% BHA

Paula’s Choice Advanced Pore-Refining Treatment 4% BHA

Paula's Choice Product for Exfoliation, Large Pores, and Acne

Paula’s Choice Advanced Pore-Refining Treatment 4% BHA

This exfoliant contains a powerful concentration of salicylic acid, which works to unclog pores to minimize their appearance while also fighting breakouts.

Skin types: Normal, Oily and Combination
Best for: Exfoliation, Large Pores, and Acne
Tested on animals: No
How to use: After cleansing, massage the exfoliant into the skin. Follow up with a moisturizer.
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The 4% concentration of salicylic acid (which is higher than the cult-favorite Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant) helps to unclog pores and promote a more even skin texture and tone. This makes this an excellent exfoliant for those dealing with large pores and breakouts and wanting to improve the overall appearance of the skin.

Pros

  • Fragrance-free
  • Non-greasy
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • May irritate sensitive skin

This exfoliant contains additional antioxidant-rich ingredients that protect the skin and fight signs of aging, as well as soothing and hydrating ingredients. This includes glycerin, allantoin, grape seed extract, green tea leaf extract, and matricaria flower extract.

Water (Aqua), Butylene Glycol, Dimethicone, Salicylic Acid, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Glycerin, Aminomethyl Propanol, Adenosine, Allantoin, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizinate, Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Extract, Avena Sativa (Oat) Bran Extract, Punica Granatum Fruit Extract, Sambucus Nigra Fruit Extract, Camellia Oleifera (Green Tea) Leaf Extract, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Lycium Barbarum Fruit Extract, Peucedanum Graveolens (Dill) Extract, Hydrogenated Lecithin, Xanthan Gum, Citric Acid, Disodium EDTA, Benzyl Alcohol, Phenoxyethanol

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Over-the-counter Acne Treatments"

    Accessed Aug. 27, 2021.

3. Acne Medication Pads

Stridex Daily Care Acne Medication Pads Maximum Strength

Stridex Product for Acne and Blackheads

Stridex Daily Care Acne Medication Pads Maximum Strength

These cleansing pads use the power of salicylic acid to help treat and prevent breakouts.

Skin types: All Skin Types
Best for: Acne and Blackheads
Tested on animals: Yes
How to use: Cleanse and dry the skin, and then sweep a pad across the entire face. Follow up with a moisturizer.
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These pads are soaked with a 2% concentration of salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid (or BHA). Salicylic acid is an incredibly effective chemical exfoliator that unclogs pores to help treat current breakouts and prevent new acne from forming.

Pros

  • Lightweight solution
  • Exfoliating

Cons

  • Contains fragrance

These alcohol-free pads are textured, which increases the product’s ability to sweep away debris and exfoliate the skin.

Salicylic Acid, Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate, Ammonium Xylenesulfonate, Citric Acid, DMDM Hydantoin, Fragrance, Menthol, PPG-5-Ceteth-20, Purified Water, Simethicone, Sodium Borate, Tetrasodium EDTA.

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Over-the-counter Acne Treatments"

    Accessed Aug. 27, 2021.

4. 25% AHA + 2% BHA Mask

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial 25% AHA + 2% BHA Mask

Drunk Elephant Product for Smoothing Texture, Anti-Aging, and Evening Skin Tone

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial 25% AHA + 2% BHA Mask

This powerful mask contains a potent blend of AHAs and BHA to resurface, unclog pores, and reveal a smooth and even skin tone and texture.

Skin types: Normal, Oily, Dry and Combination
Best for: Smoothing Texture, Anti-Aging, and Evening Skin Tone
Tested on animals: No
How to use: Apply an even layer to clean, dry skin, and leave on for up to 20 minutes. Rinse with lukewarm water. Use no more than once weekly.
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This super powerful mask has a 25% concentration of an AHA blend (glycolic acid, tartaric acid, lactic acid, and citric acid), as well as a 2% concentration of BHA (salicylic acid). These chemical exfoliators fight signs of aging, smooth the skin, brighten, and unclog pores. It also contains chickpea flour, which brightens the skin.

Pros

  • Fragrance-free
  • Vegan and cruelty-free

Cons

  • May irritate sensitive skin

Since this mask has such powerful active ingredients, it is best to avoid applying serums or treatments with other strong actives (like AHAs, BHAs, and retinol) after use.

Water (Aqua), Glycolic Acid, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Glycerin, Sodium Hydroxide, Salicylic Acid, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract, Lactobacillus/Pumpkin Ferment Extract, Lactobacillus/Punica Granatum Fruit Ferment Extract, Opuntia Ficus-Indica Extract, Pyrus Malus (Apple) Fruit Extract, Silybum Marianum Seed Extract, Saccharomyces Cerevisiae Extract, Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Juice Extract, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Powder, Cicer Arietinum Seed Powder, Sclerocarya Birrea Seed Oil, Passiflora Edulis Seed Oil, Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate, Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer, Sodium PCA, Allantoin, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Dextrin, Polydextrose, Sorbitan Isostearate, Amylopectin, Niacinamide, Phytosphingosine, Lactic Acid, Propanediol, Citric Acid, Titanium Dioxide, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Polysorbate 60, Caprylyl Glycol, Chlorphenesin, Phenoxyethanol

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "An antiaging skin care system containing alpha hydroxy acids and vitamins improves the biomechanical parameters of facial skin"

    Accessed Aug. 27, 2021.
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Over-the-counter Acne Treatments"

    Accessed Aug. 27, 2021.

5. AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

The Ordinary Product for Improving Skin Texture and Tone

The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

This peeling solution is one of the best The Ordinary products, particularly for those looking for a high-strength but budget-friendly at-home peel.

Skin types: Normal, Oily and Combination
Best for: Improving Skin Texture and Tone
Tested on animals: No
How to use: Cleanse the skin, and wait for it to fully dry. Once dry, apply the peel evenly over the face and neck. Leave on for up to 10 minutes, and rinse with lukewarm water.
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This peel offers a range of benefits, thanks to a high concentration of alpha-hydroxy acids (glycolic acid, lactic acid, tartaric acid, and citric acid), as well as an effective concentration of beta hydroxy acid (salicylic acid). The AHAs help to exfoliate the top layer of the skin to reduce the signs of aging, improve texture, and minimize hyperpigmentation, while BHA unclogs pores for a clear complexion.

Pros

  • Oil-free
  • Fragrance-free
  • Alcohol-free
  • Vegan and cruelty-free

Cons

  • High probability of irritation (best used by those experienced with acids)

This peel contains ingredients to help counteract irritation, including Tasmanian pepperberry and vitamin B5. However, this peel is still very strong for an over-the-counter product, and is best suited for those who already have experience using chemical exfoliators in their routine.

Glycolic Acid, Aqua (Water), Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Water, Sodium Hydroxide, Daucus Carota Sativa Extract, Propanediol, Cocamidopropyl Dimethylamine, Salicylic Acid, Lactic Acid, Tartaric Acid, Citric Acid, Panthenol, Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer, Tasmannia Lanceolata Fruit/Leaf Extract, Glycerin, Pentylene Glycol, Xanthan gum, Polysorbate 20, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, Ethylhexylglycerin, 1,2-Hexanediol, Caprylyl Glycol

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Over-the-counter Acne Treatments"

    Accessed Aug. 12, 2021.
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "An antiaging skin care system containing alpha hydroxy acids and vitamins improves the biomechanical parameters of facial skin"

    Accessed Aug. 12, 2021.

6. Salicylic Acid Daily Gentle Cleanser

COSRX Salicylic Acid Daily Gentle Cleanser

COSRX Product for Acne and Daily Cleansing

COSRX Salicylic Acid Daily Gentle Cleanser

This gentle foaming cleanser removes excess oils and helps unclog pores without drying out the skin.

Skin types: Normal, Oily and Combination
Best for: Acne and Daily Cleansing
Tested on animals: No
How to use: Dispense the cleanser into your palms, and then gently massage it into wet skin. Rinse with lukewarm water.
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If you’re acne-prone, you need a daily cleanser that will remove excess oils and impurities without further irritating breakouts or drying out the skin. This cleanser contains a 0.5% concentration of salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that helps gently unclog pores to minimize breakouts.

Pros

  • Gentle
  • Vegan and cruelty-free

Cons

  • Contains fragrance

In addition to the salicylic acid, this cleanser contains willow bark water, tea tree oil, evening primrose extract, and other soothing skincare ingredients.

Water, Glycerin, Myristic Acid, Stearic Acid, Potassium Hydroxide, Lauric Acid, Butylene Glycol, Glycol Distearate, Polysorbate 80, Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate, Salicylic Acid, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, PEG-60 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Fragrance, Sodium Chloride, Melaleuca Alternigolia (Tea Tree) Leaf Oil, Caprylyl Glycol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Salix Alba (Willow) Bark Water, Saccharomyces Ferment, Cryptomeria Japonica Leaf Extract, Nelumbo Nucifera Leaf Extract, Pinus Palustris Leaf Extract, Ulmus Davidiana Root Extract, Oenothera Biennis (Evening Primrose) Flower Extract, Pueraria Lobata Root Extract, 1,2-Hexanediol, Ethyl Hexanediol, Citric Acid, Disodium EDTA

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Over-the-counter Acne Treatments"

    Accessed Aug. 24, 2021.

7. Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution

Paula's Choice Clear Regular Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution With 2% Salicylic Acid

Paula's Choice Product for Acne, Blackheads, Hyperpigmentation and Redness

Paula's Choice Clear Regular Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution With 2% Salicylic Acid

This gentle exfoliating product is ideal for skin prone to breakouts, as it unclogs pores to minimize blemishes while soothing the skin to decrease redness.

Skin types: All Skin Types
Best for: Acne, Blackheads, Hyperpigmentation and Redness
Tested on animals: No
How to use: After cleansing, soak a cotton pad with the product and swipe all over the face. Follow up with a moisturizer.
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This product contains a 2% concentration of salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid that is able to work deep in the pores to unclog and treat breakouts (and prevent new blemishes from forming). It also helps minimize the appearance of pores, and will work to diminish the appearance of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation from previous blemishes. This concentration is high enough to be effective on acne-prone skin, but still gentle as to reduce the risk of irritation.

Pros

  • Fragrance-free
  • Lightweight
  • Non-greasy

Cons

  • May irritate sensitive skin

Additional hydrating and soothing ingredients are paired with the salicylic acid to minimize irritation and reduce redness. This includes glycerin, hyaluronic acid, allantoin, and panthenol.

Salicylic Acid 2%, Water (Aqua), Dipropylene Glycol (hydration), Pentylene Glycol (hydration), Polysorbate 20 (stabilizer), Butylene Glycol (hydration), Glycerin (skin replenishing), Sodium Hyaluronate (hydration/skin replenishing), Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate (skin-soothing), Allantoin (skin-soothing), Panthenol (hydration), PEG/PPG-17/6 Copolymer (texture-enhancing), Methyl Gluceth-20 (hydration), Glycereth-26 (texture-enhancing), Bis-PEG-18 Methyl Ether Dimethyl Silane (hydration), Sodium Hydroxide (pH adjuster), Tetrasodium EDTA (stabilizer), Sodium Metabisulfite (stabilizer).

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Over-the-counter Acne Treatments A Review"

    Accessed Aug. 31, 2021.

8. 2% BHA Exfoliant

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid ExfoliantCult favorite

Paula's Choice Product for Gently Exfoliating and Preventing Breakouts

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

This cult-favorite product contains salicylic acid, a chemical exfoliator that gently exfoliates dead skin cells and unclogs pores for a clear complexion.

Skin types: All Skin Types
Best for: Gently Exfoliating and Preventing Breakouts
Tested on animals: No
How to use: After cleansing, soak a cotton pad with the product and swipe all over the face. Follow up with a moisturizer.
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This is a best seller at Paula’s Choice, and for a good reason. Salicylic acid (a beta-hydroxy acid, or BHA) is an excellent chemical exfoliator that sheds excess skin cells and decongests pores to fight acne and blackheads and promote a more even skin tone.

Pros

  • Fragrance-free
  • Lightweight
  • Non-greasy

Cons

  • May irritate more sensitive skin types

This product also contains green tea, which soothes irritation and provides anti-aging benefits.

Water (Aqua), Methylpropanediol (hydration), Butylene Glycol (hydration), Salicylic Acid (beta hydroxy acid/exfoliant), Polysorbate 20 (stabilizer), Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract (green tea/skin calming/antioxidant), Sodium Hydroxide (pH balancer), Tetrasodium EDTA (stabilizer)

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Over-the-counter Acne Treatments"

    Accessed Jul. 30, 2021.

FAQs

Can I use salicylic acid everyday?

Some salicylic acid products are gentle enough to be used on a daily basis, but everyone’s skin is different. Some people may find that daily usage may cause irritation and dryness. When first adding a salicylic acid product to your skincare routine, start by using it two to three times per week, and see how your skin reacts. After a few weeks, you may consider increasing to daily usage if it seems suitable for your skin, but keep in mind that you’ll still reap the benefits of salicylic acid by consistently using it a few times a week. Keep in mind that there are some stronger products with salicylic acid that should not be used more than once per week (like the Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial 25% AHA + 2% BHA Mask and The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution), so always refer to the instruction label. 

Should I moisturize after using salicylic acid?

Yes, you should always apply a moisturizer after using salicylic acid (or any other chemical exfoliant). Chemical exfoliants can cause dryness and irritation, so moisturizing is essential for counteracting those potential negative effects. Regular moisturization also keeps the skin balanced and adequately hydrated.

Should I use salicylic acid in the morning or night?

Salicylic acid can be used in either the morning or the evening – just be sure you’re always following up with sunscreen in the morning. This just depends on your skincare routine, and when you’re using other products with potent active ingredients. For example, if you’re using a retinol at night, you’ll need to either apply your salicylic acid in the morning, or alternate between using salicylic acid and retinol every other night. 

The Bottom Line

If you want to add salicylic acid to your skincare routine, there are plenty of effective products on the market. Consider using one of our recommended salicylic acid products in your routine to achieve your skin goals.