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Salicylic acid cream is a popular product because the active ingredient can be an all-rounder for your skin. However, it is important to know what each ingredient is because each ingredient has specific needs.

In our salicylic acid cream test 2021, we give you important information about this product so that you can find the right cream for you when you buy it. We also answer the most important questions.




The most important

  • Salicylic acid can help you reduce pimples and blackheads if you have blemished skin, and it can also help regenerate your skin if you have severe skin dryness.
  • What's more, salicylic acid cream is available almost everywhere, and for a small price.
  • When treating eczema or psoriasis with a salicylic acid cream, you should pay attention to a 3 to 6 percent dosage, because otherwise it is too irritating and too strong for dry skin.(1)

The Best Salicylic acid cream: Our Picks

Buying and evaluation criteria for salicylic acid creams

There are various criteria you can look for when buying salicylic acid cream:

By making the right choice for you, you ensure that you get a good cream according to your requirements. Depending on your skin type, area of application and requirements, this can vary greatly so that you do not put too much strain on your skin.

Ingredients

Generally, you will find more than one ingredient in skin creams. Salicylic acid creams often contain other ingredients.

  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Urea
  • Shea butter
  • Aloe vera

Often, ingredients are used in addition to the salicylic acid to provide long-lasting skincare.

Suitability for skin type

Depending on your skin type, you should adapt your care accordingly. Salicylic acid cream is often suitable for oily skin and blemished skin, but it is a good all-rounder to be used for all skin types.

Below you can find out what skin types there are and what you should consider for them:

  • If you have dry skin, you should make sure that the cream moisturises you a lot.
  • Oily skin produces too much sebum, which means you should use oil-free creams, but still moisturising creams, but not too much skin care. Most of the time, you also tend to have blemished skin.
  • Normal skin is usually unproblematic because it doesn't need any special requirements, but you should still take good care and cleanse your skin so that your skin type doesn't change.
  • For sensitive skin , you should make sure to use mild and fragrance-free products to soothe your skin.
  • Also, combination skin is very common, where you have a combination of different skin types.

You should care for your skin according to your needs in the specific skin areas to help your skin. Additional ingredients will help you find a salicylic acid cream that works well for you.

Application area

You can use a salicylic acid cream not only on your face, but also all over your skin, depending on your needs. You should also make sure that you buy the salicylic acid cream that you want to use on the affected area of your body.

Products with different application areas are very practical, but often not as effective as specialised products for one area.

For example, if you want to buy a salicylic acid cream for your face, you should look for a cream that can be safely applied to the face.

With / Without prescription

Over-the-counter and prescription salicylic acid creams differ in how much salicylic acid they contain and what other active ingredients they contain.

  • Non-prescription salicylic acid creams often contain natural ingredients and lower percentages,
  • Prescription creams are usually medicines that contain stronger ingredients.

Stronger active ingredients does not automatically mean it is better for you. It depends on you and what works better for you. A mild cream can also help you solve your problems. Of course, it depends on how mild or severe your symptoms are.

Percentage of salicylic acid

In general, you will find the active ingredient salicylic acid in many different dosages. In drugstores, for example, you will only find up to 2% of the active ingredient in the creams, because they are tolerated for daily use.

Below you will find a table with the respective percentages and the treatment areas.

Salicylic acid percentage Application area
0.5 - 2% Acne
3-6% Psoriasis and cornification disorders
5-40% Warts and small eyes
20-30% Chemical peels

Basically, a mild amount of salicylic acid is not a bad thing and can be very effective. It is best to consult your doctor if the products with a low percentage do not work for you, so that you can see whether a higher dosage is suitable for you.

Guide: Frequently asked questions about salicylic acid creams answered in detail

Below you will find all the important facts and information about salicylic acid creams, so that you know more about the active ingredient and how it can be useful for you.

What is salicylic acid cream and how does it work?

Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) compound found in wintergreen, willow bark and sweet birch, but it can also be produced artificially.(1)

Skin renewal

A cream with the ingredient salicylic acid softens the top layer of skin. Because the ingredient also contains beta-hydroxy acid (BHA), it can penetrate deep into the skin, helping it to renew itself more quickly. (1, 2)

This skin renewal happens through the death of old skin cells, which is promoted by the salicylic acid. This can make the skin look younger and smoother because it refines the pores.(1, 2)

Dissolving skin effect

The active ingredient penetrates deep into the skin and thus also achieves a loosening effect, which can help in the treatment of eczema or psoriasis. Here, dandruff and cornification are removed from the skin and salicylic acid prepares the skin in the process.(1, 6)

This dissolving effect also softens the skin afterwards, so it can also help soften the skin of calluses, for example. (1, 6)

Bacteria and fungus reduction

Salicylic acid also has analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects and reduces the colonisation of certain fungi and bacteria.(1)

This fungus and bacteria reduction is important to stop the further spread of pimples or acne.(1)

When is salicylic acid used?

Salicylic acid can be used for many needs and therefore the ingredient is also very versatile.

The use of salicylic acid is also suitable for dry skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema. (1, 4, 6)

Salicylic acid helps with warts, corns and cornification disorders on the skin and hair. (1)

Salicylic acid can help to minimise inflammatory acne and non-inflammatory acne. Salicylic acid is often used as an exfoliant and in higher concentrations than in the usual creams.(1, 2, 7)

For mild to moderate acne, even a 2% salicylic acid cream can help because it can clear the pores of blackheads. (4) This is the percentage you will find in most over-the-counter salicylic acid creams.

What should be considered when using salicylic acid cream?

Generally, salicylic acid creams should not be applied to open skin areas. Also, if you want to use salicylic acid cream on eczema and psoriasis, make sure you use a 3-6 percent concentration because it can irritate your skin too much.(1, 6)

Salicylsäure Creme

Salicylic acid can increase the effect of other ingredients applied to the skin, such as pain patches.(Image source: Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels)

Salicylic acid in higher concentrations should only be used in a certain period of time, for example in a wart or black eye treatment, because the concentration can range from 5 to 40%. (1)

During pregnancy and breastfeeding, salicylic acid can be applied, but only to small areas and not to the breast, so as not to endanger the child.

Pregnant women should refrain from using high concentrations, such as salicylic acid peelings, because the active ingredient resembles the structures of aspirin. Aspirin can cause side effects such as miscarriage or birth defects. (1, 2)

What types of salicylic acid cream are there and which one is suitable for me?

There are different types of salicylic acid products that are suitable for different applications. Below we list the products and briefly explain what they are best suited for.

Type Description
Salicylic acid cream against pimples For skin smoothing and cleansing
Salicylic acid cream for skin dryness Helps with psoriasis and cornification disorders
Salicylic acid anti-aging cream Smoothes the skin and can stimulate cell renewal

Here it depends on what you want to use salicylic acid for. Salicylic acid peeling often uses high percentages of salicylic acid and this can often cause side effects. We will explain these in a later part.

What side effects can occur when applying salicylic acid?

The side effects of salicylic acid also depend on the dosage. Salicylic acid cream with a maximum of 2% can be used every day, but larger percentages of 20-30% should only be used for a certain period of time. (1, 5)

Salicylic acid can help with dry skin and impure skin, but it can also cause skin irritation. (4, 6)

With a strong percentage of salicylic acid of 20 or 30%, there may be some side effects. Dried skin, crusting, sensitive skin, prolonged skin redness, pigmentation disorders and hypoglycaemia can be side effects of salicylic acid application. (1)

If you are using a high percentage salicylic acid treatment and notice that you are suffering from side effects, mandelic acid may be an alternative as it is safer and more tolerable than salicylic acid in 30% form. (2, 8)

What are the alternatives to salicylic acid cream?

Salicylic acid is a common ingredient in creams because it can help with many skin problems. However, there are plenty of other active ingredients as alternatives if you can't find salicylic acid or are looking for an alternative.

Below you will find three alternative ingredients explained and we describe how they work and can help your skin.

Alternative Description
Azelaic acid Can help with acne and rosacea because it readjusts the skin if it has cornification problems. (9)
Retinoids The ingredient has an anti-inflammatory effect and can therefore help in the treatment of acne. (10)
Benzoylperxoid (BPO) Also suitable for treating acne because it reduces the number of bacteria on the skin. (3)

All three of the above alternatives help to control mild to moderate acne.

In addition, a cream with the two active ingredients benzoyl preoxide and azelaic acid can have an improved effect on the treatment of acne. (9)

Salicylsäure Creme

Creams with the active ingredient azelaic acid are antibacterial and can help treat acne. (9) (Image source: Moose Photos / Pexels)

In general, you should pay attention to the type of acne you have and seek advice so that it is adapted to your skin and the ingredients can work.

Image source: Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels

References (10)

1. Arif T. (2015). Salicylic acid as a peeling agent: a comprehensive review. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology, 8, 455–461. https://doi.org/10.2147/CCID.S84765 Die Ergebnisse und Effekte über Salicylsäure bei einer Peeling Anwendung bei Akne.
Source

2. Lee, H.‐S. and Kim, I.‐H. (2003), Salicylic Acid Peels for the Treatment of Acne Vulgaris in Asian Patients. Dermatologic Surgery, 29: 1196-1199. doi:10.1111/j.1524-4725.2003.29384.x
Source

3. Worret WI, Fluhr JW. Topische Therapie mit Benzoylperoxid, Antibiotika und Azelainsäure bei der Akne [Acne therapy with topical benzoyl peroxide, antibiotics and azelaic acid]. J Dtsch Dermatol Ges. 2006 Apr;4(4):293-300. German. doi: 10.1111/j.1610-0387.2006.05931.x.
Source

4. S. S. Bhalerao & A. Raje Harshal (2003) Preparation, Optimization, Characterization, and Stability Studies of Salicylic Acid Liposomes, Drug Development and Industrial Pharmacy, 29:4, 451-467, DOI: 10.1081/DDC-120018380
Source

5. Eady, E., Burke B., Pulling K. and Cunliffe W. (1996) The benefit of 2% salicylic acid lotion in acne a placebo-controlled study, Journal of Dermatological Treatment, 7:2, 93-96, DOI: 10.3109/09546639609089537
Source

6. Gip, L., & Hamfelt, A. (1976). Percutaneous Absorption of Betamethasone-17, 21-Dipropionate and Salicylic Acid during the Treatment of Psoriasis and Eczema. Journal of International Medical Research, 106–110. https://doi.org/10.1177/030006057600400204
Source

7. Zayed, AA, Sobhi, RM, El Aguizy, RMS, Sabry, D, Mahmoud, SB, . Sequential peeling as a monotherapy for treatment of milder forms of acne vulgaris. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2020; 19: 1381– 1387. https://doi.org/10.1111/jocd.13162
Source

8. Dayal, S, Kalra, KD, Sahu, P. Comparative study of efficacy and safety of 45% mandelic acid versus 30% salicylic acid peels in mild‐to‐moderate acne vulgaris. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2019; 19: 393– 399. https://doi.org/10.1111/jocd.13168
Source

9. Webster, G.(2000), Combination azelaic acid therapy for acne vulgaris, Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology,43,2,47-S50, https://doi.org/10.1067/mjd.2000.108318.
Source

10. Zouboulis, C. (2001), Exploration of retinoid activity and the role of inflammation in acne: issues affecting future directions for acne therapy. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, 15: 63-67. doi:10.1046/j.0926-9959.2001.00015.x
Source

Why you can trust me?

Wissenschaftlicher Review
Arif T. (2015). Salicylic acid as a peeling agent: a comprehensive review. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology, 8, 455–461. https://doi.org/10.2147/CCID.S84765 Die Ergebnisse und Effekte über Salicylsäure bei einer Peeling Anwendung bei Akne.
Go to source
Wissenschaftliche Studie
Lee, H.‐S. and Kim, I.‐H. (2003), Salicylic Acid Peels for the Treatment of Acne Vulgaris in Asian Patients. Dermatologic Surgery, 29: 1196-1199. doi:10.1111/j.1524-4725.2003.29384.x
Go to source
Wissenschaftlicher Artikel
Worret WI, Fluhr JW. Topische Therapie mit Benzoylperoxid, Antibiotika und Azelainsäure bei der Akne [Acne therapy with topical benzoyl peroxide, antibiotics and azelaic acid]. J Dtsch Dermatol Ges. 2006 Apr;4(4):293-300. German. doi: 10.1111/j.1610-0387.2006.05931.x.
Go to source
Wissenschaftlicher Artikel
S. S. Bhalerao & A. Raje Harshal (2003) Preparation, Optimization, Characterization, and Stability Studies of Salicylic Acid Liposomes, Drug Development and Industrial Pharmacy, 29:4, 451-467, DOI: 10.1081/DDC-120018380
Go to source
Wissenschaftliche Studie
Eady, E., Burke B., Pulling K. and Cunliffe W. (1996) The benefit of 2% salicylic acid lotion in acne a placebo-controlled study, Journal of Dermatological Treatment, 7:2, 93-96, DOI: 10.3109/09546639609089537
Go to source
Wissenschaftliche Untersuchung
Gip, L., & Hamfelt, A. (1976). Percutaneous Absorption of Betamethasone-17, 21-Dipropionate and Salicylic Acid during the Treatment of Psoriasis and Eczema. Journal of International Medical Research, 106–110. https://doi.org/10.1177/030006057600400204
Go to source
Wissenschaftliche Studie
Zayed, AA, Sobhi, RM, El Aguizy, RMS, Sabry, D, Mahmoud, SB, . Sequential peeling as a monotherapy for treatment of milder forms of acne vulgaris. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2020; 19: 1381– 1387. https://doi.org/10.1111/jocd.13162
Go to source
Wissenschaftliche Untersuchung
Dayal, S, Kalra, KD, Sahu, P. Comparative study of efficacy and safety of 45% mandelic acid versus 30% salicylic acid peels in mild‐to‐moderate acne vulgaris. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2019; 19: 393– 399. https://doi.org/10.1111/jocd.13168
Go to source
Wissenschaftliche Untersuchung
Webster, G.(2000), Combination azelaic acid therapy for acne vulgaris, Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology,43,2,47-S50, https://doi.org/10.1067/mjd.2000.108318.
Go to source
Wissenschaftliche Studie
Zouboulis, C. (2001), Exploration of retinoid activity and the role of inflammation in acne: issues affecting future directions for acne therapy. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, 15: 63-67. doi:10.1046/j.0926-9959.2001.00015.x
Go to source
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