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Salicylic Acid

Today's Chemical:

Salicylic Acid

EWG Risk Score:


What is it:

Salicylic acid is a weak acid that is typically synthetically produced.  Also known as beta-hydroxy acid, it's used in anti-aging, anti-acne, and other skin care treatments. 

Safety Info:

  • Many studies have shown Salicylic acid to cause developmental abnormalities during pregnancy.  Most of these studies, however, pertain to salicylic acid being taken internally.  No studies of the reproductive/developmental effects of external/dermal applicaion are available. (Source) (Source) (Source) (Source)
  • Salicylic acid is an phenolic aromatic hydrocarbon.  This is the same class of chemicals as BPA and other estrogen mimiking compounds.  (Source) According to a 1973 RTECs study, salicylic acid does act as a xenoestrogen.  More recent studies are not available on the subject.   
  • The FDA advises that because salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that removes dead skin cells and reveals newer cells, it can increase one's suseptibility to UV radiation.  They suggest that sunscreen or sunblock ingredients be used with any product containing salicylic acid to counteract the damaging effects of UV radiation.  The FDA is studying the long-term effects of salicylic acid (Source)

Types of products it's in:

Anti-aging creams, anti-acne creams, toners, scalp treatments, exfoliants and scrubs

Some brands that use this ingredient:




Nature's Gate


Avalon Organics

Steph's Opinion:

More studies need to be done on the possible estrogenic and developmental effects of salicylic acid when applied to skin.  Because of my personal suseptibility to xenoestrogens and the phenolic chemical structure of this compound, I avoid salicylic acid. 

Salicylic acid can be helpful against acne in the short term, it only covers up the symptoms and doesn't get to the root cause of acne (hormonal imbalances, dietary intolerances etc, lack of omega-3 fatty acids.)   Popular acne treatments like Proactiv use salicylic acid, and while they may help to dry up blemishes, as soon as one stops using the product, they come back.  If you're really trying to treat acne, visit a skilled naturopathic physician to get to the actual cause of the acne and treat it from within with dietary changes and supplementation. 

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Reader Comments (5)

That is what the Honey Suckle contains, scarry!

Thu, August 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoy T

I love you are a genius....I have always had severe problems with salicylic acid on my skin; so I avoid it as well. I'm grateful I have sensitive skin b/c I would never have known the way the ingredients in chemicals were affecting me. I love your facial care it's the only line out there sensitive enough for my skin. Thanks for no synthetics!!

Wed, November 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterL

"Salicylic acid is a weak acid that is typically synthetically produced". When you say typically synthetically produce you mean that salicylic acid can be natural too right??
I ask this because Morrocco Method uses salicylic acid in their shampoos, they say "The preservative is salicylic acid from willow tree bark". And I found on the internet that "Natural salicylic acid occurs naturally in many plants, but can also be made synthetically, but using the naturally occurring salicylic acid from willow bark does not carry the same negative properties found in those made synthetically" ( So Salicylic Acid from willow tree bark is safe???

Sat, March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaz

Products that contain high levels of salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide (like ProActiv) don't actually get rid of acne. They slow down the keratinization process (shedding skin cells) so the bacteria that can get trapped in your pores doesn't rise to the surface and form acne pimples or zits. You can touch a person's face who's been using it and feel the bumps under the surface. They still will get pimples but few and they will last for days longer than the normal 24-48 period a normal pimple should. When you stop using these products your skin will try to go back to its usual cycle and all of the bacteria and dirt will rise to form the worst and longest breakout ever. Using these kinds of products long term will thin out a person's skin, cause scarring, and cause premature aging because the skin cannot shed the normal amount of skin cells daily. These are some of the reasons why a dermatologist would never prescribe BP or SA for more than a few months.

Thu, January 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDanielle

My doctor told me NOT to use Proactiv while I was pregnant because of all the chemicals. Unfortunately, in month 2 of my pregnancy, I started to get really bad acne breakouts on my face. I asked two seperate doctors, and they both recommended I use Citrus Clear products instead of Proactiv, because they are natural and they actually DO WORK. I use the Control Line from Citrus Clear - and it is quite strong and it does work! And it does not have all the chemicals that Proactiv has. Good luck!

Sun, September 4, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjasmine

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