What you should know about salicylic acid
Salicylic acid as a medication is most commonly used to help remove the outer layer of the skin with skin conditions such as acne, warts, calluses, corns, psoriasis, seborrhea dermatitis, dandruff, ringworm, and ichthyosis. Salicylic
acid and acetylsalicylic acid (commonly known as aspirin)
are derived from salicin, originally extracted from the bark
of the white willow (Salix alba) tree.
Technically, salicylic acid is classified as a keratolytic,
or peeling agent, and works by causing the outer layer of
skin to shed. It is dispensed in both prescription and over-the-counter
(OTC) medications as an active ingredient in creams, gels,
lotions, ointments, pads, plasters, shampoos, soaps, and topical
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||2-hydroxybenzoic acid/salicylic acid;
salicylic acid (Tech.); salicylic acid (sublimed);
salicylic acid (Pharm.); salicylic acid extra pure;
salicylic acid gr; 2-hydroxybenzoic acid
Salicylic acid has been used medicinally throughout most
of recorded history. The Egyptians used an infusion of myrtle
leaves to relieve back pain. Hippocrates, the famous Greek
physician, prescribed willow leaves and
bark to reduce fever and pain, including labor pains.
In Roman times, both the statesman Pliny the Elder and the
alchemist/physician Galen wrote about the use of willow leaves.
Native North Americans are said to have made salicylic pain
remedies from birch bark. Interestingly, willow bark was reserved
for wicker-making in medieval Europe, and its medicinal use
Proper use of salicylic acid depends upon the form of the
medication. Unless directed by a physician, abrasive soaps,
cleaners, alcohol-containing preparations, topical preparations
containing peeling agents, cosmetics or soaps that dry the
skin, medicated cosmetics, and other topical skin medicines
should not be used on the same affected areas treated by salicylic
Topical salicylic acid may be absorbed through the skin.
Animal studies have shown that salicylic acid can cause birth
defects when given orally in doses about six times higher
than the highest dose recommended for topical use in humans.
Topical salicylic acid has not been reported to cause problems
in nursing babies. Young children may be at increased risk
of skin irritation and unwanted effects because of increased
absorption through the skin. Salicylic acid should not be
applied to large areas of the body, used for prolonged periods
of time or used under airtight bandages. Use of salicylic
acid may also increase the free drug concentrations of other
drugs, including hypoglycemics, anticoagulants and methotrexate.
FDA regulations specify allowable dosages and concentrations
of salicylic acid. It is imperative that medications containing
it are used only as directed. Topical use may cause allergic
contact dermatitis as well as excessive drying and irritation
of the skin. Some people, especially asthmatics, are highly
sensitive to salicylates. Because of absorption through the
skin, overdose can result in salicylate poisoning in rare
You can try DermaHarmony salicylic acid products risk-free. If you are not satisfied with your purchase for
any reason, simply return the product or empty container for a full refund
of the product price (less shipping and handling), no questions
asked. If you would like to speak with one of our Skin Health
Specialists, call 1-800-827-3730. Click
here to order now.
Principal Authors: DermaHarmony Editorial
Date of Initial Publication: 01/12/2005
Article Last Updated: 03/29/2017