Chemical Peeling With Salicylic Acid

I didn't have a BHA chemical peel, but I researched the subject extensively to decide what peeling agent was best for me. Unlike Alpha Hydroxy Acids, which are natural, Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) are synthetic. The most common BHAs are:

Shop for Salicylic Acid Peels that are safe to use at home (professional strength gel peels).

Salicylic acid is the Beta Hydroxy Acid most commonly used in cosmetics. It is obtained in the lab from willow tree bark. The name "Salicylic" may be familiar to you from the scientific name of aspirin: acetylsalicylic acid.

Salicylic acid is a colorless, odorless and transparent acid used as a food preservative (my mother puts aspirin in pickle jars, for example), toothpaste antiseptic, effective skin exfoliant and anti-acne ingredient. FDA considers it "safe as used when formulated to avoid irritation".

I wanted to know more about how salicylic acid works in the beauty industry, so I went to our dermatology clinic to talk to one of the nurses. She explained that salicylic acid has two major cosmetic uses: as an ingredient in anti-acne and exfoliating creams (at concentrations lower than 5%) and as a chemical peeling agent (at concentrations of 20 to 30%).

The nurse also told me that most patients who have BHA peels regularly are happy with how salicylic acid removes blackheads and whiteheads, diminishes fine lines and wrinkles, and improves blemished and unevenly toned skin.

How Beta Hydroxy Acid Works

Similarly to AHAs, beta hydroxy acids work by detaching dead cells from the layers underneath to allow for new skin cells to grow instead. The main benefit of salicylic acid is that by being similar to aspirin, it prevents after-treatment irritations. It's precisely the anti-inflammatory properties of salicylic acid that make BHA peels safer and more effective than an AHA peel.

Another thing that I learned was that while glycolic acid is water soluble only, salicylic acid is also lipid soluble. This means that BHAs are more effective than AHAs on oily complexions, because they penetrate deeper into the skin to clean pores of excess sebum and dirt.

The nurse advised me not to use salicylic acid without proper medical supervision, because BHAs are toxic when inhaled or ingested.

Due to their anti-inflammatory action, BHA peels are better than AHA peels for people with sensitive skin. However, redness, itching and pain are possible after a salicylic acid peel.

What Happens During Salicylic Acid Peeling

I've never had a BHA peel, but I talked to a few people who have BHA (salicylic acid) peels on regular basis and I've read many articles about BHAs. As I understand it, BHA chemical peels are similar to AHA peels: they can be performed in doctor offices or beauty salons, on any part of the body except for the eyes area. The acid solution is left on clean skin for 10-20 minutes. My friends who have salicylic acid say the procedure doesn't hurt but that several sessions are necessary for good results.

Salicylic Acid in Skincare Routine

Chemical peels are just one of the many ways salicylic acid is used in the cosmetic industry. BHAs are also used in cleansers, moisturizers, anti aging hydrating creams, eye gels, sun screens, peels and liquid foundations. Ask your doctor what the best acid concentration is for your skin condition. Choose a single salicylic acid-based product for everyday use, to prevent excessive exfoliation and unwanted side effects.

Your skin will be shiny and red for a few hours after treatment. Flaking and itchiness are also possible in the first few days. Use high SPF creams every time you go out, because sun sensitivity increases after BHA peels.

Black and dark-skinned patients should know that repeated use of salicylic acid products may cause permanent hypo pigmentation and scarring. A single facial BHA peel costs around $100, but you will need 6 to 10 treatments for best results.

Next, some of the OTC microabrasion kits I've tried.