By Dr. Eddie Valenzuela

Salicylic acid is found in a variety of over-the-counter skin products to help treat common skin issues like acne and dandruff.

But is salicylic acid safe? When used appropriately, yes. However, if it is overused or used on those with sensitive skin, it can cause skin irritation and dryness. Children are especially at risk for the negative side effects of salicylic acid and for this reason we avoid using this ingredient in our products.

What is salicylic acid?

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid, which means that two carbon atoms separate the hydroxy part of the molecule from the acid part. This specific structure makes salicylic acid oil-soluble rather than water-soluble.

Because salicylic acid is oil-soluble, it can get through the skin’s fatty lipid layers, allowing the product to work deeper in the skin rather than just on the skin’s surface.

Salicylic acid skin benefits

Because it penetrates into the deepest layers of the skin, salicylic acid is able to dissolve the dirt, grime, and other debris that clogs pores, effectively treating blackheads and whiteheads common in acne breakouts. Salicylic acid also has anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce inflammation from pimples to help acne fade faster.

Salicylic acid isn’t only used to treat acne. It can also be used as a powerful exfoliator to remove excess skin cell buildup. Some psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis medications and products contain salicylic acid as it helps to loosen proteins in the skin, so flakes, scale, and thickened plaques fall away from the skin easier.

Is salicylic acid dangerous?

Like many other skincare ingredients, salicylic acid can be dangerous when not used as instructed.

Salicylic acid can be harsh and irritating, especially during the initial days of application. It’s recommended that adults ease into salicylic acid use, applying the product every two days or every other day to allow time for the skin to grow accustomed to it.

The biggest danger of salicylic acid is over-use or use on sensitive skin. If over-applied or used on already sensitive skin, salicylic acid can cause dryness, redness, and other skin irritation including:

  • Itching
  • Tingling or stinging
  • Hives
  • Peeling

Salicylic acid is also not recommended for women who may be pregnant or people who are already taking blood-thinning medications. Sun exposure while using salicylic acid may increase the risk of negative side effects.

Too harsh for sensitive young skin

Salicylic acid is not safe for use on children under the age of 2. Children are at a much higher risk of irritation from salicylic acid as their skin absorbs it much quicker than adults. Plus, young skin is already more sensitive and delicate, leaving children incredibly vulnerable to harsh skincare ingredients like salicylic acid. Read ingredient labels. Some brands of cradle cap shampoo use salicylic acid as one of their main ingredients.

However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t any products to treat seborrheic dermatitis or other skin conditions in children. Happy Cappy Medicated Shampoo and Body Wash is a seborrheic dermatitis shampoo that was made specifically for kids of all ages. It uses FDA-approved pyrithione zinc to help relieve the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff rather than harsh salicylic acid.

Happy Cappy Daily Shampoo and Body wash is an eczema shampoo made for kids that does not contain harsh ingredients like salicylic acid.