A confident woman with clear skin.

In the fight against breakouts, there are a few superstar warriors that truly deserve gold medals for their zit-zapping service. Among these, of course, is salicylic acid, a powerhouse ingredient that’s found in a variety of products—from your cleansers and toners to your spot treatments and even face masks. But why exactly is salicylic acid such a popular choice in acne management?

Salicylic acid, decoded

A naturally-occurring compound, salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid derived from willow bark. In order to understand how it works, though, it’s important to first understand the distinction between beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) and alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), the two types of acids used in skincare.

Essentially, both AHAs and BHAs work as skin exfoliants. They peel away the skin’s surface to refresh skin, improve skin texture, and unclog pores. (Examples of AHAs are glycolic acid, citric acid, and lactic acid.) Now, a key difference here is how they’re absorbed by the skin: Whereas AHAs are water-soluble acids, BHAs are oil-soluble—meaning, they are able to penetrate the lipid layer of the skin and are able to go deeper than their water-soluble counterparts. That said, AHAs work on the top layer of the skin, while BHAs work on both the skin surface and inside the pores.

Adding AHAs and BHA's to your skincare routine can work wonders.

Since salicylic acid is a BHA, it can go deep into your skin, making it highly effective in fighting pimples. Not fully convinced? Here, a quick look at its proven skin-saving benefits:

It dissolves dirt, oil, and other debris. 

Once it penetrates the skin, salicylic acid quickly works to remove impurities that may be clogging your pores, making it very effective in both acne treatment and prevention. It’s particularly effective on whiteheads and blackheads, a.k.a. open and closed comedones.

It controls oil production.

We all know that grease contributes to breakouts—and hardly ever looks pretty on skin. Good thing there’s salicylic acid, which slows down skin’s sebum production to keep oiliness (and flare-ups) at bay.

It helps minimize pores.

While you technically can’t change the size of your pores, you can make them “appear” smaller by keeping them clean, which is exactly what this BHA does.

It delivers anti-inflammatory properties.

Though it doesn’t have antibacterial properties (unlike benzoyl peroxide, another popular acne fighter), salicylic acid makes up for it by providing soothing benefits to relieve inflammation and minimize redness. Plus, BHAs are known for being much more gentle than AHAs, so they’re not as drying or as irritating on skin.

Who can use salicylic acid?

The POND's Pore Conditioning Toner is known for its salicylic acid ingredient.

If you’re prone to the occasional acne flare-up or have oily or combination skin, then you can surely benefit from adding a salicylic acid product to your routine. For daily cleansing, try the POND'S Acne Clear Anti-Acne Facial Wash, which combines the powers of salicylic acid with an antibacterial essence to help renew your complexion with every wash. For deep pore action, follow up with the POND'S Acne Clear Pore Conditioning Toner.

For acne-prone skin

POND’S Acne Clear Facial Wash

While there’s no definite solution that can keep you totally safe from those pesky pimples, you can definitely rest easier by having a “BFF” like salicylic acid in your skincare arsenal. Make sure to include it in your regimen, stat—and get ready to see the difference in no time.