5 best salicylic acid exfoliants

“I’ve tried EVERYTHING to get rid of blackheads and acne but nothing works. Help!”

I get this a lot. Sephora is loaded with products that promise to get rid of blackheads, kick acne in the butt, and keep your oily skin under control. But 99% of them DON’T have what it takes to do the job: salicylic acid.

What Is Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic acid, a member of the Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA) family, is an oil-soluble exfoliant.

In other words, most exfoliants can only exfoliate the surface of your skin and make it softer, smoother and brighter. But because it can get past the lipid (oily) barrier on your skin, salicylic acid goes deeper into the pores, unclogging everything that’s accumulating in there.

No clogs = no whiteheads/blackheads/pimples. Cool, huh?

Wait, there’s more. Salicylic acid has anti-inflammatory properties that calm down the irritation and redness that always coms along with pimples and acne.

Related: Why Salicylic Acid Is Key To Spot-Free Skin

Struggling to put together a skincare routine that banishes acne, gets rid of excess oil and treats blackheads? Download your FREE “Best Skincare Routine For Oily Skin” to get started (it features product recommendations + right application order):

I’m not exaggerating when I say that salicylic acid is the most important product in any skincare routine for oily or acne-prone skin. But where to find it? Here are the best salicylic acid exfoliants:

Best For Oily Skin & Clogged Pores: Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid ($29.00)

There’s a reason why Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid is so popular: it works. The lightweight, liquidy formula is enriched with 2% salicylic acid to exfoliate skin and unclog pores. It gets rid of blackheads, whiteheads, pimples… Even milia. Plus, it hydrates skin to boot. Ok, it leaves it a little shiny for a while too, but isn’t that a small price to pay for no acne? Thought so.

Available at: Feel Unique, Paula’s Choice and Selfridges

Related: How To Get Rid Of Blackheads

best vitamin C serum: drunk elephant c-firma day serum

Best For Sun Damage: Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum ($90.00)

Let’s get one thing straight: glycolic acid may be an anti-aging superstar, but it’s by no means the only thing that keeps wrinkles at bay. If you use your retinol, vitamin C and sunscreen, you can just stick to salicylic acid and call it a night. But for those of you who have visible signs of sun damage, like sun spots or wrinkles, or are simply convinced your entire face will fall apart overnight if you don’t immediately add this miraculous ingredient to your skincare routine (marketers have done a great job convincing EVERYONE they need glycolic acid even when they really, really, really don’t), Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum is the way to go. It has both glycolic and salicylic acids, plus a few antioxidants thrown in for good measure. All bases covered.

Available at: Cult BeautySephora and SpaceNK

Related: Glycolic Acid VS Salicylic Acid: Which One Is Right For You?

paula's choice calm redness relief repairing serum

Best For Sensitive Skin: Paula’s Choice Calm Redness Relief 1% BHA Lotion Exfoliant ($27.00)

Is your skin so sensitive, you’re afraid to exfoliate? Paula’s Choice Calm Redness Relief 1% BHA Lotion Exfoliant is just what the doctor ordered for you. For starters, it contains only 1% salicylic acid – a low dose that even your skin can tolerate. Plus, it’s loaded with soothing ingredients, like oats and liquorice extract – that can calm down redness and irritations. It’s so gentle, it’s suitable even for rosacea.

Available at: Feel Unique and Paula’s Choice

Related: How To Deal With Rosacea

Best On A Budget: The Inkey List BHA (£9.99)

If you want a no-frills, salicylic acid exfoliant that gets the job done (and fast), look no further than The Inkey List BHA. The lightweight texture absorbs quickly and unclogs those stubborn pores in a matter of days. The catch? Salicylic acid is all you get here. The Inkey List gives you the active ingredients you need – but no extras. For the price, can you really complain?

Available at: Cult Beauty and Feel Unique

Related: What Are The Best Skincare Products Under $10?

Best For Fungal Acne: Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid ($21.00)

I’m cheating here. Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid doesn’t have a drop of salicylic acid. Instead, it uses a different form of BHA, benzyl salicylate. It does the same thing: exfoliates skin, unclogs pores and kicks acne in the butt. But it’s better for fungal acne. Here’s why: many salicylic acid exfoliants use polysorbates as stabilisers. Malassezia, the fungus that’s making your life hell, feeds on polysorbates. That makes your acne worse, not better. You need something without polysorbates (or anything else that damn thing can eat) and this fits the bill.

Available at: Ulta and Wishtrend

Related: Are They Dupes?: Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant VS Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid