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Anti-inflammatory, pore cleansing

Important Chemical Components:

Also known as 2-hydroxybenzoic acid, the chemical formula of salicylic acid is C6H4(OH)COOH. Its molecular formula is C7H6O3.

Origin Classification:

Natural and organic forms are derived from willow bark, wintergreen leaves, and sweet birch. Most salicylic acid is laboratory made.

Personal Care Category:

Cleansing, antiacne, pore minimizing, exfoliating

Recommended for the following Baumann Skin Types:

DSNT, DSNW, DSPT, DSPW, OSNT, OSNW, OSPT, and OSPW. Salicylic acid may cause stinging in type 3 (S3) sensitive skin (stinging subtype), but it is beneficial for S1 (acne) and S2 (rosacea) sensitive skin.


Salicylic acid (SA) is derived primarily from willow bark, but has also been extracted from wintergreen leaves, sweet birch, myrtle, and meadow sweet flowers.1 Additional natural sources of SA include almonds, water chestnuts, peanuts, mushrooms, and various unripe fruits and vegetables, including blackberries, blueberries, cantaloupes, dates, raisins, kiwi, guavas, apricots, broccoli, green peppers, olives, tomatoes, as well as radishes and chicory, among others.2

SA is known to exhibit anti-inflammatory and comedolytic properties, which accounts for its inclusion in the dynamic antiacne arsenal (Table 78-1). This aromatic acid is also used as a denaturant, hair-conditioning agent, and skin-conditioning ingredient in cosmetic formulations.3

TABLE 78-1Pros and Cons of Salicylic Acid


In antiquity, the willow bark (Salix alba) was considered a medicine by the Greek physicians Hippocrates and Dioscorides as well as the Roman naturalist, philosopher, and author Pliny the Elder.4 Derivatives of the willow species S. alba were traditionally used as an analgesic for head and other aches, rheumatism, and gout; it was also used to treat fever.5–7 Indigenous peoples in North America are believed to have used willow species for medical purposes for 2,000 years, with the Houma employing black willow root as a blood thinner and the Creek using willow root tea as an anti-inflammatory and antipyretic.8

The modern history of SA is traced back to 1763 when England’s Reverend Edward Stone found that willow bark extract was effective in treating malarial fever.4,5,9 In Italy in 1824, Bartolomeo Rigatelli therapeutically used an extract of willow bark and Francesco Fontana characterized the compound, labeling it “salicina” (based on the Latin expression for white willow, Salix alba).9 However, the German chemist Johann Andreas Buchner was given credit for naming the active ingredient of white willow bark after he isolated salicin ...

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