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How to Use Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is an effective treatment for many common skin issues, including acne, dandruff, warts, psoriasis, and more. Once you have your salicylic acid, it’s important to apply it properly so you can reap all of its benefits. Determine what type of product you have, then apply it correctly so the acid can treat your skin.


EditApplying Salicylic Acid Cream, Gel, or Pads

  1. Clean your skin gently before you apply your salicylic acid. This removes the oils from your skin before you apply your cream, gel, or pad. Use a gentle cleanser that doesn’t irritate your skin.
    Use Salicylic Acid Step 1.jpg
    • Dry your skin with a clean towel before you apply the salicylic acid.
    • Pat your skin when you dry it, rather than rubbing it, so you don't stress it before application.
  2. Apply a thin layer if using a cream or a lotion. Use a cream or lotion with 3-6% salicylic acid.[1] Rub the product in gently until your skin absorbs it.[2]
    Use Salicylic Acid Step 2.jpg
    • Don't worry if you see a thin film on top of your skin.
    • Do this as often as you are instructed on the product or by your doctor. Most people do it first thing in the morning or right before bed at night.
  3. Place wet packs on your skin if you are using a gel. After 5 minutes, remove them. Apply enough gel to cover the area and rub it in.
    Use Salicylic Acid Step 3.jpg
    • Use a gel with .5-5% salicylic acid.[3]
    • There may be a thin, invisible film that remains on top of your skin. Leave this and it will eventually soak in, too.
  4. Wipe your pad over the affected areas. The pad will contain the proper salicylic acid dosage for you. Make sure that you cover the entire area.
    Use Salicylic Acid Step 4.jpg
    • Don’t wipe the medication off after use. Instead, let it dry on your skin.
    • Don't wash the area or get it wet until the medication is dry.

EditApplying Salicylic Acid Plaster

  1. Clean your skin before you use your salicylic acid plaster. Use a gentle soap or cleanser to remove any excess oils. Make sure you use a soap that will not irritate your skin. Dry your skin once you have cleaned it.
    Use Salicylic Acid Step 5.jpg
  2. Cut the plaster to fit the affected area. It will contain the proper dosage of salicylic acid. Make sure it covers the entire wart, corn, or callus that you are trying to remove.
    Use Salicylic Acid Step 6.jpg
    • If your wort, corn, or callus is stubborn, soak the affected area for 5 minutes before you apply the plaster.
    • Make sure your skin dries completely before you place the plaster.
  3. Place the pad on your skin over the wart, corn, or callus. Let it adhere fully, then cover it with a bandaid or a clean bandage.
    Use Salicylic Acid Step 7.jpg
  4. Repeat your treatment as needed. For corns and calluses, apply your salicylic acid every 48 hours for up to 14 days. For warts, apply it every 48 hours as needed.[4]
    Use Salicylic Acid Step 8.jpg

EditUsing a Salicylic Acid Shampoo

  1. Rub the shampoo into your hair until it lathers. The lather indicates that you have used enough of the product for it to be effective. [5]
    Use Salicylic Acid Step 9.jpg
    • Rubbing gets the shampoo down next to your scalp, where it can help your skin issue.
    • Use your shampoo once or twice a week. If it hurts to rub your head, you may be using it too often.
  2. Allow the product to sit in your hair for 2-5 minutes. This gives it time to act on your skin so you can reap maximum benefits from the salicylic acid.[6]
    Use Salicylic Acid Step 10.jpg
  3. Wash it out thoroughly when the time is up. Give your hair an extra rinse. You don’t want salicylic acid to sit on your scalp all day.
    Use Salicylic Acid Step 11.jpg
  4. Reapply it for full effectiveness. Go through the whole process again. Wash your hair, let it sit, then rinse it out. This gives the salicylic acid more time to work on your skin.
    Use Salicylic Acid Step 12.jpg

EditUsing a Salicylic Acid Cleanser

  1. Wash your face gently before using the salicylic acid cleanser. This removes all of the excess oils from your face so the acid can have maximum effectiveness. Choose a gentle soap that won’t irritate your skin.
    Use Salicylic Acid Step 13.jpg
  2. Rub a small amount of the salicylic acid cleanser into your skin. Use a cleanser with 3% salicylic acid or less.[7]
    Use Salicylic Acid Step 14.jpg
    • Rub for at least 10-20 seconds so the acid has time to penetrate your skin. Use gentle circular hand motions to rub it in.[8]
    • Gentle rubbing allows the acid to contact your skin without risking irritation.
  3. Look for a lather. If it hasn’t worked up a lather, add a little more and rub again. Make sure you get at least 10-20 seconds of contact between your skin and the acid.
    Use Salicylic Acid Step 15.jpg
  4. Rinse your skin completely. You don’t want salicylic acid to sit on your skin all day. When you’re sure it’s all off, pat your skin dry with a clean towel.
    Use Salicylic Acid Step 16.jpg


  • Test your skin for an allergic reaction. Choose a test patch of skin in a neutral area that people can’t easily see. Apply a small amount of salicylic acid to that area every day for three days. If you experience itching, excessive redness, or swelling, don’t use any more salicylic acid. [9]
  • Always follow the instructions on your packaging. If they are different than what you see here, use them instead. Some products need to be applied in specific ways to work well.
  • Salicylic acid may irritate your skin more before it helps. This is completely normal, so use it for several weeks before you decide whether it is working for you.
  • There are many different salicylic acid products out there, especially for acne treatment. If one doesn't work, you can try others to see if they help your skin more.


  • Avoid ingesting salicylic acid or getting it in your eyes, ears, nose, or mouth. If you do, rinse it out as soon as possible.
  • Salicylic acid can have negative side effects including skin irritation, swelling, difficulty breathing, and more.[10] If you experience anything unusual after using it, discontinue use and contact a doctor immediately.
  • Never breathe in the fumes from these acid products as they can irritate your nasal passages. [11]


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from How to of the Day