For those who have acne or struggle with whiteheads, blackheads, and other blemishes, there's a holy-grail ingredient you need to know about. Let me introduce you to salicylic acid if you haven't been acquainted already. It's a powerful ingredient in skincare that can really unclog pores.
Derived from willow bark, salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that is able to penetrate deeply through the lipid layers between skin cells and into pores—which helps de-clog pores (to prevent blackheads and whiteheads), dissolve skin debris, remove buildup, treat acne, and increase exfoliation and cell turnover. Plus, the exfoliation powers from salicylic acid can help your other skincare products penetrate the skin better. Now, that's a long list of benefits that we can get behind.
One of the best ways to use salicylic acid is through a toner. Depending on your skin type and sensitivity, you can use certain toners daily as an exfoliant to keep your skin smooth and clear. It's important to note, though, that the ingredient can be drying, so it's best for oily, acne-prone skin, and it's not quite recommended for anyone with dry or sensitive skin. And experts advise against using products with salicylic acid if you're pregnant or breastfeeding. In short, check with your doctor first before using, especially if any of the above applies to you or if you're taking certain medications.
But if you're in the clear to try out salicylic toner for yourself, take a look at some highly reviewed ones below.
This exfoliant from Paula's Choice is always a winner with our readers and editors. It contains 2% beta hydroxy acid (aka salicylic acid) to exfoliate and unclog pores. If you're using this in the daytime, you'll want to make sure you're applying a sunscreen that's SPF 30 or greater afterward.
This highly rated drugstore find is formulated with 0.5% salicylic acid and 2% glycolic acid to remove dirt, debris, and dead skin cells. It's also oil-free, noncomedogenic, and safe for sensitive skin.
You can stop breakouts in their early stages with this AHA/BHA toner. It also works well if you already are dealing with blemishes, blackheads, and clogged pores. And it has a unique ingredient—prebiotic sugar—to balance the skin's microbiome.
If you're worried about irritation, try this gentle toner, which is made with lipo-hydroxy acid, a salicylic acid derivative. It works to gently "peel" off any dead skin cells and impurities. And it's also infused with 23% emollients and almond milk to replenish the skin's moisture barrier.
A combination of salicylic, glycolic, and lactic acids, this toner unclogs pores and resurfaces the skin. But it won't leave it totally stripped—the niacinamide and adaptogenic reishi provide hydration and balance.
Youth to the People's exfoliant is another product that has all the acids: 3% AHA, 2% BHA, and 1% PHA. That means it's able to smooth the skin's texture and even tone while also removing any buildup and promoting cell turnover and hydration.
This toner is alcohol-free, so you don't have to worry about any irritation here. It contains a natural BHA that's similar to salicylic acid and white willow bark extract, which work to unclog pores, control excess oil, and exfoliate. And it won't leave your skin super dry thanks to sugarcane-derived squalane, which moisturizes and locks in hydration.
If we're just judging this one based on its name, you know it means serious business when it comes to targeting blackheads. But luckily, this product lives up to its moniker. It has ingredients such as BHAs that control oil and minimize pores; betaine salicylate to exfoliate skin; and white willow bark, which acts as an anti-inflammatory.
Glytone's Acne Clearing Toner has 2% salicylic acid to clarify. It deeply cleanses the skin, controls oil production, and unclogs pores so that blemishes, blackheads, and whiteheads are less likely to show up.
12. Farmacy Deep Sweep 2% BHA Pore Cleaning Toner With Moringa + Papaya
Best for combination and oily skin types, this alcohol-free toner is infused with 2% salicylic acid. It also has moringa-seed extract and moringa water to purify and refresh the skin and papaya enzymes to gently exfoliate.
This product is unique because it's a powder formula that activates when mixed with water and becomes a creamy paste. In addition to salicylic acid, ingredients include licorice, grapefruit, and phytic acid from rice bran; papain enzymes; and colloidal oatmeal.
Glow Recipe's toner not only exfoliates and clears the pores thanks to PHA and BHA, but it also leaves your skin soft and hydrated since it's infused with watermelon extract, hyaluronic acid, and cactus water. So you really get the best of both worlds: deep exfoliation and lots of hydration.
You get a two-for-one with this product since it both cleanses and exfoliates. In addition to salicylic acid, the cleanser contains nourishing ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, vitamin D, and ceramides. If you have normal skin, you can use it daily, but if your skin is more sensitive, you'll want to use it once or twice a week.
You can definitely consider this product from The Ordinary a cult favorite—it's formulated with glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acids. Senior beauty editor Erin Jahns's 73-year-old mom tried it and said, "I kept it on for 10 minutes and rinsed it off with lukewarm water, as directed on the packaging. My skin felt amazingly soft afterward, so I was definitely pleased with the results."
This face oil is a multitasker. The 1.5% salicylic acid in the formula clears pores and prevents acne and blackheads. But it's also enriched with tea tree and chamomile oil to purify and soothe plus licorice root to brighten dark spots and discoloration.
Peter Thomas Roth's correction pads are powerful since they're a combo of 2% salicylic and 10% glycolic acids. But don't worry about them completely drying your skin because they're also formulated with aloe and allantoin to calm and soothe.