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Properties of Salicylic Acid

By Shelley Moore ; Updated August 14, 2017

Salicylic acid occurs naturally in certain plants, including wintergreen leaves, sweet birch bark and willow bark. Natural and synthetic forms are used to make topical treatments for various skin disorders, and a chemically-similar synthetic compound derived from salicylic acid, acetylsalicylic acid, is more commonly known as aspirin. Topical salicylic acid is available as an active ingredient in creams, ointments, gels and other forms.

Keratinolytic Properties

Salicylic acid has keratinolytic properties, as explained by Chemical Land21. It breaks down keratin, a protein that is part of the skin structure. This makes salicylic acid useful as an exfoliant, because it helps skin shed the top layer of dead cells that can be dry, scaly and give skin a dull appearance. Salicylic acid is included in facial scrubs, and it is useful for treating acne, because dead cells can clog pores and create a favorable environment for acne-causing bacteria. Some anti-dandruff shampoos include salicylic acid, because the keratinolytic action allows shampoo to wash away flaky dead cells. Salicylic acid can eliminate warts, calluses and corns. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved salicylic acid for treating psoriasis, a condition involving excessive turnover of skin cells and scaly build-up.

Analgesic and Antipyretic Properties

Two properties of salicylic acid that go hand-in-hand are analgesic (pain relieving) and antipyretic (anti-inflammatory) qualities. These properties are additional reasons salicylic acid is beneficial for treating acne and psoriasis. Salicylic acid is responsible for the anti-inflammatory quality of aspirin, a type of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), as noted by a study published in the August 2001 issue of "QJM: An International Journal of Medicine." The analgesic and antipyretic properties make aspirin useful for treating conditions such as headaches, fever, muscle aches and arthritis.

Anti-Fungal Properties

Salicylic acid also has anti-fungal properties, according to Inchem, and can be used to eliminate tinea, a fungus involved in various types of skin infections. Salicylic acid can eliminate tinea versicolor, an infection of the top layer of the skin that causes scaly, discolored patches; tinea pedis (athlete's foot); tinea cruris (jock itch); tinea corporis (ringworm of the body) and tinea capitis (ringworm of the scalp).

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