Salicylic acid is used in a variety of products for topical treatment of skin conditions. Most often used in acne treatment, salicylic acid is also used to treat dandruff, callouses and warts. Some of these products are available by prescription but others are available over the counter in soaps, shampoos or creams. Although most people can use these products safely, there are side effects and interactions users should be aware of.

Sensitivity Reaction

Salicylates are the family of chemicals that includes salicylic acid. Salicylate sensitivity -- also called salicylate allergy -- can cause difficulty breathing, nasal congestion, itching skin, stomach pain and headaches. In rare cases, especially when occurring in conjunction with chronic diseases, these reactions can be severe enough to be life threatening. People with asthma have a 5 to 10 percent chance of having hypersensitivity to aspirin, another salicylate, and may be at risk for reactions to products containing salicylic acid.


There has not been sufficient research about potential ways salicylic acid can affect a breastfeeding baby. The compound is absorbed into the mother's body and could enter her breast milk. Due to the sensitivity of children to salicylates, breastfeeding mothers may consider avoiding these products while breastfeeding.

Use by Children

Think twice before using products containing salicylic acid on children. Children absorb more of the compound through their skin than an adult would which, when combined with their lower body weights, means they will experience larger doses and more severe effects. The amount of salicylates received is much less than in aspirin but the risk of Reye's Syndrome, a potentially fatal disease, still exists. Anyone under the age of 19 should not use products containing salicylic acid if they have chicken pox or the flu.

Drug Interactions

If you are taking prescription medications, discuss possible interactions with your doctor. Salicylic acid can interact with a number of medications. Of particular concern are blood thinners such as warfarin and acenocoumarol. Salicylates also act as blood thinners, and using both together can interfere with a patient's normal clotting process.

Sun Sensitivity

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has reported that using topical products containing beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) or salicylic acid may lead to increased sensitivity to the sun's ultraviolet radiation 2. This adds to a person's risk of skin cancer and the FDA recommends being diligent about using sun protection when using a product with salicylic acid.

Other Diseases

Patients suffering from additional diseases of the blood vessels or skin disorders should talk to their doctors. These products are absorbed into the skin and can aggravate these types of medical conditions. People with diabetes may experience extreme redness or ulceration on their hands and feet.