Salicylic Acid for Acne Scars: Your Ultimate Guide [Exclusive Tips]
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Salicylic Acid for Acne Scars: Your Ultimate Guide [Exclusive Tips]

Aug 3, 2022

Are you tired of fighting the constant reminders of previous breakouts on your skin? 

Acne scars that appear to have taken up permanent residence can be frustrating. But don’t worry, there is a powerful ingredient to remove acne scars: Salicylic Acid! 

Worried about your skin condition? Get in touch with best of our skin specialists in Pune. For a skin treatment, book an appointment with our dermatologists near you +919584584111

Salicylic Acid for Acne Scars

Acne scars come in different shapes and sizes, from pitted scars to hyperpigmentation, and they can affect not just your skin but also your self-esteem. That is why it is critical to treat them effectively. Salicylic Acid is a powerful exfoliant that helps in removing acne scars, promising brighter, smoother, and scar-free skin. 

In this guide, we will learn the effectiveness of Salicylic Acid for acne scars and hyperpigmentation. We will also find some very useful tips on how to use it. 

Let’s get started!

What is Salicylic Acid?

Before moving forward with the effectiveness of salicylic acid for various types of acne scars, first understand what salicylic acid is.

What is Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) found in skincare products often used to treat acne and other skin disorders. Salicylic acid is derived from willow bark but can also be synthesized synthetically. It is an oil-soluble ingredient, which means that it can penetrate the skin layers and, dissolve sebum and oil, and exfoliate the skin. This makes it an effective treatment for acne, blackheads, and whiteheads. Salicylic acid is also an anti-inflammatory and antibacterial ingredient, which can help to reduce redness and swelling associated with acne.

Salicylic acid for scars is available in various over-the-counter (OTC) skincare products, including cleansers, toners, serums, moisturizers, and masks. It is also available in prescription-strength formulas for more severe cases of acne.

How Does Salicylic Acid Work on the Skin?

Salicylic acid is commonly used in skincare products to exfoliate the skin and treat acne. Let’s see how it works.

How Does Salicylic Acid Work on the Skin?

Acne develops when an excess of sebum (skin oil) and dead skin cells clog skin pores. This congestion can also entrap bacteria, resulting in inflammation and the formation of pus-filled pimples. When a pimple heals, it can leave behind a scar. This is because the damage to the skin can cause the production of collagen, which is a protein that helps to repair the skin. However, too much collagen can lead to the formation of a scar.

Salicylic acid is a natural and effective exfoliant that permeates the skin and actively dissolves the sebum that blocks your pores.

Salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is also a keratolytic agent, which means it breaks down the bonds between dead skin cells, helping to remove them from the skin’s surface. This reveals the new, healthy skin cells underneath, which can give the skin a brighter and more even appearance. Exfoliation also helps prevent the pores from becoming clogged, leading to breakouts.

Acne most commonly arises when our sebaceous (oil) glands become hyperactive and produce excessive oil. Salicylic acid can help to reduce excess oil production by inhibiting the activity of the sebaceous glands. These glands are responsible for producing sebum, the oily substance that keeps the skin hydrated.

Salicylic acid is a powerful anti-inflammatory ingredient that can help reduce inflamed pimples and clear clogged pores. It works by suppressing gene expression in the body that results in inflammation, specifically by inhibiting the nuclear factor NF-κB pathway.

Is Salicylic Acid Suitable for All Skin Types?

Will salicylic acid remove scars from all skin types? It is the major concern of people using it. Let’s get answered. 

Salicylic acid is generally considered safe for all skin types but is especially beneficial for oily and acne-prone skin. Salicylic acid can help people with combination skin, which is both oily and dry in different regions, especially if they have oily zones or are prone to blocked pores.

Is Salicylic Acid Suitable for All Skin Types?

Oily Skin: Salicylic acid can help to reduce oil production and unclog pores, which can help to prevent and treat acne.

Dry Skin: Salicylic acid can help exfoliate the skin and remove dead skin cells, revealing brighter, smoother skin.

Sensitive Skin: Salicylic acid is generally considered safe for sensitive skin, but it is important to start with a low concentration and use it less often.

Combination Skin: Salicylic acid can be used to treat oily and acne-prone areas of the face while also exfoliating and smoothing dry regions.

However, if you have dry or sensitive skin, you need to be more cautious when using salicylic acid on scars, as it can exacerbate dryness and irritation. Other possible side effects of Salicylic acid may include:

  • Mild burning
  • Stinging
  • Skin peeling
  • Hives 

Tips to Use Salicylic Acid Safely and Effectively

So if you have sensitive skin, follow the below tips to use salicylic acid safely and effectively:

  • It is best to start with a low concentration of salicylic acid and gradually increase the concentration as your skin tolerates it.
  • Do a patch test by applying salicylic acid on a small skin area before using it on your entire face.
  • Don’t use it on sensitive areas and broken skin to avoid irritation.
  • Use moisturizer after applying salicylic acid.  
  • If you experience any side effects, stop using salicylic acid and consult your dermatologist immediately.

Note: Although topical salicylic acid is safe in pregnancy or nursing, you should consult a doctor/dermatologist before using salicylic acid.

The Effect of Salicylic Acid on Acne Scars

Salicylic acid can improve the appearance of acne scars through its exfoliating and skin-renewing properties.

The Effect of Salicylic Acid on Acne Scars

Salicylic acid for acne scars penetrates the skin and stimulates the shedding of dead skin cells, excess oil, and dirt that can contribute to the appearance of acne scars when administered topically. This exfoliating procedure helps unclog pores and increases cell turnover, enabling fresh, new skin cells to appear.

Salicylic acid’s exfoliating effect also helps to reduce hyperpigmentation left behind by acne lesions in the case of acne scars. Salicylic acid can progressively lessen the appearance of dark spots and uneven skin tone caused by earlier acne outbreaks by stimulating the shedding of damaged and discoloured skin cells.

Also, the capacity of salicylic acid to decrease inflammation can help to improve the look of acne scars. It can make scars less visible and benefit a more even complexion by relaxing the skin and reducing redness and inflammation.

Does Salicylic Acid Remove Acne Scars?

Salicylic acid is a powerful ingredient that can help improve acne scars’ appearance from mild to moderate. It works by exfoliating the skin and removing the top layers of dead skin cells, revealing fresh, healthier skin underneath. This can help to reduce the appearance of discoloration and uneven texture and make scars less noticeable.

Does Salicylic Acid Remove Acne Scars?

However, salicylic acid cannot completely remove scars that have damaged the deeper layers of skin like ice-pick and rolling.  

Ice pick acne scars are narrow and deep, resembling the hole made by an ice pick. They are caused by damage to the collagen and elastin fibres in the dermis, the middle layer of the skin. Ice pick scars are the most difficult type of acne scar to treat, as they are often too deep to respond to topical treatments like salicylic acid.

Rolling acne scars have a wavy or uneven look and are a form of acne scar. They are caused by scar tissue bands that grow beneath the skin. Rolling acne scars are common on the cheeks, jawline, and temples. Rolling acne scars also do not respond to topical treatment.

For these types of scars, more aggressive treatments such as chemical peel, derma rolling, subcision, fillers laser therapy or microdermabrasion may be necessary.

Also, salicylic acid can take several weeks to show the full effects.

While salicylic acid for acne scars is an effective treatment, it is not a miracle cure. Setting realistic expectations when using salicylic acid to fade scars is important. If scarring is an issue for you, seeing a dermatologist for individualized advice and treatments is always a good idea.

How Long Does It Take for Salicylic Acid to Work on Acne Scars?

Salicylic acid typically shows its effectiveness against active acne within just a few days of use. 

However, the time it takes for salicylic acid to work on acne scars can vary from person to person, depending on several factors, including the type and severity of the scars, as well as individual skin characteristics.

With a regular skincare routine, you can expect to notice an improvement in the appearance of salicylic acid acne scars within approximately four weeks.

Here is a general timeline for seeing results with salicylic acid for different types of acne scars:

  • For mild acne scars, such as superficial scars and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, you may notice small changes within a few weeks with constant use. However, it can take 2 to 3 months to show the more significant results.
  • Deeper acne scars like icepick scars or boxcar scars may take 3 to 6 months or even longer for improvement.

It is essential to be patient and consistent with your treatment to see the final results of the treatment. If you have any concerns about using salicylic acid for acne scars, we are here to help you.

Salicylic Acid and Hyperpigmentation

Salicylic Acid and Hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation is a common skin condition that occurs when there is an excess of melanin in the skin. Hyperpigmentation and dark spots can be caused by a variety of factors, including sun exposure, acne, and hormonal changes. 

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for treating hyperpigmentation, salicylic acid can be an effective ingredient that helps fade dark spots and improve overall skin tone.

Acne scar salicylic acid works by penetrating the skin and effectively loosening the connections between dead skin cells. This process encourages the shedding of these cells, thereby expediting skin exfoliation. Acting as a peeling agent, it quickly dissolves the bonds holding skin cells together, facilitating the faster removal of the uppermost skin layer.

We understand that hyperpigmentation and dark spots can be frustrating and demoralizing. However, effective treatments are available, including salicylic acid. You can achieve a more even and radiant skin tone with regular use and patience.

Can Salicylic Acid Fade Hyperpigmentation?

The straight answer to the question: does salicylic acid help hyperpigmentation? Yes, salicylic acid can fade hyperpigmentation. Can Salicylic Acid Fade Hyperpigmentation?

Hyperpigmentation occurs due to an excess of melanin, causing dark spots, patches, or discoloration. 

Salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid (BHA), exfoliates the skin and removes dead skin cells. This can help to reveal the brighter, new skin cells underneath and also helps to reduce the appearance of dark spots. Salicylic acid is also anti-inflammatory and can help to reduce redness and irritation.

There is some evidence to suggest that salicylic acid can be effective in reducing hyperpigmentation. According to the study, salicylic acid effectively reduces the appearance of melasma, a type of hyperpigmentation common in pregnant women.

Age spots

Age Spots

Sun Spots

Sun Spots

Salicylic acid is a safe and effective treatment for hyperpigmentation when used in the right concentration. Do a patch test before using it if you have sensitive skin. Also, wear sunscreen when using salicylic acid, as it can make your skin more sensitive to the sun.

How to Use Salicylic Acid for Scar Treatment?

How to Use Salicylic Acid for Scar Treatment?

 Now, you might be wondering how to use salicylic acid for acne scars treatment. Don’t worry! Here, we will share some tips to incorporate salicylic acid into your skincare routine for scar reduction. 

Salicylic acid products such as cleansers, toners, face wash, creams, and medicated acne pads come in various concentrations, so start with a low one and gradually increase it as your skin tolerates it. A cleanser or toner containing 2% salicylic acid is an excellent starting point.

Here are the steps to use salicylic acid for acne scar treatment:

  • Clean the affected area with a mild cleanser and pat dry.
  • Apply a thin layer of salicylic acid to the affected area once or twice a day.
  • You can use a salicylic acid cleanser, toner, cream, or gel.
  • Allow the salicylic acid to dry completely before applying any other skincare products.
  • Use a Moisturizer After Applying Salicylic Acid. Salicylic acid can dry out the skin, so it is important to use a moisturizer after applying it.

Important Notes:

  1. Wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher during the day when using salicylic acid products, as it can make your skin more sensitive to the sun.
  2. If you experience any irritation, stop using salicylic acid immediately.
  3. Keep your treatments regular and patient. It might take weeks or months to see visible improvements.

Scarring can be a challenge, but there are ways to treat and manage them. One of them is salicylic acid. It is a safe and effective treatment for many types of scars. If you have any questions or concerns about the concentration of salicylic acid for acne scars, please talk to your dermatologist.

Before and After: Salicylic Acid Scars Transformation

Acne scars testimonial

Salicylic acid for acne scars effectively removes the appearance of scars by exfoliating the skin, reducing inflammation, and stimulating collagen production. It can also help improve the skin’s overall appearance by making it smoother and more even-toned. 

Salicylic Acid Acne treatment

However, a higher concentration of salicylic acid can irritate the skin, especially sensitive skin, so it is important to choose a product with the right concentration for your skin type and to moisturize after use.

Other Acids for Acne Scars: Which Acid Is Best for Acne Scars?

Acid Type Benefits Drawbacks Images
Salicylic acid BHA Penetrates deep into pores to remove dirt, oil, and dead skin cells and reduces inflammation Can be drying and irritating to sensitive skin Salicylic acid
Glycolic acid AHA Exfoliates the surface of the skin to remove dead skin cells and promote cell turnover; evens out skin tone and texture Can be irritating to sensitive skin Glycolic acid
Lactic acid AHA Exfoliates the surface of the skin to remove dead skin cells and promote cell turnover; is more gentle than glycolic acid Can be less effective than glycolic acid for deep acne scars Lactic acid
Mandelic acid AHA Exfoliates the surface of the skin to remove dead skin cells and promote cell turnover; is less irritating than glycolic acid and lactic acid Can be less effective than glycolic acid and lactic acid for deep acne scars Mandelic acid
Azelaic acid Naturally occurring acid Reduces inflammation and hyperpigmentation; is gentle on the skin Can be less effective than other acids for deep acne scars Azelaic acid
Kojic acid Naturally derived acid Known for its ability to lighten skin tone. Effective in treating acne scars, hyperpigmentation, and melasma. Can be irritating to the skin, especially at high concentrations. Kojic acid
Hyaluronic Acid Naturally occurring acid Reduces inflammation, Effective in treating acne scars Can cause skin irritation, such as redness, itching, or burning Hyaluronic Acid

In addition to salicylic acid, there are several other acids that can be used to treat acne scars. These include

Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs): Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) are effective solutions to treat acne scars. AHAs work by exfoliating the top layer of skin, revealing the fresh, new skin underneath. This can help to fade the appearance of acne scars, as well as other skin conditions such as hyperpigmentation and fine lines. The most common alpha-hydroxy acids are glycolic acid, lactic acid, and mandelic acid.

  • Glycolic Acid: Glycolic acid is naturally found in sugarcane, but it can also be synthesized in a lab. Glycolic acid is a small molecule that can penetrate the skin more deeply. Therefore, it is effective in treating deep acne scars.
  • Lactic Acid: Besides salicylic acid for acne scars, Lactic acid is a gentle exfoliant formed from lactose fermentation, a sugar present in milk products. Lactic acid is an excellent treatment for hypertrophic and keloid scars and is especially beneficial for persons with sensitive skin.
  • Mandelic Acid: Mandelic acid is a good option for people with sensitive skin or rosacea. It can help to improve the appearance of acne scars by exfoliating the skin and reducing the appearance of discoloration.

Azelaic Acid: Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring anti-inflammatory and antibacterial chemical found in barley, rye, and wheat. It can help to lessen the visibility of acne scars by decreasing discoloration and improving skin tone.

Kojic Acid: Kojic acid is a natural acid produced by a fungus. It can help with acne and injury scars on the skin. It is known for its ability to lighten dark spots and hyperpigmentation. 

Hyaluronic Acid: Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a naturally occurring substance found in the skin that helps to keep it hydrated and plump. It also has anti-inflammatory and wound-healing effects. As a result of these benefits, hyaluronic acid has grown in popularity as a component in skin care products, especially those meant to heal acne scars.

Hyaluronic Acid can help to improve the appearance of acne scars in a number of ways. First, it helps to hydrate the skin, which can make scars less noticeable. Second, it can help to reduce inflammation, which can also make scars less visible. Third, HA can stimulate collagen production, which can help to fill in scars and make them less deep.

Acids for Acne Scars

With so many options, you might be confused about which acid is best for acne scar treatment. The best acid for acne scars will depend on your individual skin type and the severity of your scars.

If you have sensitive skin, then start with a gentle acid like lactic acid or mandelic acid are good choices. Salicylic acid for acne scars is a good choice. If you have hyperpigmentation, salicylic acid, azelaic acid, or mandelic acid are good choices.

Remember that all acids can irritate the skin, so start with a low concentration and perform a patch test before incorporating these acids into your skincare routine. Also, wear sunscreen daily when using acids, as they can make the skin more sensitive to the sun and apply moisturizer to keep your skin hydrated.

Note: More severe scars, such as deeper scars, boxcar or rolling scars, depressed acne scars, and raised scars, may require more aggressive treatments like dermabrasion, chemical peels, laser resurfacing, fillers, micro-needling, injections, or subcision.


Salicylic acid is an effective treatment for acne scars that works by exfoliating the skin, reducing inflammation, and stimulating collagen production. Choose a salicylic acid product with the appropriate concentration and apply it to clean, dry skin to treat acne scars. Be patient, as it takes time to see results. 

While Salicylic Acid for acne scars is an effective solution, it can cause skin irritation, burning or skin peeling if you have sensitive skin or do not use it correctly. Therefore, it is essential to consult a dermatologist before adding a new product to your skincare routine. The dermatologist will assess your skin condition and prescribe the best treatment approach based on your specific needs.

We understand that living with acne scars can be difficult and embarrassing. However, effective treatments are available. However, choosing the right treatment can be overwhelming. Don’t worry. Clear Skin Clinics are here to help. Our experienced dermatologists will provide you with information about the different types of acids and help you choose the best one for your skin type and needs. 

So, what are you waiting for? Book your consultation now!

For treating your skin condition, feel free to get in touch with one of our best dermatologists in Pune. You can also call on +919584584111 to book an appointment at one of our skin clinics near you.


Dr Dhanraj Chavan

About the Author: Dr Dhanraj Chavan

Dr. Dhanraj Chavan is a globally trained, young, and dynamic dermatologist. He is a Consultant Dermatologist and Varicose Vein Specialist at Clear Skin, VeinMD, and HairMD.

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