The Inkey List Salicylic Acid Face Wash Is a $10 Acne-Clearing Miracle

The reason the Inkey List Salicylic Acid Cleanser has quickly become a skin care icon is right there on the bottle: Of all the ingredients that acne-prone individuals should prioritize, salicylic acid sits at the top. It is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that flushes oil and grime from the pores, and dissolves dead skin cells that might get trapped inside there, too. In dissolving dead cells, it also helps keep surface texture smooth and bright, promoting faster turnover so that you heal the dark spots left behind by past blemishes. It also helps temper oil production in the skin, to prevent the accumulation of excess sebum.

You can get your dose of salicylic acid a few different ways. First, there are high-concentration creams, serums, peels, and spot treatments that you let absorb into the skin—applied uniformly or targeting the precise blemish. These are often reactionary instead of preventative, although the uniformly applied ones will also help prevent nascent breakouts.

However, those high-grade BHA products can be rough on skin if overused, which is why many of them are best spaced apart a few days, or applied in the evening, so that skin can recover before you wake the next day. That’s why some people opt to get ahead of the big breakouts as best they can: They play a long game with a steady, preventative approach: A low-grade salicylic acid cleanser that helps temper oil production, dissolve dead skin cells, and clean out the pores, but without reddening the skin. By cleansing twice daily with a salicylic acid cleanser, you can significantly improve skin’s complexion—especially if you are someone who routinely breaks out. (Ditto for anyone who is extremely oily and simply wants less facial shine.)

One of my favorite face washes, salicylic acid or otherwise, is The Inkey List’s Slaicylic Acid cleanser. It combines a 2% salicylic acid formula with soothing allantoin and sebum-tempering zinc, and is gentle enough for those twice-daily cleansings.

The INKEY List salicylic acid cleanser

I recommend this to any of my friends who have oily or combination skin, and who experience frequent acne of any type—including blackheads. In fact, it’s blackheads that this stuff is particularly potent at expunging and preventing. I find it perfectly fine for “normal” skin in the warmer months or after a workout; it’s more something that these individuals could deploy once a day or as needed.

If you have dry skin or are easily dried out after a wash, then proceed with caution. Salicylic acid isn’t usually as kind to dry or sensitive skin types, but this cleanser is gentle enough and you could always chase it with hydrating serums and dense moisturizers to help skin recover. (I’d suggest using it in the evening versus the morning if this is the case.)

As a frequent face washer myself (between all the products I try, the daily workouts, and the morning/nighttime washes), I try not to deploy this more twice than a day, to avoid any drying out of my own skin. You might want to start with once a day yourself. But if you’re suffering from acne or excess oil production, and not yet using a similar product, this Inkey List could be just what your routine needs.

Of course, Inkey List didn’t invent putting this stuff in a face wash. Here are a few other salicylic acid cleansers I highly recommend:

The Best High-End Salicylic Acid Cleanser

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Dr. Dennis Gross AHA/BHA cleanser

Take note if you get severe breakouts, no matter how frequent: This one pulls the most weight—combining salicylic acid with surface-smoothing glycolic acid—and still remains gentle on sensitive skin.

The Best Mild Salicylic Acid Cleanser

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Paula’s Choice salicylic acid cleanser

This gentle gel is my pick for dry, acne-prone skin.

The Best Salicylic Acid Cleanser for Dry Skin

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VICHY 0.5% salicylic acid cleanser

Non-acne-prone people can benefit from salicylic acid, too: Like The INKEY List’s cleanser, this one combines zinc with salicylic acid. However, its SA concentration is 75% lower, at 0.5%. That makes it gentle enough on all skin types, though I’d sooner recommend it to non-acne-prone folks as a manner of prevention. True acne-prone types should up the dosage.

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