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Is a Salicylic Acid Peel Safe?

My dermatologist has recommended a 20% salicylic acid peel for my persistent clogged pores and oily skin. I've read that salicylic acid can bioaccumulate, leading to cancer, organ toxicity, etc. What do you think about the risks of an occasional 20% peel?

Doctor Answers (8)

No Concern

+3

  Judging by your terminology, It sounds like you have been reading from the Environmental Working Group's web site. 

   I would not be that concerned. We consume salicylates in our diet all the time. (In fact salicylates can be a source of hives). Of course, aspirin is acetyl salicylic acid and is a prime source of salicylates. 

  I might suggest avoiding  a salicylic acid ( Beta) peel during pregnancy, but I can not see much of a problem otherwise. Also, realize that your peel would be washed off, limiting any potential for toxicity. 

  Because salicylic acid can penetrate into the hair follicle and disrupt the keratin formed within, it is the preferred peel for acne. It is an excellent peel to eliminate blackheads and clogged pores. 


Virginia Beach Dermatologist
4.5 out of 5 stars 10 reviews

Salicylic Acid Peels are Safe

+2
Yes, salicylic acid peels are indeed safe. It is especially good as an acne treatment. There are certain individuals that should avoid having the treatment, as it is not considered safe:
  • Breast feeding or pregnant women
  • Very young children
It is important to make sure that the peel is being administered by a professional with the appropriate experience. 

Brian Feinstein, DO
Delray Beach Dermatologist

Are Salicylic acid peels safe? Everything has a risk.

+1

All chemical peels have potential risks.  As chemical peels go, a 20% salicylic acid peel is a low risk peel.  One has to decide if the risk out weighs the benefit.  Salicylic acid peels are great for acne, fine lines, blemishes, sun damage, melasma, razor bumps or to just achieve a more beautiful, glowing complexion.  The risks of a salicylic acid peel are burn (if you have any dermatitis or have recently used an exfoliating agent at the time of the peel), infection, scar (very unlikely), discoloration, peeling and stinging.  That being said, a 20% salicylic acid peel is one of the most popular peels in my practice--particularly with the acne patients.  A salicylic acid peel can been done on patients of all skin colors and they usually get excellent results.  As a side note, as salicylic acid is related to aspirin, avoid the peel if you are aspirin or salicylic acid allergic.

Dina D. Strachan, MD
New York Dermatologist
3.5 out of 5 stars 9 reviews

Every treatment has risks

+1

In our daily lives, everything we do involves risk.  Every medicine, OTC or by prescription as well as food additives, hormones, pesticides and even vitamins can harm if in large dosages.  Unfortunately, that is just the world we live in.  As salicylic acid peels are not "required", of course it is important to carefully weigh the risks versus the benefits of this treatment and to not overdo it.  SAHA peels are generally considered very safe with minimal risk.  In my experience they work well and my patients enjoy the benefit they obtain from them.

Victoria W. Serralta, MD
Arlington Dermatologic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 1 review

Salicylic acid peeling is effective for acne

+1

Salicylic acid is a great peeling agent for improve skin texture, but is particularly effective in helping acne patients because salicylic acid is comedolytic.  Comedolytic peels are excellent to combine with other acne treatments including retinoids and LED light therapy (Red/Blue light).  I often use Jessner's peels as an alternative to salicylic acid peels because they tend to offer great results for skin tone and texture with limited adverse effects.  These peels should be used in series for best results.

Michael Swann, MD

Michael Howard Swann, MD
Springfield Dermatologic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 8 reviews

Salicylic acid peels

+1

Salicylic acid is available in many over the counter preparations in a 2% form. While it is relatively safe it should be administered by a qualified individual who is well versed in its use, indications, and administration as well as the evaluation of candidates for the treatment.

Otto Joseph Placik, MD
Chicago Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 48 reviews

A very standard procedure

+1

Salicylic acid is a safe and reliable peel for all skin color and types to treat may problems,  but it is especially good for acne and rosacea.

Mary P. Lupo, MD
New Orleans Dermatologist
5.0 out of 5 stars 9 reviews

Salicylic acid peel safe

+1

Yes, in the very low concentrations you will be having there is minimal risks. Have you discussed this with your doctor? If not an in person evaluation is warranted.

From MIAMI Dr. B

Darryl J. Blinski, MD
Miami Plastic Surgeon
4.5 out of 5 stars 64 reviews

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.