If there’s one thing the pandemic has managed to bring back, it’s the memories of our biggest teenage nightmare: Blemish-ridden skin.

If you’ve been out and about, chances are you would’ve experienced maskne, a skin woe that has swept the world by storm for all the wrong reasons. 

Call it a sign of the times, but unless you’re committed to staying home mask-free, these acne flare-ups that are caused by irritation from wearing a mask won’t be going away anytime soon. Add in Singapore’s heat and humidity and you’ve got a petri dish for breakouts.

For this, we’re revisiting one of the biggest heroes of any teenage skin routine: Salicylic acid. This blemish-fighting powerhouse is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that’s naturally sourced from plants such as willow tree bark, wintergreen leaves or sweet birch bark. As the only BHA in the market (as opposed to alpha-hydroxy acids or AHAs), this skincare acid penetrates follicles to breakdown oil build-up, reducing pore blockages in the long run. 

While previously written off as strictly for acne, salicylic acid products have also started to gain momentum for also. treating a myriad of other skin concerns. The exfoliant works by softening and dissolving keratin — the protein in our skin that causes cells to stick together — making the dead cells much easier to slough off while reducing the pH of the skin. 

Because it’s fat-soluble, it also penetrates deep instead of hanging out on the surface to loosen clogged pores while  hydrating the skin, priming the skin to fight acne and blemishes before it happen.

A little disclaimer though: Salicylic acid might be suitable for all skin types but because it belongs to the same family as aspirin, those with allergies should still steer clear of it. 

From face cleansers to on-the-spot gels, here are the best salicylic acid products to appease the angriest of blemishes today.

1
Dr Dennis Gross Breakout Clearing Gel

Of course that angry zit had to choose the night before a big date to rear its ugly head. For untimely crises like these, you’ll need fast-acting solutions like this complexion-clearing formula. Its blend of 2% salicylic acid, AHAs, and monk’s pepper helps unclog pores fast while rebalancing the skin’s sebum levels to prevent further build-up. Niacinamide and green tea also help reduce blemish scars and soothe skin for a clearer, more even-toned complexion.

Price
S$61
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2
Caudalie Vinopure Purifying Gel Cleanser

If you’re seeking more gentle exfoliation from within, this oil-free, gel-to-foam cleanser contains natural salicylic acid, grapeseed polyphenols and organic essential oils to deeply cleanse and purify the skin without drying it out. The light, refreshing formula is suitable even for the most of sensitive skin types, and over time promises to tighten pores while minimizing excess sebum, blackheads and imperfections. 

Price
S$34
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3
Drunk Elephant TLC Framboos Glycolic Night Serum

Formulated with a powerhouse blend of glycolic, tartaric, lactic, citric, and salicylic acids, alongside raspberry extract and horse chestnut, this serum delivers an effective level of chemical exfoliation without harsh side effects. This topical treatment by Drunk Elephant also boasts an ideal pH of 3.8, which lies within the BHA sweet spot for effectiveness. For better results, mix with the brand’s Virgin Marula Oil for a dose of moisture and barrier-boosting fatty acids.

Price
S$190
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4
The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution

The Ordinary continues its unique brand of no-nonsense products with this 2% treatment solution in a clear gel format. It’s another super affordable way to incorporate salicylic acid into your routine, especially if you’re still on the fence, and works efficiently to exfoliate the inside walls of pores to fight the appearance of blemishes for visibly improved skin clarity.

Price
S$8
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5
Kate Somerville Eradikate Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment

Besides 2% salicylic acid to clear and prevent breakouts, this lightweight gel also contains retinol to keep skin smooth and even toned, while a blend of soothing ingredients helps balance the skin’s microbiome. Because its two main ingredients can be drying for those starting out in skincare acids, the nighttime formula incorporates sodium PCA and sodium hyaluronate to moisturize skin so you wake up to clear, happy skin instead.

Price
Approx. S$78
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6
Stridex Maximum Strength Pads

If your expensive BHAs aren’t cutting it, it’s time to go nuclear and hit up this old-school drugstore favourite. These affordable, pre-soaked acne treatment pads contain 2% salicylic acid — the highest available without a prescription — to treat acne, reduce the number of blackheads and pimples, and prevent new breakouts from recurring. While the pad’s formula is completely alcohol-free, it might still be a little too harsh for those with sensitive skin, so do a test before going to town with it. 

Price
S$9.50 for 55 pads
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Shatricia Nair
Deputy Editor
Shatricia Nair is a motoring, watches, and wellness writer who is perpetually knee-deep in the world of V8s, tourbillons, and the latest fitness trends. She is fuelled by peanut butter and three cups of coffee a day.