Tired of trying every acne product under the sun only to be permanently plagued by pimples? It could be that you’re using too many lotions and potions as a solution, but it’s actually much simpler than you think.
Known as a BHA (or beta hydroxy acid), salicylic acid is a wonder ingredient sweeping the skincare community. If used correctly, it successfully breaks down oils and unblocks pores. Get the wrong toner or apply it incorrectly? Ouch.
There’s no need to freak out about a burnt face. Allow us to point you in the direction of five fantastic salicylic toners. A perfect addition to even the simplest of face routines, any of the products we’ve highlighted could be the one you need.
Best Salicylic Acid Toners: Our Top 5 Picks
1. Best Overall: Biore Pore Clarifying Toner With 2 Percent Salicylic Acid
Boasting not just 2% salicylic acid, but also the astringent powers of natural witch hazel, this toner from skincare giants Biore is beloved for a reason. Controlling oil production and deep cleaning those pores, prepare to find a whole new face!
Ready to treat and clear existing acne, soothe any inflammation and tighten everything up generally, you’ll find it’s a balanced skincare treatment that effortlessly becomes a part of your daily routine. Safe to use twice, it’s great for AM and PM.
As well as gently removing unwanted oiliness from the surface of your skin, plus clearing away dead cells, dirt and other debris, it’s also altogether oil-free as a toner. This creates a lightweight formula that refreshes, without any sticky residue.
Especially designed and intended for continual use, it’s been lab-tested by dermatologists and confirmed safe for regular application. To get the best results, use twice daily or up to three times per week; whatever you need!
Available as a 6.77 or 8 ounce bottle, as well as in packs of 6, 18 and 30, it’s possible to buy just enough to test this toner out, or stock up and save money once you’ve discovered it’s definitely the product for you.
- Non-comedogenic (won’t block up your pores)
- Deeply penetrates to soothe existing acne and prevent further breakouts
- Oil-free, lightweight formula that doesn’t feel heavy or leave skin slick
- Developed and tested by professionals; not gimmicky skincare
- May cause dryness or peeling (advised to begin with one daily application and gradually increase for the safest road test)
Ah, that fancy French skincare line taking social media by storm. We couldn’t make a list of the best SA toners without including the Effaclar Solution from La Roche-Posay; it’s one of the most popular toners on the market right now, full stop!
Working to carefully exfoliate, remove excess dirt and debris clogging up your pores, as well as clear away dry and dead skin cells for a smoother, more even complexion, it’s a hydrating formula that won’t leave you feeling irritated afterward.
As well as salicylic acid, this toner also contains glycolic acid, giving you the best of both worlds! This ensures you’re featuring both AHAs and BHAs in your skincare routine, able to clear the surface of your skin and penetrate through several layers.
More than suitable for sensitive skin, it’s free of parabens and fragrances, as well as being oil free, which means it works as an excellent solution for those who can’t handle stronger formulas. You’ll be left feeling refreshed, rather than reddened.
Coming highly recommended by over 90,000 dermatologists across the world, you’re in safe hands when you choose one of Europe’s biggest skincare providers. Their strict formulation charter and stringent clinical testing ensure total safety.
- Allergy and dermatologist tested for complete safety and full peace of mind
- Works well alongside the Effaclar Dermatological Acne System (sold separately)
- Contains both glycolic and salicylic acids to tick all skincare boxes
- Can be used multiple times a day, every day, without worrying about dryness or irritation
- Only contains 0.5% salicylic acid, though this may be beneficial for those with especially sensitive skin
Clinically designed to fight against oil and deeply penetrate your pores, Clean and Clear’s salicylic toner is an oil-free formula suitable for sensitive skin. Want to prevent future breakouts AND reduce current redness? This is essential.
With only 0.5% salicylic acid present, it’s more than fine to use every day, so you don’t need to worry about causing further redness or irritation. Specially formulated to protect even delicate faces, it doesn’t matter what condition your skin is in either.
As a milder, yet more effective pimple treatment, there’s no stinging sensation to anticipate. You’ll feel refreshingly clean from AM to PM, eradicating sweat, oil build up and unwanted shine, without unwanted side effects.
Feel like you need an afternoon pick me up? Not to worry, you can use this up to three times daily and it won’t dry you out. Expect to see a reduction in the appearance of pimples, blackheads and whiteheads after just a few washes.
If used in conjunction with the Clean & Clear Essentials Foaming Cleanser, and a suitable moisturizer, you’ve got yourself a full skincare routine, perfectly gentle on your easily irritated complexion. It’s a budget-friendly one, too!
- Only utilizes 0.5% salicylic acid – suitable for use multiple times a day
- Works well for sensitive skin; dermatologically formulated to protect
- Deep cleaning of pores without irritation or dryness
- From a reputable brand you can trust
- Depending on your skin type and the regularity/severity of breakouts experienced, you might prefer a stronger product
Designed to replicate their original formula from 1933, So Totally Clean’s toner is based on almost a century of knowledge and research. Suitable for any skin type, from oily and dry to combination, you won’t go wrong giving it a try at this price.
Not only is it both a cleanser and a toner, combining two of your routine steps into one perfect product, it’s also vegan, paraben-free, sulfate-free and entirely cruelty-free in general. A guilt-free purchase that will revitalize your skin!
Active botanicals and natural ingredients are combined to create an expert formula that won’t hurt you or the plant; as they are committed to environmentally conscious products, you can rest assured that this is a brand intent on orchestrating change.
Simultaneously wiping away makeup, excess oil and dirt, whilst carefully exfoliating your skin in the prevention of future breakouts, it’s fantastic for those who are prone to blemishes, redness and an oily complexion.
With only 0.5% salicylic acid per bottle, it’ll fight against acne, blackheads and whiteheads to refresh and reinvigorate, but it won’t irritate your skin. Achieve a clear complexion without sacrificing anything to get there.
- Effective, non invasive chemicals paired with natural, vegan and cruelty free ingredients
- Family owned business; they have been making skincare since 1933, so you’re in good hands
- A small company delivering big results, in the heart of the USA
- Free from parabens, sulfates and harsh astringents
- May not be strong enough to solve the most severe breakouts
Last but by no means least is this slightly more expensive toner from Caudalie. Don’t get us wrong, it’s a bit of a hike in price, but a worthy investment for those committed to achieving skincare perfection, from a sustainable, premium brand.
This pore-minimizing toner is powered by salicylic acid to both cleanse and purify your skin, whilst reducing imperfections and visibly plumping and tightening skin for a smoother complexion altogether.
Other key ingredients include organic grape water, which moisturizes and soothes, and a complex of essential oils designed to tone and purify. With just a couple of drops pressed into the skin gently, you’ll have a noticeably brighter face!
As a versatile product, it slips right into any routine besides whichever cleanser and moisturizer you’re using right now. That being said, paired with Caudalie’s Vinopure Serum, you’ll obtain the best results.
From a dermatological study, 91% of participants found their skin felt purified, whilst 83% also believed their pores looked tightened; this was after only 28 days of use, so imagine what you could do if you used it long-term!
- 0 parabens, phthalates, animal ingredients, sulfates or mineral oils – just natural goodness
- Soothing grape water prevents stinging and irritation
- Premium skincare from a brand that gives back, planting trees with 1% of their total revenue; they’ve provided over 7 million and counting!
- Some reviews indicate a strong smell, though it does feature a blend of ingredients that would present a harsher than average scent
Salicylic Acid Toner: Buyer’s Guide
Salicylic Acid 101 – What Is It? What Are The Benefits?
Referred to as a BHA (beta hydroxy acid) by dermatologists, you’ll more than likely be familiar with salicylic acid, an all important ingredient in cleansers, toners and exfoliants. You name it, they’ve put some salicylic in it!
Actually a byproduct of medicine cabinet staple aspirin, its primary functions are tightening and unclogging pores for a plumper, firmer complexion. You’ll also notice it works as an antibacterial, great for healing up those picked pimples as you tone.
As an incredibly strong ingredient – it is an acid, after all, and our skin is a sensitive canvas! – you’ll notice it is only used in small concentrations. Traditionally, you’ll find pure salicylic acid is used at between 0.5 and 2% strength in your skincare products.
Any higher and you’ll have to get it over the counter! Whether it’s toner water, face wash, serum or a specifically formulated gel/cream made for targeting acne, you can find SA in a huge variety of skincare solutions, and the list is only getting longer.
Its ability to penetrate deep below the surface of your skin to wear away at its natural bonds, where old, dry skin cells hold on. This makes it a more natural alternative to invasive treatments like microdermabrasion. It’s also considerably more affordable!
When you’re a regular sufferer of acne, blemishes and bumps, it’s also fantastic for really lowering the amount of sebum your skin produces. Although it’s a weird sounding word, this is just a natural secretion that makes our face feel oily.
Likewise, it is great at targeting stubborn blackheads or whiteheads, helping to dramatically reduce any redness you’re experiencing whilst removing dirt and debris from your pores. Get a natural glow and solve your pimple problem.
Dos and Don’ts For Salicylic Skin Care
As with all wonder ingredients, there has to be a catch, right? Well, sort of…
Being such a strong and powerful addition to your cleansing, toning and moisturizing routine, you have to be quite careful not to overuse salicylic acid.
All good things come in moderation, right? Whether that’s alcohol, chocolate or sugary soda, the same can be said of your skincare products – there really is such a thing as having “too much of a good thing.” Allow us to elaborate…
One very quick side effect of too much salicylic acid is an onset of dry or irritated skin, especially if you’re only applying it to specific areas of your face. This affects everyone differently, so where one user has severe side effects, you may see zero!
Ranging from slight soreness to entirely peeling away skin (and not in an advisable chemical peel kind of way) it’s definitely worth heeding this advice: if you start to notice any changes in the condition of your skin, discontinue use immediately.
Furthermore, if you already struggle with dryness, you might want to forego it altogether. Anybody who is taking specific medications (like blood thinners) or is currently pregnant should also avoid anything with more than trace BHAs.
Even more important to note, is that adding too much salicylic acid to your face, body or anywhere, really, can lead to what’s known as ‘salicylate poisoning’ – so really be minimal with the amounts that you’re using and how regularly.
If you’re planning to change up your skincare routine and introduce new products, especially those featuring acids, this should be as gradual a change as possible.
Start small and slow – use them once or twice a week and build up.
It also makes sense to only try one new product at a time. Otherwise, if you have an adverse reaction to one of your new items, you’ll not be able to distinguish which one caused it, potentially leaving you with worse side effects as you try to find the culprit.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I use salicylic acid toner every day?
Yes, but with a caveat. You can use a salicylic acid toner every day because it features such a small concentration and is simply swept across your face with a soft pad. It’s a great way to get the effects of a BHA without any abrasiveness.
That being said, salicylic acid on its own or as part of an exfoliant should be for occasional usage only. As we’ve explained above, used too often or in too high an amount and the side effects can be incredibly unpleasant.
Therefore, stronger products featuring more than 2% pure salicylic acid should be used as little as possible – they are far stronger and more likely to result in soreness, irritation or dried-out skin. Totally not the look you’re aiming for!
Which is better, glycolic or salicylic acid?
That depends on your skin type and what kind of results you’re looking to achieve. Whilst salicylic acid is a BHA that penetrates through several layers of your skin, glycolic is an AHA or alpha hydroxy acid, which works differently.
Also including citric and lactic acid, AHAs aren’t that great at deep exfoliation, but work wonders for the first few layers of skin. As a result, if you’re struggling with acne, blackheads, whiteheads or clogged pores, then salicylic is your best bet.
Likewise, when you’re trying to remove surface level wrinkles and fine lines (a result of sun exposure or signs of early aging), then you’re going to have more success here with a glycolic acid based product or another AHA.
However, it is possible to combine both ingredients (usually either in one product, or two, like using a glycolic cleanser and a salicylic toner) to create a double-whammy of exfoliation that targets all areas of your skin, from surface to far below.
For instance, the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Toner we’ve listed above features both glycolic and salicylic acid in smaller quantities. It might sound like it wouldn’t be as effective, but when paired together, they make a truly transformative twosome.
Is it bad to use salicylic acid long-term?
No, you’ll be fine, provided that you follow the instructions on whatever products it is you’re using. That being said, children younger than 12 shouldn’t be exposed to this level of strength unless prescribed by a doctor.
Similarly, if you suffer from a chronic condition, for instance, liver or kidney disease, it’s worth having a chat with your family doctor before you undergo regular use of salicylic acid. This would be the case for most medicated treatments, though.
So long as you use it as sparingly as possible, and alongside a decent hydrating moisturizer, there’s no reason why you should experience adverse effects. You’ll also have further protection if you build up a barrier against any potential stripping.
This can be achieved by using skincare products that contain ceramides, a form of lipid that enhances your skin’s natural ability to form a wall and shield itself, or hyaluronic acid, which has similar properties.
Remember, if you’re going to use stronger than average ingredients, it’s important to wear your SPF every day more than ever! AHAs and BHAs can both leave skin even more susceptible to sun damage from harmful UV rays, so be sure to cream up!
It’s also worth pointing out that an over-dependence on salicylic acid products with a stronger concentration than 2% is likely to result in additional dryness or irritation if continued for long periods. Try to monitor your use to prevent this.
However, everybody’s skin and experiences are different. If you’re experiencing unpleasant side effects that don’t go away, cease use of the offending product immediately and consult medical advice for the best course of treatment action.
Can I use salicylic acid whilst pregnant?
Yes, but only in incredibly small concentrations. Where skincare products with 2% of salicylic acid or less are concerned, you’re fine to use a small amount in the morning and evening, so long as you avoid ‘combination’ peels with multiple acids.
However, it’s likely that with over the counter medication, the amount of salicylic acid used will be too strong for safe usage, so you should always check the label. Anything higher than the 2% stipulated is believed to be a risk when you’re pregnant.
If you’re looking for a safer alternative whilst you’re waiting to evict that little tenant in your womb, then you’d be better off using an AHA or alpha hydroxy acid treatment such as lactic or glycolic acid, as opposed to a BHA/beta hydroxy acid like salicylic.
Can I use salicylic acid with retinol?
You can, but proceed with caution is our advice. Although it’s not strictly advised against, combining two very strong ingredients designed to deeply clean your skin might result in drying out your face severely. That’s the opposite of what you want!
On the odd occasion or during significant breakouts, it’s okay to use products featuring these ingredients in succession. However, you should always follow up with a decent moisturizer, to ensure your skin is successfully rehydrated afterward.
If you experience any overdrying, decrease the regularity of combining the two ingredients in your skincare routine and allow your face some time to recover before continuing use.