The Ordinary now have not one... not two... but three salicylic acid products in their line, so I thought that today I'd do a bit of comparison between them so you can figure out which is likely work best for your skin type and within your personal routine!
Salicylic acid is your Beta-Hydroxy Acid, meaning it's an oil-soluble chemical exfoliant. It has the power not only to improve texture and discolouration on the surface of the skin but also to get right into the pores and clear out all the stuff in there that can clog them and cause breakouts. 2% is the most effective concentration and also the maximum to which this ingredient is formulated at in the UK and EU. All three formulas are at this 2% magic number but utilise different methods of delivery.
The primary reason to use salicylic acid is as a treatment for breakouts, congestion, blackheads or acne. So, the first thing you need to ask yourself is: are these your main skin concerns or are they more like occasional issues (such as a hormonal breakout whilst you're on your period)? Someone with very oily, acne-prone skin might want to use a salicylic acid cleanser once daily, someone with moderate concerns in this area could use a leave-on product up to 3 times a week or someone with occasional, more isolated breakouts might want to reach for a spot treatment. We'll walk through each of the products then round up at the end which is for who!
We'll kick things off with the OG and recently-relaunched Salicylic Acid 2% Solution* | £5.10. A few years back: I loved this stuff as a spot treatment, but I know a lot of people said they reacted to it. For me, I would never have used a strong, water-based, leave-on formula like this as an all-over serum (it just doesn't contain all the 'buffering' ingredients that take the edge off a 2% formula), so it's always agreed with my skin. I did look everywhere and think I must've mistakenly thrown out the old bottle, so I can't compare directly what has changed with the relaunch, but I'd imagine Deciem have looked to make this a little gentler on the skin, given some people complained about it being irritating. I still use this as a spot treatment and it still works very effectively. Whether it's a big, sore, blind one or a little colony of whiteheads: this speeds up the lifecycle of a spot. It reduces redness quickly and helps with the healing process and definitely prevents scarring. As I've said: I recommend using this only where you need it and when you need it, so it might not be the best option for general congestion.
If you're more sensitive-skinned and / or you want to use something to clear general congestion rather than needing to spot-apply: the Salicylic Acid 2% Anhydrous Solution* | £5.60 | was made for you! As the name suggests: this is a waterless formula. As salicylic acid is oil-soluble, it can be suspended in hemi-squalane, which is a lightweight olive-derived oil that your skin can recognise. This delivery system makes it feel more gentle on the skin and this product is the least likely to upset your skin barrier. I would personally recommend using this up to three times a week in the evening with a couple of drops before your moisturiser. It's still an oil so it's not something I'd put on during the day, but it's gently clarifying, helping to clear up breakouts without any of the associated irritation. If you're dry but still break out hormonally (like me!) then this is perfect for you: there are so many drying salicylic acid treatments out there that this truly offers something unique. I'm just not sure that people with oily or acne-prone skin will necessarily enjoy the feeling of an oil on their skin, and it does kind of limit you to using this as part of an evening routine (unless you're very dry).
The final option is a mask treatment: best for those in need of a quick fix, because I can honestly use this in the evening (as I'm dry, I tend to focus on areas where I'm breaking out and the t-zone) and notice a significant difference by the following morning. The Salicylic Acid 2% Masque* | £10.30 | puts the ingredient in a clay mask, which will help to reduce surface oiliness and this formula is full of glycerin and squalane to ensure it doesn't dry out your skin and that your skin barrier is supported when you use this exfoliant. I don't have a single negative to say about how this works for my skin: it's effective and non-irritating, but the flipside to the choice of ingredients is that the clay makes it black and the glycerin makes it quite sticky. The combination makes this pretty messy and not something I'm going to gravitate towards on, say, a weeknight where I want a minimal-fuss routine. If you're not a mask person then obviously this won't be for you.
I really hope this comparison was helpful in navigating the Ordinary's salicylic acid options and for deciding which is going to be the best for your skin type and for how you like to do your skincare!
Do you use salicylic acid in your skincare routine?