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13 Best Salicylic Acid Serums To Clear Acne And Excess Oil

Brand courtesy / SkinCeuticals
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If you’ve googled the best salicylic acid serums, you’re most likely struggling with excess sebum, blackheads, and pimples. Well, kudos to you for taking the shot and adding salicylic acid to your routine. This beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) is considered a universal panacea for all of the above. What makes it stand out is its ability to penetrate the outer layer of the skin and dissolve the impurities that clog your pores. Salicylic acid also exfoliates the skin’s surface by removing dead cells, and its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties are effective in minimizing acne breakouts.

Next, I share with you some of the best salicylic acid serums. I’ve curated some solid products that will surely pay off. As someone who dealt with oily and acne-prone skin my whole life, I know how challenging it can be to find a BHA serum that actually works without leaving skin dry and irritated. I searched every single one on the market, and these are the best of the best.

The best salicylic acid serums

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution

Hear me out; There are a lot of reasons why people have been raving about this product for quite some time now. The new formula is made with 2% salicylic acid (maximum allowed in OTCs) and lacks drying fragrances and alcohol. Instead, it’s spiked with saccharide isomerate, which is a plant-derived humectant that offsets dryness and balances sebum, and witch hazel water, known for its pore-shrinking and antibacterial benefits. This formula has a pH ranging between 3.20 to 4.00, so if your skin is sensitive or compromised, you should consider a gentler alternative.

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution

Peace Out Acne Serum 

Dear breakouts, it’s over. This serum contains 2% salicylic acid along with antibacterial zinc, promising to eliminate pimples and blackheads. What’s more, the silky gel contains niacinamide and vitamin C to help fade the look of dark spots left by pimples and sun damage. I give it extra credit because it’s free from fragrances, alcohol, and silicones, three culprits that often dry the skin and clog pores. In the end, there’s a reason this salicylic acid serum is a favorite among Redditors.

Peace Out Acne Serum 

SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Defense Serum

Pick SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Defense Serum if you’re struggling with adult acne. It contains 1.5% salicylic acid, 0.3% lipohydroxy acid, and 2% dioic acid, working to reduce excess oil, clear pores and refine skin texture. At the same time, the 3.5% glycolic acid minimizes the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots. The product also works super fast; most reviewers noticed a change in their skin texture, tone, and breakouts after the first week.

SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Defense

Juice Beauty Blemish Clearing Serum

This is the best natural salicylic acid serum. Juice Beauty delivers a really good formula that includes 1.75% salicylic acid derived from willow bark along with willow bark extract—a boon for balancing sebum, shrinking pores, and clearing pimples. The crystal clear liquid has a hydrating-feeling texture without the stickiness, and the opaque glass bottle shields the antioxidants in the formula, ensuring you get most of their protective effects.

Juice Beauty Blemish Clearing Serum

The Glow Recipe Strawberry Smooth Salicylic Acid Serum

The Glow Recipe Smooth Serum takes the stage due to a 2% concentration of encapsulated salicylic acid, which works hard to decongest pores and minimize blemishes. Over time, the serum will improve the appearance of uneven tone and texture, too, due to a blend of alpha-hydroxy acids. I also love it because it’s got bisabolol and allantoin to calm the skin, while hyaluronic acid and niacinamide add hydration to reduce dryness and excess sebum. The rich water-gel texture absorbs in the blink of an eye, leaving no sticky feeling behind. Plus, you’ll adore the fresh-cut strawberry scent.

The Glow Recipe Strawberry Smooth Salicylic Acid Serum

Cocokind Probiotic Acne Serum 1.5% Salicylic Acid

If your skin is sensitive, put your money on Cocokind Probiotic Acne Serum—it’s as gentle as a BHA product can be. The addition of aloe leaf juice base, probiotics, and beta-glucan ensures your skin won’t irritate or dry while the 1.5% salicylic acid works to clear acne and decongest pores. Bonus: the formula is free of fragrance, preservatives, parabens, or phthalatesin case this is more in line with your preference.

Cocokind Probiotic Acne Serum

Caudalie Vinopure Natural Salicylic Acid Pore Minimizing Serum

This serum is made with naturally-derived salicylic acid to exfoliate the skin and reduce blemishes, while grapeseed polyphenols limit sebum oxidation, reducing blackheads. The non-comedogenic formula is also spiked with a mingle of lightweight oils that don’t block pores but soften skin and ensure no moisture is lost. That’d be good enough for us, but the benefits continue. The serum combines rose water, niacinamide, and low molecular hyaluronic acid to soothe, minimize redness and reduce discomfort.

Caudalie Vinopure Skin Perfecting Serum

Allies Of Skin Pigmentation Corrector Night Serum

Allies Of Skin Pigmentation Corrector Serum is indeed expensive, but it might be worth the splurge. The formula features a mix of 11% mandelic, lactic, and salicylic acids to encourage skin renewal and eliminate dead cells, plus 1% bakuchiol, which is a natural alternative to retinol. There are also three forms of peptides to support collagen production and replenish skin moisture.

Allies Of Skin Pigmentation Corrector Night Serum

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment Serum

Not only does this serum remove dead skin and reduce sebum thanks to 1.5% salicylic acid, but it improves texture and evens tone with glycolic acid. Additionally, the LHA (salicylic acid derivative) gently exfoliates the skin’s surface to reveal a luminous, soft complexion. Rest assured, the serum also contains niacinamide and castor oil to promote skin hydration, and it’s non-comedogenic.

La Roche-Posay Salicylic Acid Serum

Bliss Clear Genius Clarifying Toner + Serum

If you’re a fan of double-duty products, you should know that Bliss Clear Genius fusions a toner and serum in one game-changing product. The formula works to purify pores while delivering ingredients for ultimate clear and calm skin without irritations. In addition to salicylic acid, the serum has witch hazel water, niacinamide, zinc, and cica, all great at soothing skin and calming inflamed pimples. P.S.: the scent is given by tea tree oil and has a fresh and energizing feeling that everyone raves about.

Bliss Clear Genius Toner + Serum

The Inkey List Beta Hydroxy Acid

A potent duo of 2% salicylic acid and zinc in The Inkey List Beta Hydroxy Acid clears gunk stuck within the pores to give you acne-free skin. It’s a minimalist albeit potent formula that fights breakouts, balances oil, and reduces pores’ appearance by unclogging them without ever parching the skin, thanks to 1% small molecular hyaluronic acid that goes straight into the skin to offset dryness and regulate sebum production. And the best part? It won’t break the bank at just $12! This budget-friendly beauty find is a must-have for any savvy shopper looking to save while still achieving gorgeous results.

The Inkey List Beta Hydroxy Acid

Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta® Pore Perfecting & Refining Serum

This one works hard to help you recoup your breakout-free skin. The potent formula boasts salicylic acid and a slew of AHAs to resurface the skin, cleanse pores, and minimize pimples. At the same time, it prevents new blemishes from forming by dissolving oil and debris from the pores and encourages cell turnover (thanks, retinol). Its lightweight texture gets absorbed in a second, leaving no sticky feeling behind, and it makes the perfect canvas to follow up with your favorite moisturizer.

Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Pore Perfecting Serum

Sunday Riley Ultra-Clarifying Acne Treatment Face Oil

Ok, this is not technically a serum but oil, but it couldn’t be missed from our review. You already know salicylic acid and tea tree oil is a winning duo for addressing acne. Well, this non-comedogenic face oil packs them both, plus a mingle of botanical extracts to nourish and soften fine lines on a base of milk thistle, which is great for easing inflamed pimples. So what could go better? The oil is made with licorice root and hexylresorcinol to brighten post-acne marks too.

Sunday Riley Ultra-Clarifying Acne Treatment Face Oil

What to use after salicylic acid serums?

You just put that salicylic acid serum on your face, right? While the serum works to unclog pores and smooth skin texture, salicylic acid is the kind of ingredient that can sometimes rob too much moisture from the skin. So you will most likely have some scaly skin with some redness. To combat dryness, reduce flakiness, and tame redness, grab a moisturizer with ceramides, hyaluronic acid, squalane, Centella asiatica, or fatty acids and apply right after your salicylic acid serum. The moisturizer will rebalance the skin’s natural barrier function and restore skin moisture.

How to incorporate salicylic acid serum into your skincare routine

  • Start slowly: If you’re new to salicylic acid, start by using the serum once or twice a week to see how your skin reacts. You can gradually increase the frequency as your skin becomes more accustomed to the product.
  • Use it after cleansing: Apply the salicylic acid serum after cleansing your face, but before applying other serums or moisturizers. This allows the product to penetrate deeply into your skin.
  • Use a small amount: A little goes a long way with salicylic acid serums. Start with a small amount, about the size of a pea, and gently massage it into your skin.
  • Avoid sensitive areas: Salicylic acid can be irritating to sensitive areas like the eyes and mouth, so be sure to avoid applying it to those areas.
  • Don’t forget sunscreen: Salicylic acid can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 during the day.
  • Moisturize: Salicylic acid can be drying, so it’s important to moisturize right after it to restore your skin’s natural moisture barrier.
  • Be patient: It can take a few weeks to see the full benefits of salicylic acid, so be patient and consistent with your routine. Don’t expect overnight results, but with regular use, you should notice smoother, clearer skin over time.
  1. Can I use a salicylic acid serum every day?

    While for some it’s okay to use a salicylic acid serum every day, other people may experience dryness or, in rare cases, irritation. Thus, start by applying your salicylic acid-infused serum three times a week and work up from there, allowing your skin to adjust to it and build tolerance.

  2. Should I use a salicylic acid serum in the morning or night?

    You can layer your salicylic acid serum either morning or night, or both.

Who wrote this?
Picture of Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu is the founder of Women's Concepts and a certified skincare consultant. She has over five years of experience working in the beauty editorial industry and over a decade as an acne sufferer. With a background in dermatological research, Ana brings a wealth of expertise to a diverse range of topics, from buzzy ingredients to anti-aging and acne advice. She holds a BA in Sociology and Political Sciences. Find her on LinkedIn or Instagram.
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