Should You Moisturize After Using Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic acid is indeed a game-changer for battling acne, unclogging pores, and keeping excess sebum at bay. But what if your skin finds it too difficult to tolerate? It turns out salicylic acid can be quite drying and irritating, especially when formulated at concentrations of 2% (the maximum allowed in OTCs) and at a pH of 3-4 — the range where it expresses its best benefits.[1][2][3] And while slightly drying out the skin is good for healing pimples, the problem arises when you experience excessive dryness and redness after using your salicylic acid serum. It might sound backward, but a dehydrated complexion can lead to more sebum produced by the sebaceous glands, which in turn can clog the pores and cause breakouts. This is why it is imperative to use a moisturizer after salicylic acid so that you keep your skin balanced.

Now keep scrolling to learn what type of moisturizer works best to counteract the drying effects of salicylic acid and how to use it to get the most out of your exfoliating treatment.

Why you should moisturize after using salicylic acid

It’s necessary to moisturize after using salicylic acid, especially if your skin gets dehydrated as a reaction to exfoliants. Since the treatment may parch the skin, applying a regenerative moisturizer helps minimize the chances of salicylic acid causing dryness while supporting healing. Besides, when applied after salicylic acid, the moisturizer penetrates more effectively in the skin layers because it’s no longer hindered by the buildup of dead cells and sebum your exfoliant just cleared off. And anyway, any robust skincare strategy ends with the moisturizer — no matter what you apply before — so you literally have no reason to doubt if using a moisturizer after salicylic acid is whether or not a good idea.

What kind of moisturizer to use after salicylic acid

After salicylic acid, it’s best to use a reparative moisturizer with a non-comedogenic and lightweight formula that aids in hydrating the skin and supporting regeneration. As such, look for moisturizers containing hyaluronic acid, glycerin, niacinamide, peptides, fatty acids, and ceramides. Hyaluronic acid and glycerin are humectants that pull water from the environment into the skin, so they’re both great for increasing hydration after using salicylic acid. On the other hand, peptides work to rebuild and repair skin cells, while niacinamide, fatty acids, and ceramides reinforce the protective barrier. In other words, they’re all a must in your moisturizer.

Equally important is to avoid heavy occlusives like shea butter and petrolatum, as they can feel greasy and even make salicylic acid more aggressive by enhancing its absorption power.[4] Instead, use dimethicone or squalane because they’re great for locking in moisture and reducing water loss without clogging pores or feeling greasy. They’re also the most recommended occlusives for sensitive and acne-prone skin.[5] Finally, steer clear of products containing other exfoliants, retinol, or benzoyl peroxide.

Don’t worry. You don’t have to scour the entire internet to find a suitable formula since we already did the research and found the best salicylic acid moisturizers to use after salicylic acid.

How long should you wait to apply moisturizer after salicylic acid?

After using salicylic acid, it’s best to wait for 10 to 20 minutes before applying the moisturizer so that the two products don’t interfere with each other. You may as well use the moisturizer right after salicylic acid, but that can affect the exfoliation process and make the treatment work slower.

Nevertheless, if your skin is unusually dry even after you moisturize, discontinue the use of exfoliants for a week or so. This could be a sign of over-exfoliation, dehydration, or compromised skin barrier and needs to be addressed asap. Luckily, we’ve got your back on that too.


Women’s Concepts uses reliable sources, including dermatologists’ insights, clinical trials, and scientific journals, to find accurate information and support all the facts shared in our articles. All statements and claims have clear and legit references. Read our editorial policy to learn more about our sources of information, our process of researching and fact-checking the content, and how our team strives to keep all articles updated, completed, and trustworthy.

  1. Rhein L, Chaudhuri B, Jivani N, Fares H, Davis A. Targeted delivery of salicylic acid from acne treatment products into and through skin: role of solution and ingredient properties and relationships to irritation. J Cosmet Sci. 2004 Jan-Feb,
  2. Madan RK, Levitt J. A review of toxicity from topical salicylic acid preparations. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2014 Apr,
  3. Chularojanamontri L, Tuchinda P, Kulthanan K, Pongparit K. Moisturizers for Acne: What are their Constituents? J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014 May,
  4. Zhai, Hongbo & Maibach, Howard. (2001). Skin occlusion and irritant and allergic contact dermatitis: An overview,
  5. Chularojanamontri L, Tuchinda P, Kulthanan K, Pongparit K. Moisturizers for Acne: What are their Constituents? J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014 May,
Who wrote this?
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu is the founder and editor-in-chief of Women's Concepts. She has over 5 years of experience working in the beauty editorial industry and dermatological research and was an acne sufferer for over a decade. Ana is now an IAO and CPD-accredited skincare consultant keen to teach others about the importance of a consistent routine. She covers a wide range of topics in skincare—from buzzy ingredients to anti-aging and acne advice. She holds a BA in Sociology and Political Sciences from the National School of Political and Administrative Studies. Find her on LinkedIn or Instagram.
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