Although there isn’t an ideal time for a breakout, pimples always seem to crop up at the most inopportune occasions. Unfortunately, medications take time to work, sometimes as much as four to eight weeks, so you’re often left playing the waiting game. To speed up recovery, many people try combining acne treatments. This isn’t always a good idea.
Salicylic acid and sulfur act on the skin in similar ways -- both are keratolytic agents, which means they promote peeling of dead skin cells. Because dead skin cells can combine with excess oil to clog your pores and lead to acne, using the two together probably sounds twice as effective for managing your breakouts. But these two ingredients could overly irritate your skin.
While some minor skin irritation might seem like a small tradeoff to improve your complexion, you could be doing more harm than good. Irritating your skin doesn’t just lead to dryness and peeling. It could also make your acne worse, so it’s not usually advisable to use both salicylic acid and sulfur soap at the same time, unless, of course, your dermatologist tells you otherwise.
There are soaps on the market that contain both sulfur and salicylic acid, which can be used to treat acne, as well as other skin conditions, such as seborrheic dermatitis. But the soaps can lead to skin irritation, peeling and dryness. Also, these types of soaps should not be used with other topical medicines for the skin, including benzoyl peroxide, resorcinol and tretinoin, cautions MayoClinic.com.
If you choose to use salicylic acid, wash with a gentle cleanser before applying to the skin. Gentle cleansers tend to contain ingredients that won’t irritate or dry out your skin like harsh soaps and astringents. After washing, apply your lotion containing salicylic acid to slough the dead skin cells and unclog your pores.
Like any topical agent, salicylic acid isn’t for everyone. You might not experience any improvements in your complexion with its use. If this is the case, consider trying a lotion containing benzoyl peroxide or resorcinol. Both of these ingredients are effective in managing mild to moderate breakouts. If your acne is severe, however, over-the-counter medications aren’t likely strong enough. Talk to a dermatologist to determine if a prescription medication can control and treat your acne.
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