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Using a salicylic acid moisturizer can be beneficial for people with oily, congested, or acne-prone skin, but as is the case with any skin care product, shopping for salicylic acid moisturizers isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Still, there are a few general guidelines to follow. According to dermatologist Dr. Corey L. Hartman, who spoke to Elite Daily for this article, the best salicylic acid moisturizers are oil-free and/or made from noncomedogenic ingredients that won’t clog your pores. Though the term noncomedogenic can be tricky to define since it’s not regulated, Dr. Hartman says that products that are labeled noncomedogenic are, at the very least, a good place to start. You can also look for water-based moisturizers that contain non-clogging ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, ceramides, and niacinamide. If you’re concerned about breakouts, steer clear of beeswax, certain types of lanolin, fatty acids, and most mineral oils.
According to Dr. Hartman, salicylic acid “works best on blackheads and whiteheads by dissolving keratin plugs and causing more efficient regulation of skin cell turnover,” but he says the ingredient is also ideal for “photodamaged skin and uneven skin tones affected by hyperpigmentation.” In other words, it can be helpful for all sorts of skin-related concerns. Though it tends to be well-tolerated by most, if the concentration of salicylic acid is too high, or the frequency of use is too great, the dermatologist says it can become irritating and cause excessive dryness, particularly for those with inherently dry skin. “Symptoms of overuse of salicylic acid can lead to peeling, redness, irritation, itching, and tingling,” Dr. Hartman cautions. His advice: stick to one salicylic acid product in your routine — a moisturizer or serum will give you the biggest impact.
With those tips in mind, scroll on to find your perfect SA moisturizer match.
1. Expert’s Pick: Best Salicylic Acid Face Moisturizer
Dr. Hartman recommends the reasonably priced Aveeno Clear Complexion Daily Moisturizer, saying that the oil-free, noncomedogenic moisturizer is a good bet for people with oily, acne-prone skin. The soy-enriched formula contains 0.5% salicylic acid (for facial products, you’ll see percentages anywhere from 0.5% to 2%, and the higher the number, the stronger the formula, so choose accordingly based on your skin type and what other acne-controlling or exfoliating products you’re already using). You’ll also find skin-smoothing dimethicone and the humectant glycerin in here, though note that this moisturizer does contain fragrance, in case that’s something you prefer to avoid.
2. Expert’s Pick: Best Salicylic Acid Body Moisturizer
For the body, Dr. Hartman likes Paula’s Choice Weightless Body Treatment 2% BHA, which is made with green tea, chamomile, vitamin E, and 2% salicylic acid. He says, “The formula is lightweight and easy to apply, and does a nice job exfoliating the skin, treating body acne, [and reducing] the appearance of keratosis pilaris.” And though this fragrance-free lotion is designed for use on your body, the brand says it’s fine to use on your face if you don’t find it too strong for your skin.
3. Best Budget Salicylic Acid Moisturizer
Even more affordable than Aveeno’s salicylic acid moisturizer is Cetaphil Gentle Clear, a fragrance-free moisturizer that contains 0.5% salicylic acid as well as glycerin, squalane, and a prebiotic complex to help alleviate redness and irritation. This makes it good choice for people with sensitive, breakout-prone skin, because it offers soothing benefits while simultaneously targeting acne. It makes your face look matte, too, so it’s a nice daytime moisturizer for people with skin that tends to get shiny.
4. Best Extra-Strength Salicylic Acid Moisturizer
Not only does this Vichy face moisturizer contain a higher percentage (2%) of salicylic acid, but the oil-free, noncomedogenic formula is also made with brightening vitamin C to help fade unwanted hyperpigmentation and encourage a generally clear, glowy complexion. Thanks to the addition of hyaluronic acid and volcanic water, you’ll get plenty of lightweight, non-sticky hydration with this moisturizer, as well.
5. Best Salicylic Acid Gel Cream
If you love the feel of refreshing, lightweight gel creams, this is the moisturizer for you. In addition to salicylic acid, it’s made with gentle, nourishing ingredients like glycerin, niacinamide, and squalane. It’s from Bioderma’s Hydrabio line, which was designed for dry and dehydrated skin, so if you skin that falls into that category and is also prone to breakouts or blackheads, this may just be your perfect moisturizer match. Rounding out the formula is a nice, light fragrance, so if that’s something you like, great — and if not, opt for one of the fragrance-free options on this list instead.
6. Best Salicylic Acid Moisturizer With Niacinamide
Peach Slices’ oil- and fragrance-free moisturizer is made with 0.5% salicylic acid and niacinamide, an ingredient that’s an ideal complement to salicylic acid, according to Dr. Hartman, because “niacinamide helps moisturize and can counteract any redness or irritation that the salicylic acid may cause.” In here, additional hydration comes from hyaluronic acid and cica, and this has a mattifying effect that makes it a good morning pick to keep shine under control as it targets both emerging breakouts and blackheads.
7. Best Splurge
Though salicylic acid is typically used by people with oily, breakout-prone, that doesn’t mean the ingredient can’t be used by people with dry skin, too (as evidenced by the Bioderma moisturizer featured above). Another great example of that is the SkinMedica AHA/BHA Brightening Cream, which offers brightening and evening benefits for the face and neck thanks to salicylic acid and a blend of AHAs: lactic, glycolic, and malic acids, which, in this case, are all derived from natural ingredients. This moisturizer also contains panthenol, aloe, and squalane for added moisture, and it works overnight so you wake up looking revitalized and refreshed. Don’t use it as a day cream since it contains AHAs, which can make your skin more sensitive to the sun — and be extra diligent about wearing SPF everyday while you use this night cream.
Dr. Corey L. Hartman, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, AL