Salicylic acid is in a class of medications called keratolytic agents. Topical salicylic acid treats acne by reducing swelling and redness and unplugging blocked skin pores to allow pimples to shrink. It treats other skin conditions by softening and loosening dry, scaly, or thickened skin so that it falls off or can be removed easily. Topical salicylic acid is used to help clear and prevent pimples and skin blemishes in people who have acne and to treat skin conditions that involve scaling or overgrowth of skin cells such as psoriasis, ichthyoses, dandruff, corns, calluses, and some types of warts.
In the manufacture of cosmetics, the concentration of Salicylic acid should not exceed 2% in creams and lotions, or 3% in rinse off products, such as cleansing gels and peeling or exfoliating masks. Products with higher concentrations are restricted and available on prescription.