13 Salicylic Acid Serums That Make Clear Skin Achievable

Best Salicylic Acid Serums

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Plenty of over-the-counter treatments can be used to treat acne. But because of its unique structure, ease of use, and accessibility, salicylic acid is one of the best ingredients you can use in your skincare to manage acne and oily skin. And if you’ve been breaking out lately or just frustrated with blackheads that your cleanser doesn’t seem to shake off, switching to salicylic acid serums is the skincare upgrade you need. Salicylic acid serums reign supreme when it comes to zapping acne and eliminating bacteria that might brew some new ones. But before diving, here’s a quick recap in case you’re new to the ingredient.

In a hurry? Here’s our top pick:

Best Overall Salicylic Acid Serum-Caudalie Vinopure Pore Minimizing Salicylic Acid Serum

Caudalie Pore Minimizing Salicylic Acid Serum is an effective treatment for acne, congestion, and large pores. It’s suitable for most skin types and works fast. An affordable, gentle, and effective option is Sephora Targeted Pores Serum.

What is Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic acid (SA) is a chemical exfoliant that belongs to the category of beta-hydroxy acids (1). Unlike alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), which consist of several acids like glycolic and lactic, beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) are a bit limited.

In fact, salicylic acid is the only beta-hydroxy acid used in skincare. It’s most commonly derived from the bark of willow trees, also known as salix alba as well as from wintergreen leaves.

The benefits of it are quite impressive! Salicylic acid is a keratolytic agent, meaning that it imparts exfoliation (2). It’s lipid soluble, meaning that it works on oily parts of the skin.

It’s anti-inflammatory, meaning that it reduces inflammation and inflammatory acne on the skin. And it’s comedolytic, meaning that it treats and prevents blackheads.

These main characteristics of salicylic acid make it an effective skincare ingredient to target acne and acne-related skin issues. Basically, it is the exfoliant for oily skin.

Apart from serums, there are also salicylic acid toners, creams, peel pads, and salicylic acid cleansers out there allowing you to try the ingredient in different forms.

But using serums formulated with salicylic acid is the best way to ensure maximum efficiency. After all, serums beat creams any day of the week when it comes to skin penetration.

What Do Salicylic Acid Serums Do?

Because salicylic acid is a keratolytic agent, salicylic acid serums work by reducing the cohesion of dead skin cells on the surface of the skin.

In simpler terms, this is what we call exfoliation. As a unique benefit of salicylic acid, it reaches the oilier parts of the face to impart exfoliation.

These are usually inside the pores, which can be clogged with excess sebum. By exfoliating, salicylic acid serums help unclog pores and reduce open comedones which are also known as blackheads.

Salicylic acid also has other benefits. For example, it has a brightening effect on the skin. It minimizes hyperpigmentation, surface fine lines, and rough skin texture.

So even if you’re not dealing with acne, it’s still an effective exfoliant that can help you with anything from dull skin to wrinkles and from textured skin to hyperpigmentation. So yes, salicylic acid serums deserve your attention!

Who Should Not Use Salicylic Acid Serums?

Over-the-counter salicylic acid products are not pregnancy-safe (3). Even though there are certain parties claiming that it’s safe to use in low concentrations, you should still steer clear of salicylic acid.

Also, as an exfoliant salicylic acid always has the potential to irritate the skin. If you already have very sensitive skin, be mindful of this side effect and either avoid salicylic acid or look for a very gentle formula.

What to Look For in a Salicylic Acid Serum


Unlike other types of serums, say a hyaluronic acid serum, salicylic acid serums are usually treatments. It means that the aim is to treat and get rid of a specific skin concern, preferably fast. In this case, it’s acne and other issues associated with it. So before anything else, look for a serum that either discloses the percentage of the active ingredient or has salicylic acid high up on the ingredient list.

Hydrating Ingredients

As an exfoliant, salicylic acid can cause dryness. This isn’t something you’ll experience right away. Rather, you may experience your skin getting drier and flakier as you continue to use the product. For that reason, it’s best to look for other hydrating and also calming ingredients in your serum. If that’s not possible, at least make sure you moisturize your skin properly.

Gentle Formula

Using a low-concentration salicylic acid serum is only one way to make sure it doesn’t irritate your skin. Another way is to look for gentle formulations that are free of alcohol or fragrance. While some skin types, especially oily skin types can tolerate these ingredients, they may be irritating for people with dry and/or sensitive skin.

The Best Salicylic Acid Serums

Whether you have overall oily skin or you’re dealing with acne or blackheads, scroll down to find the best salicylic acid serums for clear skin.

1. Caudalie Vinopure Pore Minimizing Salicylic Acid Serum

Caudalie Vinopure Pore Minimizing Salicylic Acid Serum - Best Salicylic Acid Serum

Calms inflamed acne fast
Reduces excess oil
Elegant packaging

Concentration unknown
May not work for very sensitive skin

Whether you’re new to salicylic acid serums or not, this one checks all the boxes to target anything from blemishes to clogged pores. Even though the concentration is not clear, it’s obviously enough to calm inflamed acne without irritating your skin. Plus, it has niacinamide to help with pores and grape-derived antioxidants to care for the skin too. The serum has a gel texture, but it’s very rich. So a little goes a long way.

It has a nice, minty scent but it’s not overpowering. Now, here’s the tricky part. The serum contains alcohol, which is a penetration enhancer. Even though this may be tricky for people with very sensitive skin, people with oily skin can find this helpful because it means salicylic acid penetrates deeper and exfoliates more efficiently. This also helps minimize excess oil and tighten pores too.

Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid, niacinamide, antioxidants
Best For: Oily skin, acne-prone skin, clogged pores, blackheads
Formula: Contains alcohol and essential oils
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Vegan

Suggested Review: Caudalie Vinopure Pore Minimizing Salicylic Acid Serum Review

2. Paula’s Choice Advanced Pore-Refining Treatment 4% BHA

Paula's Choice Advanced Pore-Refining Treatment 4% BHA - Best Salicylic Acid Serums

High concentration salicylic acid
Targets multiple concerns
Rich in antioxidants

May not work for sensitive skin

With a satisfying concentration of 4% salicylic acid, the serum retexturizes oily skin! It cleans out pores, gets rid of blackheads, and prevents the formation of breakouts. By thoroughly unclogging the skin, the serum improves the look of enlarged pores and gives you a clearer complexion. With great power comes great responsibility.

And with higher concentration comes higher sensitivity. As salicylic acid removes the build-up of dead skin cells, it reveals your new healthy skin layer, making it more prone to sunburn. To avoid that, the serum is packed with antioxidants like grape seed and green tea extracts to block UV damage. You still need to wear SPF, though!

Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid, licorice extract, allantoin
Best For: Blackheads, acne, congested skin
Formula: Alcohol-free, fragrance-free
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Cruelty-free

3. HydroPeptide Redefining Facial Serum

HydroPeptide Redefining Facial Serum - Best Salicylic Acid Serums

Multi-purpose anti-aging serum
Anti-inflammatory and anti-redness


Besides 1% salicylic acid, this one contains azelaic acid in 2.5%. It’s incredibly anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. It also happens to be a great skin-brightener. Additionally, it has niacinamide to improve skin barrier function and fade dark spots and acne scars.

The lightweight serum treats and prevents free radical damage with green tea while keeping the skin plump with hyaluronic acid. As it prompts skin turnover, the serum clears up congested skin and gives you a brighter, smoother, and spotless complexion.

Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid, azelaic acid, niacinamide, green tea extract
Best For: Acne, redness, uneven skin tone
Formula: Alcohol-free, fragrance-free
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Cruelty-free

4. Peace Out Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment Serum

Peace Out Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment Serum - Best Salicylic Acid Serum

Thin consistency
Freshly scented
Has a calming effect
Contains vitamin C derivative

Vitamin C concentration unknown

This got us all excited when it first launched and did not disappoint! The serum contains 2% salicylic acid to reduce blemishes. Topped with niacinamide and vitamin C, it’s also a glow booster that reduces scarring and increases radiance. Moreover, it has the antioxidant vitamin E to guard the skin against free radical damage.

It’s infused with Centella Asiatica as well as aloe to help with inflammation, which is a common culprit of acne. The serum is a targeted one that addresses not just acne but all the associated problems like excess oil, inflammation, and scarring.

Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid, niacinamide, vitamin C, zinc
Best For: Acne, acne marks, discolorations
Formula: Fragrance-free, alcohol-free
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free

5. La Roche Posay Effaclar Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment Serum

La Roche Posay Effaclar Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment Serum - Best Drugstore Salicylic Acid Serum

Effective acne treatment serum
Clears up blackheads

May not work for sensitive skin

The drugstore salicylic acid serum is formulated with a concentration of 1.5%. In addition to that, it contains lipohydroxy acid. This lesser-known acid is actually a derivative of salicylic acid but with more targeted exfoliation benefits.

That way, it better targets clogged pores. The gel-textured formula utilizes niacinamide to soften the appearance of enlarged pores. And because it has glycolic acid, it helps brighten the skin and soften its texture too.

La Roche Posay Effaclar Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment Serum
Image by Ejollify

Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid, lipo hydroxy acid, glycolic acid, niacinamide
Best For: Oily skin, congested skin, large pores
Formula: Contains alcohol and fragrance
Size: 1 oz/30 ml

6. The Inkey List Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) Blemish + Blackhead Serum

The Inkey List Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) Blemish + Blackhead Serum - Best Affordable Salicylic Acid Serum

Affordable salicylic acid serum
Anti-bacterial formula

Offers the bare minimum
Takes a while to work

This one is minimal and super affordable! It’s great for anyone who’s dealing with oily skin, blackheads, and any kind of acne. Utilizing 2% salicylic acid with zinc PCA, the serum stops acne at its tracks by inhibiting excess oil production.

With that, your skin is less prone to congestion, clogging, and eventually breaking out. The hyaluronic acid in the serum provides hydration to oily and dehydrated skin, which also helps with acne in the long run as dehydration also causes excess oil production.

Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid, zinc
Best For: Acne, blackheads
Formula: Alcohol-free, fragrance-free
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Cruelty-free, vegan

7. SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Defense

SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Defense - Best Salicylic Acid Serum For Aging Skin

Oil-free formula
Works well for hormonal acne
Improves skin texture and tone


This one is formulated with dioic acid, which regulates oil production and is highly anti-bacterial. Besides salicylic acid, the oil-free serum also contains its derivative, lipo-hydroxy acid, and the gold star AHA, glycolic acid. With its multi-acid formula, it’s designed to help oily skin with excess sebum, acne, dullness, rough texture, and also fine lines.

While salicylic acid sweeps off the bacteria inside the pores, glycolic acid provides an additional surface layer exfoliation. It makes the skin glow and gives you an even skin tone, making this one ideal for aging skin that’s prone to adult acne.

Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid, dioic acid, glycolic acid, lipo-hydroxy acid
Best For: Oily skin, adult acne, aging skin, mature skin
Formula: Oil-free, fragrance-free, contains alcohol
Size: 1 oz/30 ml

8. Renee Rouleau Pore + Wrinkle Perfecting Serum

Renee Rouleau Pore + Wrinkle Perfecting Serum

Contains acid complex
Helps with both wrinkles and blemishes
Can be used around the eyes

May not be suitable for sensitive skin

This one has a similar formulation to help aging skin with breakouts as well as fine lines. It contains salicylic acid to target blemishes and congestion on the nose, cheeks, and chin area. And it has glycolic acid to brush off dead skin cells and polish your complexion. To top it all off, the serum has lactic acid for gentle exfoliation with the added benefits of hydrating and plumping up your skin.

Plus, niacinamide brightens the skin and reduces scars for an even skin tone while soothing aloe keeps redness and irritation at bay. The multi-purpose formula is great for combination skin and is absolutely one of the best salicylic acid serums.

Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid, lactic acid, glycolic acid, niacinamide
Best For: Aging skin with wrinkles, combination skin, enlarged pores
Formula: Alcohol-free, fragrance-free
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free

9. Dermalogica AGE Bright Clearing Serum

Dermalogica AGE Bright Clearing Serum

Light consistency
Pleasant scent
Calms adult acne fast

Essential oils may irritate

Combining 2% salicylic acid with niacinamide, the exfoliating serum targets hyperpigmentation on oily and acne-prone skin. Whether it’s sun spots you’re dealing with or stubborn acne scars, the serum refines and clarifies the complexion.

In addition, there’s also a blend of essential oils in the formula for anti-bacterial benefits. But if you have sensitive skin, the blend of essential oils, as anti-bacterial as they may be, can cause irritation.

Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid, niacinamide, phytic acid
Best For: Uneven skin, dull skin
Formula: Alcohol-free, contains essential oils
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free

10. Versed Just Breathe Clarifying Serum

Versed Just Breathe Clarifying Serum - Best Salicylic Acid Serums


SA concentration unknown
Takes time to work

Formulated with naturally derived salicylic acid, niacinamide, and zinc PCA, the serum hits the trifecta for clear skin. All you need for unclogging pores, improving scars, and reducing acne are packed inside this affordable and non-toxic serum.

The light serum also has a hydrating base thanks to hyaluronic acid to replenish oily and dehydrated skin and reduce the look of enlarged pores. The thing to know here is that the serum contains willow bark extract, the source of salicylic acid, with a concentration of 0.2%. So it’s very, very gentle on the skin, which makes it ideal for beginners.

Key Ingredients: Willow bark extract, niacinamide, zinc
Best For: Dry and acne-prone skin, beginner salicylic acid users
Formula: Alcohol-free, fragrance-free
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free

11. Pixi Clarity Concentrate Clarifying Serum

Pixi Clarity Concentrate

Replenishing serum

SA concentration unknown

This one is a night serum that utilizes AHAs as well. It’s made with glycolic and lactic acids to remove dead skin cells and prevent them from clogging your pores. Salicylic acid loosens the trapped dirt inside the pores and sheds them off.

Plus, the combination of niacinamide and licorice extract brightens your skin while fading away dark spots and acne scars. It’s an overall great serum that also happens to be super lightweight. It’s perfect for achieving that smooth, shine-free, and radiant skin.

Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, licorice extract
Best For: Acne-prone, oily skin, hyperpigmentation
Formula: Alcohol-free, fragrance-free
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Cruelty-free

12. Bliss Clear Genius Clarifying Liquid Peel

Bliss Clear Genius Clarifying Liquid Peel

Multi-acid formula
Calms acne
Brightens complexion

Unpleasant scent

If you have oily and dehydrated skin, your best bet is to combine a hyaluronic acid serum with an oil-free moisturizer. Otherwise, your skin will keep producing more oil and that’ll just start that annoying cycle that results in acne. My point is hydration is essential for oily skin. And in the context of chemical exfoliants, certain ones are incredibly hydrating for the skin. Gluconolactone, a poly-hydroxy acid, is one of those.

It’s a gentle exfoliant (loves rosacea skin) that also works as a humectant. Coming back to the serum, it’s a complete acid fest with all the AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs. Plus, it has a time-release delivery system, meaning that the skin absorbs it gradually. It’s perfect for exfoliation without irritation. The night serum shrinks pores, eliminates congestion, and increases the water content in the skin. Additional goodies include soothing aloe, hydrating hyaluronic acid, and brightening licorice.

Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid, gluconolactone, lactic acid, glycolic acid
Best For: Congested skin, uneven skin tone, blackheads
Formula: Fragrance-free, alcohol-free
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Vegan, cruelty-free

13. Sephora Collection Targeted Pores Serum

Sephora Collection Targeted Pores Serum

Calms acne overnight
Mattifies skin
Perfect for sensitive skin

Contains alcohol

And speaking of gluconolactone, this is another beta and poly hydroxy acids combination. This is so gentle that even though I have rosacea, I can use it days in a row without experiencing any sensitivity or irritation. It packs salicylic acid and gluconolactone with a total concentration of 6%. It’s in gel form, dries down quickly, and calms acne fast.

It’s non-drying and also helps with excess oil production. It has a mattifying effect on the skin. And even though you won’t see any visible peeling or flaking, you’ll see that the salicylic acid serum visibly clears up and minimizes pores, and softens skin texture.

Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid, gluconolactone
Best For: Sensitive skin, acne, clogged pores
Formula: Contains alcohol, fragrance-free
Size: 1 oz/30 ml
Good To Know: Vegan

So these are some of the best salicylic acid serums out there. Again, these serums are incredibly helpful and effective in exfoliating skin, treating and preventing acne, and improving the look of pores. As long as you find the one that works for your skin, you can achieve clear and glowing skin. On the other hand, if serums aren’t your cup of tea, you can try salicylic acid moisturizers to keep your skin clear.



  1. Decker, A., & Graber, E. M. (2012). Over-the-counter Acne Treatments: A Review. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology5(5), 32–40.
  2. Arif T. (2015). Salicylic acid as a peeling agent: a comprehensive review. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology8, 455–461. https://doi.org/10.2147/CCID.S84765
  3. Draelos, Z. K. (2010). Chapter 60: Over-the-counter acne treatments. In Cosmetic dermatology: Products and procedures (pp. 488–494). essay, Wiley-Blackwell Pub.

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