Salicylic Acid Peel Alternatives

salicylic acid peel

Salicylic acid is a gentle beta hydroxy acid, or BHA, derived from willow bark. It’s great for exfoliating the skin and has anti-inflammatory properties. As a chemical peel, it can effectively minimize the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and mild scarring.

However, salicylic acid isn’t for everyone. It shouldn’t be used during pregnancy or breastfeeding. If you’re allergic to aspirin and other salicylates, salicylic acid can cause an allergic reaction. Here are some alternatives to salicylic acid, for those who can’t or don’t wish to use it.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids

Alpha hydroxy acids, or AHAs, are usually derived from fruits. Lactic acid, a popular AHA, is derived from milk. While these acids don’t share all the beneficial properties of salicylic acid, and can be more irritating to the skin, they are still gentle and effective ways to rejuvenate your appearance. They can also help speed up your skin’s natural exfoliation process to help keep the dirt, oil, and debris that cause acne from accumulating in pores. If you’re looking for a way to keep your youthful appearance and control acne breakouts, AHA peels or other products can be useful.


If you’re considering a chemical peel for its anti-aging or scar diminishing effects, then you might also want to consider dermabrasion. Dermabrasion is a process by which the upper layers of the skin are surgically scraped off. Dermabrasion can treat deep scarring and deep wrinkles. Results are generally more dramatic than with a chemical peel.

Dermabrasion, however, carries higher risks and typically has more side effects than a salicylic acid chemical peel. Because dermabrasion involves scraping off the surface of the skin, you’ll experience more pain, swelling, and inflammation, and need a longer recovery time. You’ll run a higher risk of infection and scarring. While salicylic acid is considered safe for those with darker complexions, darker-skinned people may be more likely to experience discoloration of the skin after dermabrasion.

Trichloroacetic Acid

Trichloroacetic acid, or TCA, is typically used to administer medium-depth chemical peels. It’s stronger than salicylic acid, and using it carries higher risks of infection, scarring, pigmentation changes, and demarcation lines. A TCA peel can require up to two weeks’ recovery time. Your skin may be bright pink afterward, and may not return to its normal color for several weeks. You’ll need to use sunblock until the pinkness recedes.

The results of a TCA peel, however, can last much longer than the results of mild peels. A TCA peel can offer dramatic improvement in the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, sun damage, and mild scarring, with less risk than a more invasive treatment like dermabrasion.

Laser Resurfacing

Laser resurfacing is another skin rejuvenation alternative to salicylic acid. Laser resurfacing uses ablative lasers to remove the surface layers of the skin by burning. Laser resurfacing makes it easy to rejuvenate key areas while leaving others untouched. Side effects generally include swelling, discomfort, and mild bleeding. You may need up to ten days to recover. Treated skin may remain bright pink for several weeks after the treatment. Again, you’ll need to use sunblock until your skin returns to its normal shade.

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