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How Is the Salicylic Acid Formula Obtained?

How Is the Salicylic Acid Formula Obtained?

Where does salicylic acid come from? This beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) has been known for over 6,000 years for its therapeutic properties. It is present in the bark of the willow tree, from which it takes its name, as well as in many fruits (grapes, plums, apricots, etc.) and vegetables (broccoli, cucumber, spinach, sweet potato, etc.). Its soothing, keratolytic and sebum-regulating properties make it an excellent ally in the treatment of acne and blemishes. Focus on its history and the synthetic production of the salicylic acid structure.

Synthetic Production of the Salicylic Acid Formula.

Willow is a shrub belonging to the Salicaceae family. Its bark had been used for thousands of years when in 1828, Johannes Buchner used its extracts to prepare salicin, an active ingredient with powerful anti-inflammatory properties. The hydrolysis of this molecule releases D-glucose and salicylic alcohol, a compound that can then be oxidized to give rise to salicylic acid.

In 1860, the salicylic acid structure was first obtained synthetically by the Kolbe-Schmitt reaction. Today, this synthesis method is still used to produce this active ingredient, which can be found in several Typology products. The process is as follows: sodium phenate reacts with carbon dioxide under pressure to produce sodium salicylate. The latter then precipitates with sulfuric acid to give the final product, which is sulfuric acid.

Uses of Salicylic Acid.

In medicine, salicylic acid is traditionally used for its exfoliating effect in scaly skin conditions: it effectively treats warts and psoriasis. The destruction of desmosomes connecting keratinocytes and the inhibition of prostaglandin production constitute its two biological modes of action.

In dermocosmetics, a salicylic acid formula is particularly recommended for the care of oily skin because of its comedolytic and antimicrobial properties. It also stimulates cell renewal and brightens dull, gray complexions. It is also found in anti-dandruff shampoos (oily flakes) and in hair care products to restore shine and radiance to hair.

In Which Typology Care Products Can I Find Salicylic Acid?

Typology has developed two different salicylic acid formulas:

  • The purifying tonic:

Unlike the serum, the tonic can be applied on the whole face because it is less concentrated in salicylic acid. Apply it with a cotton pad to the face and neck after cleansing, avoiding the eye area, preferably in the evening, before the daily serum or night cream.

  • The local imperfections serum:

Containing 2% salicylic acid and 1% zinc, this serum purifies the skin and provides an overall antibacterial action. It is applied locally in the evening and in small quantities. One drop per pimple is enough; the first results can be observed after three days.


  • WHITE J.W. Salicylic Acid: Its History and Uses, Glasgow Medical Journal (1882).

  • JESKEY H. & al. The Kolbe-Schmitt Reaction. Chemical Review (1957).


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