Salicylic Acid Shampoo – What Is It, Benefits, And How To Use It

Medically reviewed by Dr. Shruti Chavan
by Ramona Sinha

In our battle with breakouts, there are a few OTC ingredients we reach out to immediately. Salicylic acid tops that list. This BHA (beta hydroxy acid) exfoliates the skin, has comedolytic properties, and is often used to manage acne vulgaris, freckles, photodamage, and melasma (1).

While it is a common ingredient in most acne-fighting products, you will also find salicylic acid in shampoos. Its exfoliating properties help manage dry and itchy scalp. Keep scrolling to learn what else salicylic acid shampoos can do for your hair and scalp.

Benefits Of A Salicylic Acid Shampoo

Salicylic acid (SA) is a keratolytic (exfoliating) and desmolytic agent. Meaning, it disrupts the connective tissues in the skin and promotes shedding (1). This property of salicylic acid makes it beneficial for multiple issues. Some of them include:

1. Dandruff Management

This itchy and flaky scalp condition is caused by the abundance of Malassezia, a type of fungus. Salicylic acid is often used for treating dandruff (2). It dissolves the flakes, making them easy to be washed off. This minimizes itching and irritation.

2. Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis (known as dandruff when it occurs on the scalp) on the body is a condition marked by flaky, itchy skin and oily skin patches. Salicylic acid helps manage the condition by dissolving the skin patches and flakiness.

3. Scalp Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory condition affecting any body part, including the scalp. It is caused by excess cell turnover on the skin, causing itchy, scaly, and red patches. Salicyclic acid can manage the psoriatic plaques, minimizing itchiness (3).

If you have scalp psoriasis, using salicylic acid shampoos can help manage the flare-ups. However, salicylic acid does not treat psoriasis. You have to use medicated products and take prescription medicines to minimize it.

Scalp issues often affect the overall scalp health and may trigger hair loss. Now, the question is, does salicylic acid minimize hair loss? Find out in the next section.

Can Salicylic Acid Combat Hair Loss?

No. Salicylic acid does not treat hair loss. However, it can help manage and minimize a variety of issues affecting your scalp health. This may help minimize itchiness and your urge to scratch your scalp and reduce the chances of hair loss.

Let us move on to find out how to use a  salicylic acid shampoo for effective results.

How To Use Salicylic Acid Shampoo Effectively

  • Soak your hair wet with lukewarm or room temperature water.
  • Massage your hair and scalp with a salicylic acid shampoo. Adjust the quantity of shampoo as per the hair length.
  • Be gentle when massaging and scrubbing your scalp with the fingers. Avoid scratching, especially if you have any scalp condition. Rub along the hair length.
  • Rinse your hair and scalp thoroughly with room temperature water.
  • Apply conditioner only to the bottom two-thirds of the hair. Leave it on for a few minutes, and rinse.

Here are a few things to consider when using a salicylic acid-based shampoo

Things To Consider While Using Salicylic Acid Shampoos

  • Consult a doctor before using salicylic acid shampoos, especially if you are undergoing treatment for a scalp issue.
  • Check for any allergic reactions to avoid serious skin issues.
  • Avoid using a salicylic acid shampoo on broken, irritated, and compromised skin. Do not use it on any open cuts and wounds.
  • Overusing salicylic acid shampoos can further irritate the skin and cause dryness and itchiness. Consult the doctor regarding the frequency or follow the instructions on the shampoo bottle.
  • Do not use any other hair care product with salicylic acid and SA shampoos simultaneously. This can irritate the scalp.
  • Do not use it on children. Consult a doctor before using a salicylic acid shampoo on a child’s scalp.
  • Check the percentage of salicylic acid in the shampoo. Determine what concentration may work for your scalp condition (if any). Consult a doctor for the recommended concentration.
  • If you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant and breastfeeding, ask your doctor before using salicylic acid shampoos.

Although salicylic acid shampoos are safe to use, unregulated use may cause adverse reactions.

The Side Effects Of Using Salicylic Acid Shampoos

Salicylic acid shampoos may cause (1):

  • Contact sensitization (allergic reaction)
  • Dry skin
  • Stinging sensation
  • Erythema or inflammation
  • Salicylism (SA toxicity)
  • Peeling
  • Crusting
  • Skin irritation

Conclusion

Salicylic acid shampoos can keep your scalp and hair healthy, thus helping you manage multiple scalp conditions. However, they cannot treat any scalp issues and hair loss. If you are dealing with a scalp condition, consult with your doctor before using salicylic acid shampoo.

Expert’s Answers for Readers Questions

Can salicylic acid shampoo cause irritation?

Yes, if you are allergic to it or overuse it.

What shampoos have salicylic acid?

Brands like Neutrogena and Walgreens have salicylic acid shampoos. You may also look for products like Selsun blue salicylic acid shampoo, T gel salicylic acid shampoo, and DCL salicylic acid shampoo.

Can I use salicylic acid shampoo every day?

No. Using SA shampoo every day may sensitize the scalp.

Does Head And Shoulders Shampoo contains salicylic acid?

No, it does not contain salicylic acid.

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Ramona Sinha

Ramona is a journalist-turned-content writer. She holds a Master’s degree in English Literature and has been writing for the digital world for over five years. She specializes in writing for Skin Care. She has done a certificate course titled ‘Dermatology: Trip To The Skin’, offered by Novosibirsk State University. She believes that beauty begins with a good skin care regimen and is on a mission to eliminate all toxins from her routine. She helps and guides readers in selecting products and ingredients specific to their skin type/issue. When Ramona is not working, her books and passion for music, good food, and traveling keep her busy.
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