Acne & Pimples

How to Do a Salicylic Acid Peel at Home

Picture of lady's face after an at home salicylic acid peel

A salicylic acid peel is unbeatable as a treatment for acne, blackheads, large pores and pimples.

Frequent light peels, if done properly and safely, can clear up those issues for good!

What makes a salicylic peel so good for acne? How to prepare and apply step-by-step? The best frequency for your home regime, expectations, maintenance? Learn everything about how to do a salicylic acid peel at home on this page.

(Do not use if allergic to Aspirin or pregnant)

Why is a Salicylic Acid Peel So Beneficial for Acne?

Derived from Willow bark, salicylic acid is the sole star of the Beta Hydroxy Acid group (BHA) and also a main constitute of Aspirin.

It is fat soluble so is attracted to and dissolves fats

Effectively, salicylic acid breaks down lipids and oils/sebum. It can get right into pores—which is why it’s so good for acne:

  • Helps clear and prevent blackheads, pimples/whiteheads and cysts
  • Also very beneficial in reducing acne scars
  • Degreases skin and helps to balance oil production
  • Dissolves the fatty glue between cells, exfoliating skin and opening pores
  • The acid then neutralizes the bacteria inside—this reduces inflammation (straight away – very good for active, red pimples) and helps prevent further breakouts
  • Helps with large pores by reducing/rebalancing oil production and improving skin texture

What Concentration of Salicylic Acid to Use

Start with a percentage of 15%

Anything higher is too strong in the beginning and can be very irritating.

>> There is no need to go straight into a stronger dose, as the effectiveness of peels depends on your skin.

In other words: the effect of using 15% in the beginning is the same as using 30% after a few months of usage.

Skin gets used to it and gets stronger, so can handle (some would say needs) higher concentrations.

To repeat—don’t be tempted to go straight into using a concentration any higher than 15%. Frequent light peels are far more effective and safer.

Where To Start: A Treatment Plan

Aim to perform a 15% salicylic acid peel every 2 weeks, for 2 or 3 months.

The first peel will be for 1 minute.

Notice how your skin reacts and increase in 1 minute intervals each time for a maximum of 5 minutes.

This time frame of 2-3months will show great results, and often after the very first treatment. This will allow cumulative benefits, and this is all many people need to see vast improvements in acne and other skin conditions.

Maintain results with a monthly application of 15-20%.

If you still have blockages, scars or concerns, repeat the treatment plan with a concentration of 20%. Build slowly.

What You Will Need

  • Normal cleanser
  • Rubbing alcohol (OTC 70%) or prep solution: this removes fats and oils from skin allowing the peel to work optimally
  • A 15% SA peel
  • Small glass bowl and a fan brush/gauze pad to apply
  • 1/2cup baking soda in 2cups water (use your sink): this is your neutralizing solution which is very important. You can buy specific neutralizers>>> but baking soda works perfectly. Have a soft cloth or cotton pads ready
  • Vaseline: apply to eyebrows, lip area and nostrils, you don’t want the acid touching those!
  • A gentle, emollient rich moisturizer to apply after (coconut oil is good as it also contains anti bacterial properties)
  • A timer/clock

How to Do a Salicylic Acid Peel at Home

  • Cleanse skin normally and pat dry
  • Apply the rubbing alcohol all over, this is important to degrease skin which allows the acid to work
  • Put a small amount of salicylic into the glass bowl and using the fan brush apply evenly to skin
  • Another option is to use a gauze pad, soak it in the solution and apply like a toner. If you choose this method wear gloves!
  • Be careful to avoid getting it in your eyes! Squeeze the brush/pad out on the side of the dish to avoid drips
  • Apply in even strokes all over face – best to start on the t-zone and work out to cheeks, as this area tends to be oiliest
  • Avoid the eye, lip and neck areas
  • Start timing as soon as you apply that first stroke
  • Watch your skin in the mirror as you leave it on for 1 minute

What to expect:

  • Salicylic acid crystalizes on skin so expect some “frosting”. This looks like a light dusting of skin, don’t be alarmed it’s normal
  • Skin can become quite hot, a small fan can help with discomfort but if it’s too much or burning remove
  • It might tingle or sting a bit—this is normal and a sign it’s working
  • The tingling/stinging may subside after 30secs, however it’s still working after this so stick to the timeframe. Of course if it gets worse, remove

How to Remove the Salicylic Acid Peel

Girl and stream of water on a blue background

  • Once your minute is up, apply the baking soda solution all over skin to neutralize the acid by splashing your face for at least one minute. The sting can increase for the first few seconds, keep going and it will subside
  • Continue to splash your face for at least 1minute. Then wipe throughly all over with the soft cloth, repeating at least 3 times
  • Your face may still feel quite hot, if so splash with plenty of cold water until it calms down. Or, apply a cold wash cloth to skin and leave it on
  • Pat dry and apply a calming, hydrating moisturizer or oil

Expectations and Aftercare:

  • This treatment can open whiteheads and milia
  • These can then be very gently extracted by squeezing with a tissue. Very gently. It is, of course, preferable to leave them alone—the salicylic acid would have worked on the bacteria inside which will dry them out very quickly
  • Slight redness, dryness and a little irritation is normal for a few days. Keep applying moisturizer
  • Sunscreen is vital. Shade is preferable for the first days after
  • Don’t use any other exfoliation scrubs or procedures
  • Sometimes there can be slight flaking of the skin from salicylic acid—don’t pick this. Just keep applying moisturizer or Vaseline and it will heal in a few days

Results Of Your At-Home Salicylic Acid Peel

You can see great improvements after the first treatment. It will take a few weeks to see vast differences.

Some people no longer have a problem with blackheads—they completely disappear, and breakouts are greatly reduced.

Once you’ve achieved your wanted results, a peel every month or two is enough to maintain these benefits.

At Home Salicylic Acid Peel Product Recommendations

A15% concentration, with no other active ingredients that will get in the way of the best results.

A small bottle is enough as you don’t need to use a lot, and may want to increase the concentration to 20% after you’ve finished it – this is an easy way to build up.

15% Peel from

This is a 30ml bottle, great size for starting and a good price.

This range* also has 20% and 30%, if you are looking at increasing.

The blue bottle is important – keep it out of sunlight!

(Be sure to follow the instructions on the specific product you choose)

Not sure about using a heavier peel? Get the same results with consistent use of a 2% application.

It’s a lot easier, safer and will help keep your skin clear.

Using salicylic acid peels as an acne solution can be remarkable

Often it is the one thing that can help clear up skin, once and for all.

The exfoliation action also stimulates cell renewal—which helps with healthier, stronger skin in the long term.

This is much more beneficial than using benzoyl peroxide, which works by drying up blemishes and oil, and can be effective but severely drying. BP can also completely unbalance skin, making the problem worse in the long run.

Used with knowledge and caution, home chemical peels are a great, easy way to take care of your skin.




    1. Baking powder does not contain enough baking soda to neutralize. Do not use it – all it will do is make the peel foam up.

  1. Hi. I was wondering if I could continue using the 2% on a daily basis in between peels. For better spot prevention?

    In a previous article you mentioned that it would be wise to build up a tolerance this way. So, can it be used daily and in between the 4-6 peels you do every so often?


    1. Sorry for the delay in reply Nena! Yes you can use foundation within a week of doing a peel – the only reason why you might not is if your skin is peeling, so the foundation would just look flaky. But the foundation itself is fine to apply. Just make sure you are cleansing it off gently at night. Of course, if your skin is sensitive after the peel, you want to be careful applying something that could upset. Foundation should be fine, but keep an eye on your skin and remove it if needed.

  2. Its been exactly a week since my 15% at-home SA peel. The peeling itself stung like hell for the first 30 seconds but went away as mentioned above. The first day my skin was tight and slightly red but looked good. The second day the peeling started around the mouth and moved across the face evenly. Now a week later, my skin feels great and this morning I noticed the last bit of peeling skin had flaked away. My question is, since my skin feels about 100% healed, can I start my next peel today?

    1. Sorry for the late reply, which may not be helpful now since you’re asking about timing… however this may help you or someone in the future 🙂 Ideally you would want to wait at least two weeks, especially in the beginning. I understand the temptation once your skin starts looking great, but especially since you mentioned it had just stopped peeling, it is worth giving it longer to heal. Remember, there won’t be anything to “peel” this soon, so another peel will likely just irritate because it will be sitting on top of very new skin.
      Keep in mind this is general advice, as I can’t see your skin or give specific advice over the internet. However, it is worth taking it easy in the beginning, noticing how your skin reacts, and then adjusting. You will have a good idea of the right schedule for you after two or three peels because you’ll be used to the process.
      Hope that helps!!

    1. In general it should just be one. You might want to layer it if your skin is used to that particular strength (don’t do any more than two layers) – I would recommend trying this in a small area first, and do lessen the amount of time it’s left on skin. Please remember to always use caution, and follow the specific instructions on whatever product you are using. This page and comments are general information only. All the best!

  3. How often can I do this process at the beginning? I have read from every couple of days to twice a month?

    1. Hi – in the beginning I would recommend about once a week. Once you have performed a few peels you will have a good idea of how your skin reacts (dryness, sensitivity, etc) and how long it takes to “recover”. You don’t want to do another peel while your skin is still dry after the last one. I wouldn’t recommend doing any more than two a week no matter how many you’ve done, that’s a bit much for your skin. Hope that helps!

        1. Hi I am 30 year old , I have bought salicylic 30 peel for my face For acne scar dark spots removal , how many layer required to get better results n how frequently we can use to peel again my face ?

  4. This helped me to be prepared on so many levels. The process was much smoother because of this article. I recommend anyone doing a peel to thoroughly read this first

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