WHAT IS SALICYLIC ACID?
Salicylic acid is a phenolic acid and phytonutrient (a group of chemical compounds that occur naturally in plants and have multiple health benefits but are not considered essential to human health) that is best known for its ability to fight acne. In this article I will be discussing salicylic acid in greater detail and outlining its health benefits.
WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF SALICYLIC ACID?
The first references to salicylic acid date back to ancient texts from around 500 B.C. which mention the use of a bitter powder found in willow bark to ease pain and reduce fevers. However, scientists did not start studying the medicinal uses of willow bark and its active ingredient (salicin – a substance which can be broken down into salicylic acid) until the 1800s.
In 1826 the German chemist Johann Andreas Buchner became the first person to isolate and name salicin. In 1829 the French chemist Henri Leroux perfected the extraction technique and was able to isolate a larger amount of salicin. In 1838 the Italian chemist Raffaele Piria managed to convert salicin into sugar and a second component which became an acid when oxidised. He gave this new acid the name salicylic acid.
This initial form of salicylic acid was very effective at relieving pain and reducing inflammation. Unfortunately, it was also very difficult to digest and caused a number of stomach problems such as bleeding, diarrhea and gastric irritation. In 1953 the French chemist Charles Frederic Gerhardt managed to neutralise salicylic acid and created acetylsalicylic acid. However, he had no desire to market this discovery and abandoned his work.
In 1899 a chemist working for the German company Bayer came across Gerhardt’s work. He convinced Bayer to market and patent this discovery and it was subsequently sold as the pain reliever aspirin.
In the 20th century salicylic acid started to be used as a treatment for skin conditions such as acne, dandruff, psoriasis and warts and this is now its most common use today.
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF SALICYLIC ACID?
As discussed above, salicylic acid can reduce inflammation, reduce pain and can also treat a number of skin conditions when applied topically. The list below discusses the health benefits of salicylic acid in greater detail:
– Acting as an antioxidant and protecting the skin cells from damaging free radicals (harmful by-products that are released during oxygen related reactions).
– Acting as an anti-inflammatory (a substance which prevents unnecessary inflammation within the body).
– Preventing and treating acne (by unclogging pores and reducing the inflammation and redness associated with existing acne).
– Preventing heart disease (by suppressing the production of prostaglandins and thromboxanes – 2 hormones which can sometimes cause blood clots and contribute to heart disease).
– Reducing the visible signs of ageing (by removing dead skin cells).
– Relieving pain.
– Removing warts (small, hard, benign growths on the skin which are caused by viruses).
– Treating calluses (a thickened, hardened part of the skin).
– Treating corns (a small, thickened area of skin on the foot).
– Treating dandruff (the shedding of dead skin cells from the scalp).
– Treating fevers (a condition which causes your body temperature to become abnormally high).
– Treating psoriasis (a skin disease characterised by red, itchy, scaly patches).
– Treating scaly and thickened skin.
HOW MUCH SALICYLIC ACID DO YOU NEED?
Salicylic acid is not classed as an essential nutrient so no official recommended daily allowance (RDA) has been established. However, aspirin (which contains salicylic acid) does contain consumption recommendations within the packaging. Certain acne medications (which contain salicylic acid) also contain advice on how often they can be applied topically. If you are considering taking salicylic acid orally or topically you should consult your doctor to establish a safe dosage.
WHICH FOODS CONTAIN SALICYLIC ACID?
Salicylic acid can be found in many over the counter and prescription acne medications. It is also found in aspirin. In addition to this, many foods are rich in salicylic acid. The foods listed below all contain over 1 milligram (mg) of this phytonutrient per 100 grams (g):
Herbs and Spices:
– Curry Powder.
– Green Peppers.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF CONSUMING TOO MUCH SALICYLIC ACID?
No negative symptoms have been reported when consuming foods that contain salicylic acid. However, consuming high levels of aspirin has been linked with stomach irritation. Certain side effects have also been reported when applying salicylic acid topically as an acne treatment. These side effects include:
– Minor Skin Irritation (such as dryness, peeling and redness).
– Major Skin Irritation (such as burning and stinging).
In addition to this, certain people are allergic to salicylic acid and may experience the following negative symptoms when exposed to this phytonutrient:
– Difficulty breathing.
– Swelling of the lips.
– Swelling of the throat.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF FAILING TO CONSUME ENOUGH SALICYLIC ACID?
Salicylic acid is not classed as an essential nutrient so there are no reported deficiency symptoms associated with its consumption.
SALICYLIC ACID SUMMARY
If you suffer from skin problems then salicylic acid could be the phytonutrient you are looking for. Just be aware that there are a number of unpleasant side effects associated with the use of salicylic acid. To avoid these side effects, make sure you consult your doctor before taking salicylic acid orally or topically. Doing this will keep your skin looking healthy and smooth whilst allowing you to avoid any complications.
List of Phytochemicals in Food (Wikipedia)
The History Of Salicylic Acid (Salicylic.com)
Salicylic Acid Benefits (Livestrong)
Salicylic Acid Foods (Food-Info)
Side Effects Of Salicylic Acid (Livestrong)