Hyaluronic Acid vs Salicylic Acid: Know Your Skincare Acids

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A comparison like hyaluronic acid vs salicylic acid is important to guide you to make the right choice of skincare acid. Using one or both at a time will only yield great results when you know their differences and unique functions.

Generally, you’ll find hyaluronic acid in moisturizing and hydrating skincare products. Salicylic acid, on the other hand, is found in exfoliating products that treat skin acne. Beyond these differences, could there be anything else?

There is only one way to find out. So, this post compares hyaluronic acid vs salicylic acid. Also, it details the right way to use them separately and together to achieve maximum results.

What Is Hyaluronic Acid?

Hyaluronic acid is your fast lane to getting hydrated skin. Scientific study reveals that it is a group of polysaccharide sugar molecules that is naturally occurring in the human body. In the connective tissues in the body, they act as lubricants.

The best term for hyaluronic acid is a humectant. “Hyaluronic acid attracts and binds to water molecules and increases the water content of the skin,” says Shari Marchbein, MD, a board-certified dermatologist.

Naturally, as you age, your skin moisture level depletes. Consequently, you experience premature aging, dry skin, and a dull complexion. Hyaluronic acid has an exceptional ability to make up for these moisture levels and give you plump, vibrant skin.

Moreover, when there are already established signs of aging, this humectant reverses the signs and restores youthfulness. You’ll find hyaluronic acid as a key ingredient in hydrating face serums, facial toners, and moisturizers.

Other than retinol, it is another key player in any anti-aging skincare routine. Dermatologists affirm that being a naturally occurring acid, no one is likely to experience a skin reaction with hyaluronic acid. And if there are any cases, it must be a result of other additives in the formula.

What Is Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that is renowned for exfoliating the skin and clearing pores of clogs. Compared to its neighboring alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), salicylic acid is an oil-soluble acid. Therefore, it easily penetrates your pores and rids them of oil clogs.

This BHA is naturally occurring in plants like willow bark. It penetrates deeper than AHAs and it is the dread of skin acne.

Chemical exfoliants and face washes contain salicylic acid in varying strengths. Before sloughing off dead cells, this acid softens the top layer of your skin.

“Salicylic acid is a great ingredient for people with oily and acne-prone skin, and particularly for treating and preventing comedonal acne (blackheads and whiteheads),” says Dr. Hadley King, a board-certified dermatologist.

Furthermore, it has anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce skin inflammation. Therefore, skin breakouts can be managed with salicylic acid. It exists as OTC treatments and chemical peels.

However, it does come with slight skin reactions upon first contact. So, it is advised that you start with smaller dosages and frequency of salicylic acid until your skin can tolerate it well.

Hyaluronic Acid vs Salicylic Acid

The comparison of hyaluronic acid vs salicylic acid shows differences that go beyond their names and occurrence.

Let’s consider the things that differentiate one from the other. Moreover, these differences will prove why you cannot use one to fill in the functions of the other.

1. Their nature

Hyaluronic acid is a humectant that helps your skin to attract water molecules from the environment and retain moisture. Salicylic acid, on the other hand, is a BHA exfoliant that helps to manage skin acne.

While hyaluronic acid binds to water molecules and hydrates your skin, salicylic acid binds to oil molecules and unclogs your pores. Also, hyaluronic acid exists as a polymeric substance and salicylic acid exists as a monomeric substance.

2. Functions

Hyaluronic acid boosts your skin’s natural ability to retain moisture. It plumps your skin with nourishment and keeps it hydrated. You’ll find that most hydrating serums and moisturizers incorporate this humectant in their ingredients to boost the hydrating effect of other ingredients.

Salicylic acid penetrates deep into your pores and dissolves excess sebum, dirt, and dead skin cells that can progress into acne. As an exfoliator, it addresses pustules and comedones that trigger acne and its scars.

Moreover, salicylic acid fights off the buildup of the bacteria responsible for acne. So, it is great for the prevention of acne.

The exfoliating property of salicylic acid helps to reveal brighter skin. Thereby, it addresses skin discoloration that is characteristic of hyperpigmentation and acne scars.

Just like salicylic acid, hyaluronic acid is a skincare acid that improves the overall texture and tone of your skin. However, it does this without stripping your skin.

Rather than that, it uses its humectant and antioxidant properties to improve your skin barrier and protect against skin inflammation.

Furthermore, besides the hydrating benefits of hyaluronic acid, it helps to plump your skin and improve skin elasticity. Also, it smoothens fine lines and wrinkles which are natural signs of aging and dehydration. Salicylic acid improves the appearance of wrinkles by stimulating collagen synthesis.

In addition, hyaluronic acid helps to heal wounds by reducing skin redness and bacteria growth. Salicylic acid, on the other hand, uses its acidic pH to inhibit bacteria growth.

3. Recommendations for use

Hyaluronic acid generally suits most skin types, especially dry skin which is prone to getting dehydrated. Salicylic acid best suits oily and acne-prone skin types. Dry and sensitive skin types will find this exfoliating acid very irritating.

Additionally, you can safely use hyaluronic acid with almost any other compound without fear of skin reactions. However, the same does not apply to salicylic acid. Experts advise that you do not use salicylic acid with retinoids. This is because it can be irritating and drying.

Both are best used in the evenings, but you must use sunscreen over either acid during the day. Some skin types may get photosensitive to salicylic acid. So, you should protect your skin. While using salicylic acid in the evening, remember to not use it with retinoids.

Is Hyaluronic Acid Better Than Salicylic Acid?

The difference between these two skincare acids does not suggest superiority. Each is unique in its nature and functions. Your choice of skin acid depends on your skin type and skin concerns.

For instance, if you have dry skin and you’re looking to replenish moisture and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, salicylic acid will most certainly not be an option. Conversely, hyaluronic acid will not unclog your pores of oil and skin cells buildup.

It sums up to say that either acid is effective for its specific function. So, they should be used accordingly to get the best of their benefits.

Can You Use Hyaluronic Acid and Salicylic Acid Together?

Yes, you can. Both skincare acids work effectively in tandem to address skin issues. After using salicylic acid to exfoliate your skin and treat skin acne, it can be quite dehydrating. Follow up the exfoliation with hyaluronic acid to restore hydration and protect your skin from irritations.

The humectant properties of hyaluronic acid attract water molecules to your skin and prevent it from overcompensating and producing more oils. Also, it prevents further acne breakouts.


Should you use hyaluronic acid or salicylic acid first?

You should use salicylic acid before hyaluronic acid. Salicylic acid has exfoliating properties that need to be followed up with a hydrating substance.

If your cleanser or toner contains salicylic acid, serum, or moisturizer that contains hyaluronic acid should follow.

Salicylic acid is best applied to dry skin rather than damp skin. Applying salicylic acid over hyaluronic acid can increase your risk of irritations.

Is hyaluronic acid or salicylic acid good for acne?

Both acids work to improve skin acne. However, salicylic acid has exfoliating properties that make it better suited for acne than hyaluronic acid. It binds to oil molecules and unclogs your pores, treats current acne, and prevents future breakouts.

Hyaluronic acid only supports this function by replenishing your skin, reducing redness, and keeping your skin hydrated. When your skin is well hydrated, it is least likely to produce more oils and break out.

Can you use salicylic acid every day?

Yes, you can. To treat acne, it is ideal that you use salicylic acid every day. However, it can be quite sensitive to different skin types. So, you should start with 2-3 times a week until your skin can tolerate it better.

Also, begin with using salicylic acid once a day until your skin no longer gets irritated by it. And you should follow up with a moisturizing lotion.

Most importantly, if you’re using a cleanser or toner that contains salicylic acid, it is best to not use another salicylic acid-based product.

Should you use hyaluronic acid and salicylic acid with niacinamide?

Yes, you can. Pairing hyaluronic acid with salicylic acid and niacinamide makes a good combination to provide ultra-hydration and protection for your skin.

After exfoliating oily or acne-prone skin with salicylic acid, using hyaluronic acid will hydrate your skin and lock in moisture. Complementing hyaluronic acid with niacinamide will enhance moisture retention and regulate sebum production.


Skin acids are great options to achieve flawless skin. However, these acids are only effective when you use them according to their functions. Also, none of these acids is a one-size-fits-all when it comes to perfect skin.

Hyaluronic acid is a common hydrating ingredient found in hydrating serums, toners, and moisturizers. On the other hand, salicylic acid is an exfoliating BHA that penetrates deep into your skin and removes oil and skin cell clogs.

Most importantly, before you use any of them as part of your skincare routine, you should understand and be sure of their suitability with your skin type. Also, it is essential that you understand how using acids solely or with other products can affect your skin.

Skin experts emphasize that when you use skin acids during the day, you should layer SPF over your skin. However, they are more effective for night use when your skin automatically enters self-repair.

Remember, skincare is only effective with how much information you have and when you use the products correctly.

Thanks for reading.

Serum101 provides relevant comparison articles that detail the differences between commonly mistaken skincare products.