Stearic vs Salicylic


Stearic Acid vs Salicylic Acid - Are They Good for Glowing & Clear Skin



9 MIN READ | January 29, 2024

Skincare ingredient and products names can be overwhelming. Especially when it comes to two of the most commonly used ingredients, stearic acid, and salicylic acid. Although the names sound similar, they are very different in terms of what they can do for your skincare. Understanding the science behind these ingredients is important to implement them in your skincare routine.

In this article, we will provide a detailed comparison of stearic acid and salicylic acid. We’ll explore their properties, pros, cons, and uses in skincare. Read on to learn how to distinguish between these two and determine which one is right for you.

What is Stearic Acid and How Does it Work?

What is Stearic Acid

Stearic acid is no typical acid. It’s rather a fatty acid that’s naturally found in animal and plant fats like cocoa butter and shea butter. It’s used in a wide variety of skin care products like soaps, shaving creams, and cosmetics. What makes Stearic acid stand out is that it is non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t clog skin pores.

How it works: Stearic acid creates a silky barrier on the skin’s surface with its emollient properties. This locks in the moisture and prevents dryness. It also thickens skincare products to produce that rich and creamy texture.

Pros of Stearic Acid

Protects Hydration: Stearic acid helps prevent moisture loss and keeps your skin feeling supple and comfortable.

Boosts Barrier: It strengthens the skin’s natural barrier to protect it from environmental irritants.

Creates Texture: Its thickening properties create smooth, luxurious skincare products.

Cons of Stearic Acid

Non-Exfoliating: The lack of exfoliating properties makes it less effective for acne treatments.

Potential Irritation: Although it’s non-comedogenic, it can still cause pores and other skin irritations, especially for sensitive skin types.

Uses of Stearic Acid

Stearic acid is commonly found in moisturizers, creams, cleansing products, lipsticks, foundations, and serums. It’s particularly beneficial for dry, or, mature skin.

What is Salicylic Acid and How Does it Work?

What is Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid, on the other hand, is a true acid that’s classified as a beta-hydroxy acid. Also, unlike stearic acid, it’s an active ingredient. That means, it can tackle specific skin concerns. Salicylic acid is derived from willow tree bark. In skincare, it works primarily as an exfoliant and acne treatment.

How it works: Salicylic acid is oil-soluble, meaning it can penetrate deep into your pores to dissolve sebum (oil) and dead skin cells to treat acne breakout. It also has anti-inflammatory properties. So it can calm redness and irritation.

Pros of Salicylic Acid

Treats Acne: Salicylic acid is an effective treatment against acne, blackheads, and whiteheads.

Sebum Control: It controls excess sebum production to keep your skin feeling refreshed and shine-free.

Exfoliation: It sheds dead skin cells to reveal a brighter and smoother complexion.

Cons of Salicylic Acid

Dryness: Overuse of salicylic acid can lead to dryness and irritation, especially for sensitive skin.

Sun Sensitivity: Salicylic acid can increase sun sensitivity, so sunscreen is crucial.

Not for everyone: People with certain skin conditions or allergies may need to avoid it.

Uses of Salicylic Acid

Common uses for salicylic acid are in acne treatments, exfoliating toners, chemical peels, spot treatments, and cleansers. It’s best suited for oily, acne-prone, or congested skin.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who should use stearic acid vs salicylic acid?

Those with dry, sensitive skin benefit more from stearic acid’s moisturizing and barrier-repairing properties. Those with oily, acne-prone skin benefit more from salicylic acid’s pore-cleansing abilities.

Can they be used together?

Yes, combining both can provide balance. Stearic acid offers moisture while salicylic acid exfoliates. Consult a dermatologist to find the right combination and concentrations for your skin type.

Are they safe?

When used properly and in moderation, both stearic acid and salicylic acid are generally safe. Those with very sensitive skin should be more cautious though. Only use skin care products made for facial application.

Final Words

To sum it up, stearic acid is mainly moisturizing and skin-conditioning. In contrast, salicylic acid is for exfoliating and clarifying. Therefore, to provide a better balance, using both can be a good option. But, consult a dermatologist to find the right combination for your unique skin needs.


Dylan Mustapich is a NYC-based lead esthetician who has been featured in New Beauty, Teen Vogue, Wired, and The Huffington Post. With a lifelong love of all things skin, he is incredibly knowledgeable about skincare ingredients, routine refinement, and personalized skincare, and follows emerging technology closely.

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