Salicylic acid, a Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA), is a magical ingredient. It is derived from willow tree bark and like Alpha Hydroxy acids (i.e. lactic acid and glycolic acid), it is frequently used as a chemical exfoliant. However, while AHAs are water-soluble and work on the outer layer of your skin, BHAs are oil-soluble, allowing them to get into your pores. For this reason, they are frequently recommended for oily-skinned folks and commonly touted for their ability to shrink pores.
As a dry-skinned girl, I have a tortured relationship with BHAs. I want to experience salicylic acid’s magical, anti-inflammatory, pore-cleaning effects, but a lot of products I have tried in the past have proved to be too harsh. Specifically, I gave certain salicylic-acid-containing pads a try a few years ago only to have my face turn beet red and, when I frantically attempt to rinse the product off my face, I couldn’t. It was the worst feeling in the world and all I could do was sit around, hoping my face didn’t burn off, until the burning subsided.
Turns out, salicylic acid is pretty heavily regulated in Korea (there’s a .5% formulation limit) and as such, many Korean skincare products, including Korean formulations of Paula’s Choice products, use betaine salicylate instead. Even if you don’t know anything about chemistry, you may have noticed betaine salicylate sounds suspiciously similar to salicylic acid, and you would be right! Betaine salicylate is a chemical compound of salicylic acid and betaine. It promises to do what salicylic acid can do, but in a milder, gentler way, making it an awesome alternative not only for dry skinned folk but also people just getting started with chemical exfoliation. It is also the star ingredient in Beta Salic 2.0!
There’s a lot written about salicylic acid. In a nutshell, it works by causing
the cells of the epidermis to shed more readily, opening clogged pores and neutralizing bacteria within, preventing pores from clogging up again by constricting pore diameter, and allowing room for new cell growth. source
There is significantly less written about betaine salicylate, and most of the readily available information come from cosmetic companies that sell products that contain it. Here is what I scoped out:
- Chica y Chico / Wishtrend claim the 2% betaine salicylate that Beta Salic 2.0 contains is equivalent to 1% salicylic acid.
- Chica y Chico / Wishtrend also attribute hydrating powers to the betaine portion of the betaine salicylate, something Renee Rouleau, who also uses betaine salicylate in her products, echos.
- Cosrx goes so far as to claim betaine salicylate is “safer and more effective for the skin than typical salicylic acid BHA cosmetic products
Wishtrend also touts this product as “Miracle Cream” and even made a video (in English) where Eunice calls the combination of betaine and salicylic acid “perfect, perfect, perfect”:
In short, this ingredient has a lot of live up to.
BETA SALIC 2.0 REVIEW
Comes in a prescription-looking tube. Functional but not very cute.
Texture is gel-like and absorbs quickly. I think there is a playdoh like fragrance, but I could be wrong. It’s super faint and only seems to manifest if I rub the cream too much in my hands. Maybe it’s heat activated? Either way, the scent does not linger for long and I hardly ever noticed it after the first few usages.
As instructed, I use this cream at night. It goes on 15 minutes after washing, so my skin’s pH can normalize a little before I apply (BHAs and AHAs are pH sensitive and work best in acidic environments, and 15 minutes before I apply any essences, ampoules, serums, or creams, so the salicylic acid has time to absorb into my skin). Also, if you’re going to use this cream, it’s more important to wear sunscreen with usage than to use at night. It contains a small amount of glycolic acid, which makes skin more sensitive to UV light. However, this photo-sensitivity does not just magically disappear in the morning. In fact, studies show that it can linger for up to a week, so don’t forget sunscreen! (Read more about sunscreen ratings, safety, ingredients, or reviews)
The ingredients are below with acne triggers and irritants identified by cosdna thusly indicated. Cosdna is far from a perfect measure – it rates my main acne triggers (papain, mineral oil) both as 0 for acne – but if you are very acne prone it can be useful.
water, butylene glycol, glycolic acid, pentylene glycol, cyclopentasiloxane, cetyl alcohol, betaine salicylate, beeswax, glyceryl stearate, PEG-100 stearate, glyceryl stearate SE, potassium hydroxide, cyclohexasiloxane, polysorbate 60, sorbitan sesquioleate, dimethicone, stearyl alcohol, myristyl alcohol, sodium hyaluronate, simmondsia chinensis seed oil, lonicera japonica flower extract, paeonia lactiflora root extract, sophora angustifolia root extract, scutellaria baicalensis root extract, prunus persica leaf extract, rhus semialata gall extract, camellia sinensis leaf extract, ginkgo biloba leaf extract, centella asiatica extract, snail secretion filtrate, dipotassium glycyrrhizate, xanthan gum, allatonin, panthenol, disodium EDTA
In addition to betaine salicylate, this cream contains 4% glycolic acid, mentioned earlier, but is another exfoliating superstar. The reason why I still consider this cream mostly a BHA is because at 4%, the concentration of glycolic acid is less than the recommended amount to be effective, which doesn’t mean it’s not doing anything, but simply that the betaine salicylate is likely doing more, as far as exfoliation is concerned.
According to Chica y Chico, this cream has a pH of 3.5, which is great because both glycolic acid and betaine salicylate are pH dependent. I was surprised to see that this cream also contains a good number of extracts and even has a bit of snail!
The marketing material for this product proclaims it “INSTANTLY contours the skin surface and dead skin to provide SMOOTH-EVER FEELINGS!” On my skin, this cream seriously under-delivered on that part about being instant. After two weeks of use, I was not in love with this product. The acne I was slowly getting was less severe but I was still getting acne. Furthermore, I was getting some noticeable flakiness around my nose and cheeks. I used to have really bad skin flakiness (that took a lot of hyaluronic acid to get under control) and I really did not want to revisit that chapter of my life.
In week 3, everything changed. Suddenly, my skin, chronically plagued by closed comedones since the Banila & Co debacle, was a lot smoother. All of my cystic acne was gone or seemed to be well on its way out! Also, this stuff somehow managed to clear my face with minimal purging. I had a few small breakouts emerge, but most of the deeper comedones and cystic acne on my face seemed to deflate and disappear without coming to a head. I couldn’t stop touching my face and even though I still had scars and PIH, my skin was in better shape than it’s been in a long time. No change to my pore size though, unfortunately.
After week 3, I started using this cream every other night, as opposed to daily. The reason for this is even though this cream had been dominating my acne, it’s also a bit drying for my skin. The flakiness was still there and my skin felt more sensitive than usual. I don’t dare stop using the Beta Salic 2.0 anytime soon, but with my acne now under control, I wanted to minimize the impact to my skin’s moisture levels. Also, using this cream every other night has so far been sufficient in preventing new acne from cropping up.
Final thoughts: Even though this cream is a bit too drying for me to use daily, it has been very effective in clearing my face of acne and has earned a permanent spot in my beauty cabinet.
UPDATE: This cream remains effective in preventing cystic breakouts, but the effects plateaued quickly and the breakouts on my cheeks which are not cystic but deep/bad enough to leave a lot of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation continued reemerging at a regular rate. In short, if you’re completely new to acids, this cream is gentle enough to get you started. If you’re serious about getting rid of acne, get yourself something stronger, perhaps Curology.
I purchased this cream through Wishtrend for $18 – $24 or on Memebox (US) for $12 (currently on sale). Use this link to get 20% off your first Memebox order. Also, you can get an additional 8% cash back on all Memebox purchases through Topcashback.