Topical salicylic acid is used to help clear and prevent pimples and skin blemishes in people who have acne. Topical salicylic acid is also used to treat skin conditions that involve scaling or overgrowth of skin cells such as psoriasis (a skin disease in which red, scaly patches form on some areas of the body), ichthyoses (inborn conditions that cause skin dryness and scaling), dandruff, corns, calluses, and warts on the hands or feet. Topical salicylic acid should not be used to treat genital warts, warts on the face, warts with hair growing from them, warts in the nose or mouth, moles, or birthmarks. Salicylic acid is in a class of medications called keratolytic agents. Topical salicylic acid treats acne by reducing swelling and redness and unplugging blocked skin pores to allow pimples to shrink. It treats other skin conditions by softening and loosening dry, scaly, or thickened skin so that it falls off or can be removed easily.
How should this medicine be used?
Topical salicylic acid comes as a cloth (a pad or wipe used to cleanse the skin), cream, lotion, liquid, gel, ointment, shampoo, wipe, pad, and patch to apply to the skin or scalp. Topical salicylic acid comes in several strengths, including certain products that are only available with a prescription. Topical salicylic acid may be used as often as several times a day or as infrequently as several times a week, depending on the condition being treated and the product being used. Follow the directions on the package label or your prescription label carefully, and ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain any part you do not understand. Use salicylic acid exactly as directed. Do not use more or less of it or use it more often than directed on the package or prescribed by your doctor.
If you are using topical salicylic acid to treat acne, your skin may become dry or irritated at the beginning of your treatment. To prevent this, you may apply the product less often at first, and then gradually begin to apply the product more often after your skin has adjusted to the medication. If your skin becomes dry or irritated at any time during your treatment, you may apply the product less often. Talk to your doctor or check the package label for more information.
Apply a small amount of the salicylic acid product to one or two small areas you want to treat for 3 days when you begin to use this medication for the first time. If no reaction or discomfort occurs, use the product as directed on the package or on your prescription label.
Do not swallow topical salicylic acid. Be careful not to get topical salicylic acid in your eyes, nose, or mouth. If you accidentally get topical salicylic acid in your eyes, nose, or mouth, flush the area with water for 15 minutes.
Do not apply topical salicylic acid to skin that is broken, red, swollen, irritated, or infected.
Only apply topical salicylic acid to the areas of skin that are affected by your skin condition. Do not apply topical salicylic acid to large areas of your body unless your doctor tells you that you should. Do not cover the skin where you applied topical salicylic acid with a bandage or dressing unless your doctor tells you that you should.
If you are using topical salicylic acid to treat acne or certain other skin condition, it may take several weeks or longer for you to feel the full benefit of the medication. Your condition may worsen during the first few days of treatment as your skin adjusts to the medication.
Read the package label of the topical salicylic acid product you are using very carefully. The label will tell you how to prepare your skin before you apply the medication, and exactly how you should apply the medication. Follow these directions carefully.
Other uses for this medicine
This medication may be prescribed for other uses; ask your doctor or pharmacist for more information.
What special precautions should I follow?
Before using topical salicylic acid,
- tell your doctor and pharmacist if you are allergic to salicylic acid, any other medications, or any of the ingredients in salicylic acid products. Ask your pharmacist or check the package label for a list of the ingredients.
- do not apply any of the following products to the skin that you are treating with topical salicylic acid unless your doctor tells you that you should: abrasive soaps or cleansers; skin care products that contain alcohol; other medications that are applied to the skin such as benzoyl peroxide (BenzaClin, BenzaMycin, others), resorcinol (RA Lotion), sulfur (Cuticura, Finac, others), and tretinoin (Retin-A, Renova, others); or medicated cosmetics. Your skin may become very irritated if you apply any of these products to the skin that you are treating with topical salicylic acid.
- tell your doctor and pharmacist what prescription and nonprescription medications, vitamins, nutritional supplements, and herbal products you are taking or plan to take. Be sure to mention any of the following: aspirin, diuretics (‘water pills’), and methyl salicylate (in some muscle rubs such as BenGay). Your doctor may need to change the doses of your medications or monitor you carefully for side effects.
- tell your doctor if you have or have ever had diabetesor blood vessel, kidney, or liver disease.
- you should know that children and teenagers who have chicken pox or the flu should not use topical salicylic acid unless they have been told to do so by a doctor because there is a risk that they may develop Reye’s syndrome (a serious condition in which fat builds up on the brain, liver, and other body organs).
- tell your doctor if you are pregnant, plan to become pregnant, or are breast-feeding. If you become pregnant while using topical salicylic acid, call your doctor.
What special dietary instructions should I follow?
Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, continue your normal diet.
What should I do if I forget a dose?
Apply the missed dose as soon as you remember it. However, if it is almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and continue your regular dosing schedule. Do not apply extra topical salicylic acid to make up for a missed dose.
What side effects can this medication cause?
Topical salicylic acid may cause side effects. Tell your doctor if either of these symptoms are severe or do not go away:
- skin irritation
- stinging in the area where you applied topical salicylic acid
Some side effects can be serious. If you experience any of these symptoms call your doctor immediately:
- extreme tiredness or weakness
- fast breathing
- ringing or buzzing in the ears
- hearing loss
If you experience any of the following symptoms, stop using salicylic acid and call your doctor immediately or get emergency medical help:
- throat tightness
- difficulty breathing
- feeling faint
- swelling of the eyes, face, lips, or tongue
Topical salicylic acid may cause other side effects. Call your doctor if you have any unusual problems while using this medication.
If you experience a serious side effect, you or your doctor may send a report to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program online (http://www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch) or by phone (1-800-332-1088).
What should I know about storage and disposal of this medication?
Keep this medication in the container it came in, tightly closed, and out of reach of children. Store it at room temperature and away from excess heat and moisture (not in the bathroom).
Unneeded medications should be disposed of in special ways to ensure that pets, children, and other people cannot consume them. However, you should not flush this medication down the toilet. Instead, the best way to dispose of your medication is through a medicine take-back program. Talk to your pharmacist or contact your local garbage/recycling department to learn about take-back programs in your community. See the FDA’s Safe Disposal of Medicines website (http://goo.gl/c4Rm4p) for more information if you do not have access to a take-back program.
It is important to keep all medication out of sight and reach of children as many containers (such as weekly pill minders and those for eye drops, creams, patches, and inhalers) are not child-resistant and young children can open them easily. To protect young children from poisoning, always lock safety caps and immediately place the medication in a safe location – one that is up and away and out of their sight and reach. http://www.upandaway.org
In case of emergency/overdose
If someone swallows salicylic acid or applies too much salicylic acid, call your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222. If the victim has collapsed or is not breathing, call local emergency services at 911.
Symptoms of overdose may include:
- extreme tiredness or weakness
- fast breathing
- ringing or buzzing in the ears
- hearing loss
What other information should I know?
Keep all appointments with your doctor.
Before having any laboratory test, tell your doctor and the laboratory personnel that you are using topical salicylic acid.
If you are using prescription strength topical salicylic acid, do not let anyone else use your medication. Ask your pharmacist any questions you have about refilling your prescription.
Ask your pharmacist any questions you have about topical salicylic acid.
It is important for you to keep a written list of all of the prescription and nonprescription (over-the-counter) medicines you are taking, as well as any products such as vitamins, minerals, or other dietary supplements. You should bring this list with you each time you visit a doctor or if you are admitted to a hospital. It is also important information to carry with you in case of emergencies.
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