Aspirin for acne - does it work?

Genuine solution or old wives' tale?

Shot of a young woman squeezing a pimple on her face at home
(Image credit: PeopleImages/Getty Images)

Waking up to a giant chin-hugging mound is enough to send anyone to TikTok or trolling Instagram. But is aspirin a genuine solution or an old wives' tale?

Turns out, it's a bit of both. But, to temper exceptions, it's also not the best acne skin care routine

Much is made of the fact that aspirin contains salicylic acid, but this isn't strictly true. The key active ingredient in aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid, which is similar to salicylic acid but not exactly the same. Acetylsalicylic acid is a larger molecule so it's not as easy to release the salicylic acid in order for it to tackle spots with drone-like precision. 

And we all know that salicylic acid is the gold standard for acne ingredients.

"Salicylic acid acts as both an effective exfoliator as well as unclogging pores of the oil, dead skin and dirt that can cause congestion, " explains dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto.  

Applying a paste made of a crushed uncoated aspirin, mixed with water, directly to a pimple can help to take down some of the redness and swelling, although it is unlikely to work on blackheads or whiteheads. 

If you do decide to use aspirin topically,  patch test first: Apply the paste to the inside of your forearm, and rinse it off after 10–15 minutes at most.

Alternatively, ice your spot.  Wrap an ice cube in a thin cloth and set it on the offending spot for three to four minutes. Repeat throughout the day to relieve pain and temporarily reduce swelling. And if it comes to a head and you really can't resist squeezing, follow our guide for how to pop a pimple the right way to avoid scarring and infection.

Or why not  follow a dermatologist's advice and invest in a salicylic acid spot product like Murad Rapid Relief Acne Spot Treatment, which contains 2%, the highest recommended amount? Think of the time you'd be saving, which you can then spend bingeing on Netflix. 

Fiona Embleton

Fiona Embleton is a multi-award-winning beauty editor who has tested over 10,000 products in her 10 years +  of writing and shooting beauty stories. For the past four years, she was the Senior Beauty Editor at Marie Claire, having previously worked in the role of Beauty Editor at both Stylist and Cosmopolitan. She has recently gone freelance and alongside My Imperfect Life, she has written for titles including ELLE UK, ELLE Canada, Buro 247, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Vogue Scandinavia, and ES Magazine. Beauty journalism allowed her to marry up her first-class degree in English Literature and Language (she’s a stickler for grammar and a self-confessed ingredients geek) with a passion for make-up and skincare, photography, and catwalk trends. She loves jumping on the latest internet-breaking beauty news, dissecting the best red carpet looks, and having the crème de la crème of dermatologists, make-up artists, and hairstylists on speed dial so she can tap them for the best advice. She’s a discerning beauty shopper and knows it can be confusing trying to navigate what’s hype and what really works. So if she really likes something, you can trust that she has reached that opinion by vetting it against everything else she’s ever tried. Her career highs? Interviewing Cate Blanchett and winning a Jasmine Award for the deeply personal feature Cancer Stole My Mother’s Scent.