Safety assessment of Salicylic Acid, Butyloctyl Salicylate, Calcium Salicylate, C12-15 Alkyl Salicylate, Capryloyl Salicylic Acid, Hexyldodecyl Salicylate, Isocetyl Salicylate, Isodecyl Salicylate, Magnesium Salicylate, MEA-Salicylate, Ethylhexyl Salicylate, Potassium Salicylate, Methyl Salicylate, Myristyl Salicylate, Sodium Salicylate, TEA-Salicylate, and Tridecyl Salicylate

Int J Toxicol. 2003:22 Suppl 3:1-108.


Salicylic Acid is an aromatic acid used in cosmetic formulations as a denaturant, hair-conditioning agent, and skin-conditioning agent--miscellaneous in a wide range of cosmetic products at concentrations ranging from 0.0008% to 3%. The Calcium, Magnesium, and MEA salts are preservatives, and Potassium Salicylate is a cosmetic biocide and preservative, not currently in use. Sodium Salicylate is used as a denaturant and preservative (0.09% to 2%). The TEA salt of Salicylic Acid is used as an ultraviolet (UV) light absorber (0.0001% to 0.75%). Several Salicylic Acid esters are used as skin conditioning agents--miscellaneous (Capryloyl, 0.1% to 1%; C12-15 Alkyl, no current use; Isocetyl, 3% to 5%; Isodecyl, no current use; and Tridecyl, no current use). Butyloctyl Salicylate (0.5% to 5%) and Hexyldodecyl Salicylate (no current use) are hair-conditioning agents and skin-conditioning agents--miscellaneous. Ethylhexyl Salicylate (formerly known as Octyl Salicylate) is used as a fragrance ingredient, sunscreen agent, and UV light absorber (0.001% to 8%), and Methyl Salicylate is used as a denaturant and flavoring agent (0.0001% to 0.6%). Myristyl Salicylate has no reported function. Isodecyl Salicylate is used in three formulations, but no concentration of use information was reported. Salicylates are absorbed percutaneously. Around 10% of applied salicylates can remain in the skin. Salicylic Acid is reported to enhance percutaneous penetration of some agents (e.g., vitamin A), but not others (e.g., hydrocortisone). Little acute toxicity (LD(50) in rats; >2 g/kg) via a dermal exposure route is seen for Salicylic Acid, Methyl Salicylate, Tridecyl Salicylate, and Butyloctyl Salicylate. Short-term oral, inhalation, and parenteral exposures to salicylates sufficient to produce high blood concentrations are associated primarily with liver and kidney damage. Subchronic dermal exposures to undiluted Methyl Salicylate were associated with kidney damage. Chronic oral exposure to Methyl Salicylate produced bone lesions as a function of the level of exposure in 2-year rat studies; liver damage was seen in dogs exposed to 0.15 g/kg/day in one study; kidney and liver weight increases in another study at the same exposure; but no liver or kidney abnormalities in a study at 0.167 g/kg/day. Applications of Isodecyl, Tridecyl, and Butyloctyl Salicylate were not irritating to rabbit skin, whereas undiluted Ethylhexyl Salicylate produced minimal to mild irritation. Methyl Salicylate at a 1% concentration with a 70% ethanol vehicle were irritating, whereas a 6% concentration in polyethylene glycol produced little or no irritation. Isodecyl Salicylate, Methyl Salicylate, Ethylhexyl (Octyl) Salicylate, Tridecyl Salicylate, and Butyloctyl Salicylate were not ocular irritants. Although Salicylic Acid at a concentration of 20% in acetone was positive in the local lymph node assay, a concentration of 20% in acetone/olive oil was not. Methyl Salicylate was negative at concentrations up to 25% in this assay, independent of vehicle. Maximization tests of Methyl Salicylate, Ethylhexyl Salicylate, and Butyloctyl Salicylate produced no sensitization in guinea pigs. Neither Salicylic Acid nor Tridecyl Salicylate were photosensitizers. Salicylic Acid, produced when aspirin is rapidly hydrolyzed after absorption from the gut, was reported to be the causative agent in aspirin teratogenesis in animals. Dermal exposures to Methyl Salicylate, oral exposures to Salicylic Acid, Sodium Salicylate, and Methyl Salicylate, and parenteral exposures to Salicylic Acid, Sodium Salicylate, and Methyl Salicylate are all associated with reproductive and developmental toxicity as a function of blood levels reached as a result of exposure. An exposure assessment of a representative cosmetic product used on a daily basis estimated that the exposure from the cosmetic product would be only 20% of the level seen with ingestion of a "baby" aspirin (81 mg) on a daily basis. Studies of the genotoxic potential of Salicylic Acid, Sodium Salicylate, Isodecyl Salicylate, Methyl Salicylate, cosmetic product would be only 20% of the level seen with ingestion of a "baby" aspirin (81 mg) on a daily basis. Studies of the genotoxic potential of Salicylic Acid, Sodium Salicylate, Isodecyl Salicylate, Methyl Salicylate, Ethylhexyl (Octyl) Salicylate, Tridecyl Salicylate, and Butyloctyl Salicylate were generally negative. Methyl Salicylate, in a mouse skin-painting study, did not induce neoplasms. Likewise, Methyl Salicylate was negative in a mouse pulmonary tumor system. In clinical tests, Salicylic Acid (2%) produced minimal cumulative irritation and slight or no irritation(1.5%); TEA-Salicylate (8%) produced no irritation; Methyl Salicylate (>12%) produced pain and erythema, a 1% aerosol produced erythema, but an 8% solution was not irritating; Ethylhexyl Salicylate (4%) and undiluted Tridecyl Salicylate produced no irritation. In atopic patients, Methyl Salicylate caused irritation as a function of concentration (no irritation at concentrations of 15% or less). In normal skin, Salicylic Acid, Methyl Salicylate, and Ethylhexyl (Octyl) Salicylate are not sensitizers. Salicylic Acid is not a photosensitizer, nor is it phototoxic. Salicylic Acid and Ethylhexyl Salicylate are low-level photoprotective agents. Salicylic Acid is well-documented to have keratolytic action on normal human skin. Because of the possible use of these ingredients as exfoliating agents, a concern exists that repeated use may effectively increase exposure of the dermis and epidermis to UV radiation. It was concluded that the prudent course of action would be to advise the cosmetics industry that there is a risk of increased UV radiation damage with the use of any exfoliant, including Salicylic Acid and the listed salicylates, and that steps need to be taken to formulate cosmetic products with these ingredients as exfoliating agents so as not to increase sun sensitivity, or when increased sun sensitivity would be expected, to include directions for the daily use of sun protection. The available data were not sufficient to establish a limit on concentration of these ingredients, or to identify the minimum pH of formulations containing these ingredients, such that no skin irritation would occur, but it was recognized that it is possible to formulate cosmetic products in a way such that significant irritation would not be likely, and it was concluded that the cosmetics industry should formulate products containing these ingredients so as to be nonirritating. Although simultaneous use of several products containing Salicylic Acid could produce exposures greater than would be seen with use of baby aspirin (an exposure generally considered to not present a reproductive or developmental toxicity risk), it was not considered likely that consumers would simultaneously use multiple cosmetic products containing Salicylic Acid. Based on the available information, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel reached the conclusion that these ingredients are safe as used when formulated to avoid skin irritation and when formulated to avoid increasing the skin's sun sensitivity, or, when increased sun sensitivity would be expected, directions for use include the daily use of sun protection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Administration, Oral
  • Administration, Topical
  • Animals
  • Cosmetics / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Mutagens / toxicity
  • Salicylates / chemistry
  • Salicylates / pharmacokinetics
  • Salicylates / toxicity*
  • Skin Absorption
  • Species Specificity


  • Cosmetics
  • Mutagens
  • Salicylates