Ever ruin your clothes because your skin care medication left a blotchy discoloration on the fabric? Acne medications are infamous for staining clothes, towels, and bedsheets. Of course, each medication has its own list of ingredients and some stain more egregiously than others.
Medications with benzoyl peroxide are the worst when it comes to bleaching. If benzoyl peroxide is exposed moisture it converts to hydrogen peroxide, which is a bleaching agent. And once a fabric has a bleach stain, the discoloration is irreversible. Always use old towels or tissue when wiping off benzoyl peroxide products. To prevent bleach stains, never let a fabric touch benzoyl peroxide unless it is completely dry.
Will salicylic acid bleach or stain, too?
Salicylic acid is not nearly as bad as benzoyl peroxide at staining your clothes. First, salicylic acid itself is not a bleaching agent. It will not permanently lighten or whiten your clothes, hair, or skin. But products that use salicylic acid can and do still sometimes cause clothes stains.
Keep in mind that salicylic acid makes up only a small percentage of a typical product. Wart treatment medications may contain up to 27% salicylic acid, but acne medications usually contain only up to 3%. The other inactive ingredients in these products may also cause stains and/or bleaching to your nice new fabrics. Some of these chemicals oxidize when exposed to moisture, too, creating rusty red stains.
Yes, salicylic acid is a naturally occurring substance in many plants, and plays a vital role as a plant hormone. But “natural” doesn’t mean it won’t blemish your clothes. Be careful when using these products and take the following measures to prevent color splotching.
How to prevent your clothes from being discolored by salicylic acid products
- You should test out any new skin care medication on an old towel or unwanted piece of clothing first. Rub it into the fabric wet and allow it to dry and set overnight. Then wash it and check for any discoloration or staining.
- Using only white towels or sheets will often not protect you from staining from salicylic acid products. Remember, salicylic acid does not bleach, and will not cause white bleach stains. But it may smudge your clothes with other colors.
- Let the product dry completely before allowing it to touch your good fabric. Don’t put your clothes on or get into bed until the salicylic acid has completely dried.
- After handling and applying the product to your skin, wash and dry your hands completely. Be careful not to inadvertently wipe your hands and fingers on the back of your jeans or your shirt.
- Clothes contaminated with salicylic acid should be washed separately from your other clothes. Be mindful that in the wash, all the clothes could potentially become discolored due to contamination from that one dirty towel you decided to throw in there too.
How to remove salicylic acid stains from clothes
- Time is of the essence. Remember, the longer a stain sets on clothing the more difficult it will be to get out.
- Rub a fabric cleaner or liquid detergent directly onto the stain. Use a small brush or toothbrush to scrub away at the surface of the discoloration. Fold the fabric up to prevent evaporation, and allow it to sit for an hour or so. Then wash the clothing normally and see if the stain is removed.
- If not, use a color safe bleach to break down the chemical bonds of the stain. Fill a tub with water and add color safe bleach as directed on the label. Allow the stained fabric to soak in the bleach for several hours or overnight, and then wash as usual. A really tough stain may need to soak for longer.