We analyse the critical surface albedo (CSA) and its implications to aerosol remote sensing. CSA is defined as the surface albedo, where the reflectance at top-of- atmosphere (TOA) does not depend on aerosol optical depth (AOD). AOD retrievals are therefore inaccurate at the CSA. The CSA is obtained by derivatives of the TOA reflectance with respect to AOD using a radiative transfer code. We present the CSA and the effect of surface albedo uncertainties on AOD retrieval and atmospheric correction as a function of aerosol single-scattering albedo, illumination and observation geometry, wavelength and AOD. In general, increasing aerosol absorption and increasing scattering angles lead to lower CSA. We show that the CSA also depends on AOD, which was often neglected in previous studies. The following implications to aerosol remote sensing applications were found: (i) surface albedo uncertainties result in large AOD retrieval errors, particularly close to the CSA; (ii) AOD retrievals of non-absorbing aerosols require dark surfaces, while strong absorbing aerosols can be retrieved more accurately over bright surfaces; (iii) the CSA may help to estimate aerosol absorption; and (iv) the presented sensitivity of the reflectance at TOA to AOD provides error estimations to optimise AOD retrieval algorithms.