Salicylic Acid vs Benzoyl Peroxide: Which One is Best?

Understand when to use salicylic acid and when to use benzoyl peroxide to fight acne.

Two common ingredients that are widely used in acne-fighting products are salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. Perhaps you noticed these two products in different creams, face washes, and serums and wondered what the difference is between the two, and whether one is more effective than the other. We’ll go over some of the key differences and when each ingredient is most appropriate for your skincare routine.

What is Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic acid actually does not treat acne itself. Instead, it targets the cause of acne by dissolving the skin cells that sit on the surface of the face, neck, and chest. Those dead skin cells are one of the primary culprits for clogged pores, which are at the root of many breakouts. When they mix with oils on your skin and dirt or bacteria, you’ll see breakouts. Salicylic acid also works to remove some of the excess oils on your skin surface, smoothing out skin texture and improving skin appearance.

When to use salicylic acid

Salicylic acid works best for blackheads and whiteheads, which are caused by clogged pores but don’t have associated inflammation or bacteria.

Potential side effects of salicylic acid

Salicylic acid can cause some skin dryness because it removes excess oils, which can leave skin feeling tingly or itchy. If you notice hives, peeling skin, or a stinging or tingling feeling after using it, stop and talk to a skincare professional to figure out if there are other options. If you are allergic to aspirin, do not use salicylic acid.

What is Benzoyl Peroxide?

Benzoyl peroxide is an antibacterial face wash that kills the bacteria that causes acne (Propionibacterium acnes, or P. acnes). When you use it as a topical agent, it can eliminate skin conditions that are more conducive to acne development. You apply it topically (to your skin) and it can work quickly to kill bacteria and clear up your skin. It works both preventively to keep skin from developing acne, and as a spot treatment to fight breakouts.

When to use benzoyl peroxide

Since benzoyl peroxide has antibacterial properties, it works best for pimples and pustules that result from bacteria in your pores, which causes inflammation and a breakout.

Potential side effects of benzoyl peroxide

One of the most common side effects of benzoyl peroxide is dry skin. It usually causes more dryness than salicylic acid, so it might not work for people with very sensitive skin, or those with another skincare condition like eczema, dermatitis, or psoriasis. Talk to a skincare professional about any skin conditions you have before using benzoyl peroxide.

The other common concern people have is stains or bleaching. The active ingredient in benzoyl peroxide can stain or bleach clothing, towels, and hair. Wash your hands after use and avoid getting the product on fabrics.

Before you use benzoyl peroxide with retinoids, such as retinol or tretinoin, or with abrasive cleansers, talk to a skincare professional because the active ingredients can cause a skin reaction if used incorrectly.

Talk to a Skincare Professional To Learn More

To find out more about what skincare products would work best for your breakouts, it’s important to talk to a qualified skincare professional. They can identify the type of acne you have, and help you select which product will work best. In some situations they may also recommend a combination of salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. Schedule your online consultation today with Skintherapy Skincare & Acne Clinic.

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