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Benzoyl Peroxide vs. Salicylic Acid: Which Is Better And How Are The Common Acne Ingredients Different?


You know that benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are the top guns in the over-the-counter war on acne. But do you know how they work and which one is right for you?

The number of products that promise to remove oil build-up, unclog pores and end breakouts can boggle the mind. But understanding the two most popular anti-acne ingredients – benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid – will make everything clearer, including your skin!

First, let’s explore how these two remedies are different and what they exactly do to our complexion. “Salicylic acid [also known as beta hydroxy acid or BHA] is an exfoliant, which removes dead skin cells from the surface of the skin,” says Dr. Neal Schultz, a dermatologist based in New York City.

“In order to create acne you need oil, bacteria and dead skin cells. This medicine takes care of unclogging the pores, thereby preventing and treating acne.” Its exfoliating properties can also create a smoother, more even-toned complexion.

Here’s the catch: Salicylic acid alone doesn’t have the ability to kill the bacteria that causes acne. That’s where benzoyl peroxide comes in. “Like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide is also an exfoliant and unclogs clusters of dead cells,” notes Dr. Schultz. “But it has the added benefit of being antibacterial.” This means you can eliminate two of the three issues that cause acne –bacteria and pore-clogging dead skin – with benzoyl peroxide. The downside? Too much of it can irritate the skin.

So which should you be using to treat your acne? The answer is both! Experts have found that these two powerhouses work best when used in combination – and continuously over time. Why? Salicylic acid does an outstanding job of pushing through oil in the pores as it exfoliates. That, in turn, allows a safe amount of benzoyl peroxide to seep deep into the pores unleashing its bacteria-killing power.

It’s ideal to maintain a regular regimen twice a day of both, but don’t go overboard. Benzoyl peroxide acne treatments can range in concentrations, from 2.5 percent to 10 percent.

However, clinical studies have shown that lower concentrations of benzoyl peroxide are just as effective as higher amounts. And too much of this medicine can cause skin inflammation. It’s a similar case for salicylic acid. While high concentrations aren’t found in typical over-the-counter products, using it more than twice a day can lead to dry skin.

To keep skin healthy, add an oil-free or oil-controlling moisturizer to your routine when using both products. Just taking that extra few minutes with a moisturizer in the morning and evening can make a world of difference.