salicylic acid vs benzoyl peroxide

Thought acne would disappear once you’d turn 20?

Sometimes, it does. Other times, it stays with you long after that. No matter what you do, it stubbornly refuses to leave your face alone.

Oh, why can’t you just go away, acne?

If it doesn’t get the message alone, you need a bouncer to show it the door (and keep it out). The best candidates for the job?

Benzoyl Peroxide and Salicylic Acid.

Their CVs say they’re both good at getting rid of acne. But, they have slightly different skills and do the job in different ways. Which one gets the job depends on your specific needs.

Which one is better for you? Let’s start the benzoyl peroxide vs salicylic acid showdown to find out:

Benzoyl Peroxide Is Better At Treating Acne

Why Is Good At Treating Acne?

Benzoyl Peroxide is one of the most effective acne treatments available. Fact.

It works thanks to its peeling action: it exfoliates skin, getting rid both of the dead cells on its surface, and the dirt and sebum that’s clogging your pores.

Once all that crap is out of the way, your pores never get clogged up enough to erupt in breakouts. Plus, P.Acnes. the bacteria that causes acne, feeds on these dead cells. The fewer it has to eat, the weaker its gets.

Talking about bacteria, Benzoyl Peroxide can reach P. Acnes even when it’s hiding deep into your pores and kill it.

The best part? Unlike with antibiotics, there’s no risk of bacterial resistance. It won’t stop working in a year or two.

Are There Any Side Effects?

Yes, all the most powerful skincare ingredients do. It’s the other side of the coin, I guess.

Benzoyl peroxide has two major side effects:

  • Irritation: if you have sensitive or dry skin, you may not be able to use it all
  • Free radicals: when it kills P.Acnes, it generates free radicals, the molecules that cause wrinkles

That’s why you should use small doses (2.5% is more than enough) only on the areas affected by acne. This is definitely not something you want to slather all over your face, trust me!

Best Picks:

  • Paula’s Choice Clear Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment with 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide ($18.00): available at Dermstore and Paula’s Choice.
  • Proactive & Proactiv+ Pore Targeting Treatment ($42.00): available at Sephora and Ulta.

Salicylic acid Is Better At Preventing Acne

Why Is It Good At Treating Acne?

Salicylic acid, a.k.a BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid), is an exfoliating acid derived from the bark of the willow tree.

Like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid exfoliates skin too: it unclogs the pores and gets rid of the dull, dead skin cells that accumulate on its surface. This starves P.Acne and prevents breakouts.

Benzoyl Peroxide also has anti-bacterial properties that soothe irritations and reduce redness.

BUT, its antibacterial properties are weak. In other words, it’s not a good bacterial killer like Benzoyl Peroxide.

Are There Any Side Effects?

Yep. Let’s be clear: Salicylic Acid is a lot gentler than benzoyl peroxide, BUT it can still cause some mild dryness.

If that happens to you, cut back and use it only three times a week or so.

Best Picks:

Related: Salicylic Acid: Why It’s Key To Keeping Oily Skin Spot-Free

Benzoyl Peroxide VS Salicylic Acid: Which One Should You Use?

Salicylic acid is better for prevention, benzoyl peroxide for cure. Start with salicylic acid and, if your acne’s really stubborn, upgrade to benzoyl peroxide (if you have sensitive skin, you may want to stick to benzoyl peroxide anyway).

What are your thoughts on the benzoyl peroxide vs salicylic acid debate? Share your thoughts and what you’re currently using below.