When it comes to products that help combat acne, people’s thoughts naturally turn to salicylic acid vs. benzoyl peroxide advantages. Both are acne treatments found in various skin care products, but how do they work? And more importantly, which one is better for clearing breakouts? And what should you be aware of before making your selection? We’ll go through all of the ins and outs of salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide.

1. What are the similarities between salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide?

Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are well-known acne-fighting ingredients. If you walk into any drugstore, med spa, or dermatologist office, you will see products with these two ingredients in the name. Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are available in multiple over-the-counter skin care products, accessible to most people. Both ingredients are used to remove the build-up of dead skin cells on the skin’s surface. This lowers the risk of clogged pores, and keeping the pores clear is one of the most effective methods for preventing breakouts. They both sound like great options to fight blemishes, don’t they? Let’s get into the differences between the two!

2. What is salicylic acid?

Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) derived from willow bark. This natural ingredient has treated various skin conditions for centuries, including acne. Salicylic acid’s main function in skin care products is to exfoliate the skin. The goal is to help remove any dead skin cells that may have formed on the skin’s surface. Another benefit of salicylic acid is that it’s an oil-soluble BHA, which means it works well to get rid of dead skin cells and remove blockages in pores. Because it can get so deep, it’s ideal for eliminating whiteheads and blackheads. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that can help soothe active breakouts.

3. What is benzoyl peroxide?

Benzoyl peroxide is an antibacterial agent that treats and prevents acne by killing bacteria underneath the skin. It also helps the pores shed dead skin cells and excess sebum. Benzoyl peroxide works particularly well for inflammatory acne rather than whiteheads and blackheads. We’re talking about any red bumps that contain pus — pustules, papules, cysts, and nodules. P. acnes bacteria contribute to cystic acne, which benzoyl peroxide may help treat. Our favorite product containing benzoyl peroxide is the Maria Kane Clarifying Complexion Serum. This daily serum is clinically proven to decrease sebum production by 70%. It contains micronized benzoyl peroxide, which is more gentle than other forms of benzoyl peroxide, and it leaves minimal irritation on the skin.

4. What are the side effects of each ingredient?

A few side effects come with the effectiveness of these powerful ingredients. The most common side effects are dryness, flaking, irritation, and redness. These occur as part of your skin adjusting to the increased skin cell turnover rate. If you introduce these ingredients in your skin care products slowly and take a break from use if your skin starts to become sensitive, these symptoms should be brief. We recommend starting slow. Use your new product two times per week and build up use as your skin tolerates the active ingredients.

5. Salicylic acid vs. benzoyl peroxide: Which is the best for acne?

Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are good options to treat acne. The discussion of salicylic acid vs. benzoyl peroxide revolves around your specific skin care concerns and type of acne.

Salicylic acid is a great option for most skin types. Salicylic acid can be your go-to daily exfoliant whether you have small spots coupled with aging skin, or if you have oily, acne-prone skin with active breakouts. A great way to incorporate salicylic acid is through your evening cleanser. Salicylic acid will help eliminate the build-up of dead skin cells, and improve the efficacy of your evening treatment creams because they do not have to work as hard to break through dead skin.

Benzoyl peroxide is a staple for treating inflammatory acne. If you are experiencing both inflammatory (cysts) and noninflammatory acne (blackheads and whiteheads), it’s worth considering skin care products containing salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. The Maria Kane Clarifying Triple Acid Pads contain salicylic acid, lactic acid, and glycolic acid, working synergistically to exfoliate the skin. Paired with the Maria Kane Clarifying Complexion Serum with benzoyl peroxide and glycolic acid, this duo is a great treatment option for someone with inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne.

Both ingredients help clean pores, but salicylic acid’s primary role is to eliminate dead skin cells while benzoyl peroxide’s main function is to kill acne-causing bacteria. One thing to note, if you use other skin care treatments for anti-aging, such as retinol, you should steer clear of benzoyl peroxide. Those two ingredients in combination may negate the benefits of each other, leaving the skin dry and irritated.

There is no clear winner in the salicylic acid vs. benzoyl peroxide debate. Each ingredient has its strengths, and you should choose the best ingredient and skin care product for your specific skin needs. Schedule a complimentary skin care consultation at The Skin Company if you are unsure where to begin.