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Skin Care Ingredients

Benzoyl Peroxide vs Salicylic Acid

Which one is best for acne?

The battle of the acne fighters! Heard they’re both effective and are having a hard time deciding which one is best for you? Read on..

Lady with clear skin looking to the side

Benzoyl peroxide vs salicylic acid: this page will help you to decide which one to use by doing a side by side comparison—saving you time, money and frustration!

We look at the differences in how they work, benefits they deliver, and downsides (or side effects) of each.

How Benzoyl Peroxide and Salicylic Acid Work to Treat Acne:

These 2 treatments work on the skin slightly differently:

  • Benzoyl peroxide (BP) works by killing bacteria and drying skin.
  • Salicylic acid (SA) works by dissolving oil and dead skin cells. It has the ability to penetrate and clear out pores.

Benzoyl Peroxide vs Salicylic Acid: Benefits and Downsides of Each

Benzoyl Peroxide Benefits:

  • can be effective for large cysts or pus filled pimples, inflamed acne by killing the bacteria and drying them out
  • good for teenage acne which often has high levels of bacteria
  • teenage skin is also oilier and can tolerate the drying effect better
  • effective spot treatment – if used directly on a pimple may reduce size significantly


  • can be severely drying and irritating, some people find their acne clears up but also develop redness and flaking
  • not the best for adult acne – the increased dryness can contribute to fine lines and premature aging
  • scars may be more noticeable due to redness and sensitivity

Salicylic Acid Benefits:

  • also has some anti bacterial effects but it’s main ability is the exfoliation and dissolving of dead skin cells and oil
  • also anti inflammatory so can reduce the redness of breakouts
  • can prevent breakouts from forming in the first place by dissolving the conditions that contribute to bacteria (excess oil and dead skin cells)
  • helps to refine pores and is particularly good for treating blackheads
  • can help fade scars due to the exfoliation effect


  • may not be as effective in severe cases of acne where bacteria is present in large amounts
  • can also make skin more dry due to the exfoliation – sometimes requires a ‘build up’ in your skin’s tolerance, and usually improves with consistent use
  • product needs to have a pH 3 – 5 to be effective, and a number of products don’t contain this. This one does!


  • Benzoyl Peroxide may work better for large cysts or pus filled pimples, although for a number of people it is severely drying and irritating. This can lead to even bigger problems in the long term such as unbalanced or sensitized skin
  • However, it can be especially successful for teenagers. Sometimes the dryness will only last the first few weeks and improve after that. Using it with a good moisturizing agent (such as jojoba oil) may help
  • SA needs to be the right pH to be effective, but used properly it also improves the skin’s overall health by providing an even exfoliation and returning it to normal acidic condition. Scarring can be lessened, and it’s particularly effective for blackheads

Overall salicylic acid is best as it treats the condition that contributes to acne (dead skin cells, excess oil), and helps to improve the long term health and look of your skin.
Benzoyl peroxide treats the symptom (bacteria that is thriving due to the build up of dead skin cells and oil). This means that if you stop using it acne may return.

Questions To Help Your Decision:

So should you use benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid? Here are some questions to help you decide:

  • Do you have a lot of blackheads and/or closed comedones and blockages? Salicylic acid unblocks pores, dissolves plugs and keeps your skin clear
  • Do you have adult acne? Salicylic Acid is better as it doesn’t have the drying effect of BP, and the even exfoliation helps keep your skin clear and supple in the long term!
  • Do you have inflamed acne or extremely oily skin? You might prefer benzoyl peroxide, at least until the inflammation is under control

So there you have it! The ‘benzoyl peroxide vs salicylic acid’ comparison. I prefer salicylic acid, but which one you decide on will depend on your individual condition and goals.

Please see your dermatologist who will help you specifically.

Remember, active treatments take at least a couple of weeks to show real results – so be patient and do the best you can.

NEXT:  At-Home Salicylic Acid Peel – Step by Step Guide

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