Should I Use Benzoyl Peroxide or Salicylic Acid for My Acne?

With so many skincare products in the market, it can be difficult to figure out which ones deserve a place in your routine. Two of the most common active ingredients you'll see are are benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. Both of these have been found to help clear active outbreaks and prevent future pimples -- but which one is right for you? While both ingredients are effective, you should choose the one most appropriate for your type of acne. 
Benzoyl Peroxide vs. Salicylic Acid

Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid each target different causes of acne. Salicylic acid helps break up dead skin cells that clog pores, whereas benzoyl peroxide wipes out acne-causing bacteria. Here's how you should choose a skincare product according to acne type:
• Comedones (blackheads and whiteheads): Choose products containing salicylic acid. Blackheads and whiteheads are both "comedones," which is a fancy word that means blocked pores. They are both caused by pores that become clogged with dead skin cells and can be resolved by applying salicylic acid regularly. 

• Inflamed acne (inflamed comedones, papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts): Choose products containing benzoyl peroxide. Any acne that is red and swollen is considered inflamed acne. The inflammation is actually caused by infection, so you will need benzoyl peroxide to kill the bacteria. 

• A mix of comedones and inflamed acne: It is quite common to have a mix of non-inflamed comedones and inflamed acne. In fact, many non-inflamed comedones develop inflammation since the blocked pore fosters bacterial growth. If you suffer from a mixture of acne types, your best bet may be to use both ingredients in conjunction. For instance, consider using salicylic acne one night and benzoyl peroxide the next night. 

What is Salicylic Acid?
Salicylic acid is a form of beta hydroxy acid (BHA). It can be found in numerous over-the-counter products in the form of gels, ointments, lotions, soaps, and solutions. You can apply salicylic acid topically on areas of your skin where acne is present. 

Salicylic acid works by penetrating your skin and dissolving dead skin cells that clog your pores. Regular use of salicylic acid can undo a buildup of dead skin cells and help resolve blackhead and whitehead breakouts. If applied too frequently, salicylic acid can dry out skin, resulting in itching, peeling, and stinging. Therefore, it is best to use salicylic acid only as needed. It generally takes about six weeks of regular application to see good results. 

What is Benzoyl Peroxide?
Benzoyl peroxide is a chemical compound with a long history of use in acne-fighting skincare products. It works by penetrating the skin and clearing deep infections that cause inflamed acne. Just like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide can be found in various products, including gels, lotions, soaps, and cleansers. 

Benzoyl peroxide works by peeling away skin to clear dead excessive oil, skin cells, and trapped bacteria. Therefore, benzoyl peroxide can be a little harsh for sensitive skin. Some people find that using benzoyl peroxide can lead to dryness, redness, and itching. It is important to find a concentration and frequency that works for your skin type. Always pause the use of benzoyl peroxide if you have a sunburn. 

Closing Thoughts
Acne is a frustrating problem, but recognizing which type of acne you have is the first step towards effectively treating breakouts. While there are numerous other acne products on the market, most common acne can be resolved by either salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or a mixture of the two. For non-inflamed whiteheads and blackheads, stick with salicylic acid. For red, painful, inflamed acne, benzoyl peroxide is your best bet.