Two of the leading treatments in the battle against acne are salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. What product is best of you is dependent on your specific skin care challenges. Read on for more details about the differences in these two treatments and how to know what product is best for your needs.

What Is Salicylic Acid?

Also known as beta hydroxy acid (BHA), salicylic acid is one of the key tools in the fight against acne. Salicylic acid is most often used an exfoliant, stripping away dead skin cells at a rate faster than natural course. This rapid exfoliation promotes cell turnover and brighter and clearer skin. The calming properties of salicylic acid also reduce skin irritation and redness.

Salicylic Acid: Benefits and How it Works

Salicylic acid is a non-abrasive BHA that boasts an abundance of calming and healing properties. The exfoliant works to quickly remove layers of dead skin cells to reveal a fresher layer of skin. Products that contain BHA are ideal when looking to combat blackheads, blemishes, and enlarged pores. Salicylic acid has the ability to dive deep into pores to deep clean the skin. This process helps to clear away blemishes and diminish the size of pores. Additionally, the anti-aging properties of BHA deliver moisture to the skin to improve the overall complexion and brightness.

When to Use Salicylic Acid

With so many skincare products flooding the market, it can be challenging to figure out what treatment is best for your skin type. Because salicylic acid is oil-soluble, it has the ability to go into pores to clear out excess sebum and dirt. This makes it a better choice if clogged pores and blackheads are your primary skin complaint. The natural soothing ability of salicylic acid also makes it ideal for those people with sensitive skin that is prone to irritation.

How to Use Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is most effective when used in a liquid exfoliant. Face washes that contain this active ingredient are not as effective as a leave-on formula because the high pH of water disrupts the acid balance. This disruption renders the benefits of salicylic acid ineffective. Face washes with salicylic acid also do not remain on the skin long enough to deliver lasting benefits. It is best to use an exfoliant containing salicylic acid after thoroughly cleansing your skin. Wait 30 seconds and then follow up with your favorite serum and moisturizer.

Other Tips

The most common side effect of salicylic acid use is drying and flaking of the skin. Because of this, it is best to use the product every other day when first starting the new treatment regimen. Once your skin has adjusted, you can work your way up to daily use. If the skin is tolerating the treatment, salicylic acid is suitable for use up to twice daily.

Best Salicylic Acid Products for Acne and Blackheads

1. Stridex Maximum (Salicylic Acid Acne Medication Pads)

These convenient pre-moistened cleansing pads deliver a concentration of two percent salicylic acid. The cleansing power of these pads pulls away dirt, sweat, and other impurities to leave the skin clean and fresh. With the power to unclog pores, the textured material Stridex pads work hard with each swipe.

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2. Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

This popular product has amassed hordes of loyal users for good reason. The liquid exfoliant delivers an exceptional ability to unclog the excess skin cells, dirt, and oil that accumulate in the pores. The active ingredient BHA sloughs away old skin cells and evens out skin tone. Because the product remains on the skin for hours after application, it continues to work hard to clear the skin.

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3. Paula's Choice Advanced Pore-Refining Treatment 4% BHA

This powerful treatment is an ideal choice when other products are not doing the job. The leave-on treatment boasts a concentration of four percent BHA and a host of antioxidants working together to unclog pores and clear up the skin. The high concentration of BHAs in this treatment makes it a good product for use on stubborn blackheads. The time-released formula continues its work all day long.

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What Is Benzoyl Peroxide?

As one of the most commonly used acne treatments, benzoyl peroxide is the gold standard in skin care maintenance. The ingredient is found in many over the counter and prescription medications in varying degrees of strength. Because of its overall success rates in treating many forms of acne, benzoyl peroxide is the first line of treatment for people suffering from mild to moderate acne

Benzoyl Peroxide: Benefits and How it Works

Benzoyl peroxide works by killing the propionibacteria acnes, or P. acnes. It is this type of bacteria that is responsible for the formation of blemishes. P. acnes cannot survive in oxygen-rich environments. By bringing oxygen to the pore, benzoyl peroxide kills the acne-causing bacteria and reduces the incidence of breakouts. Clinical studies cite benzoyl peroxide has a proven track record of safety and efficacy for the treatment of acne.

Benzoyl peroxide also removes dead skin cells from the follicles. By working to unclog these pores, acne does not have a chance to take root and develop. It is important to continue using benzoyl peroxide after the acne has cleared up so that it does not come back. Like most acne treatments, benzoyl peroxide is a long-term solution and not just a quick fix. FYI: benzoyl peroxide will not help clear acne scars.

When to Use Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is highly regarded for its ability to kill the bacteria that causes acne. Because of this ability, the treatment is the best course of action when looking to treat pimples and inflamed acne.

How to Use Benzoyl Peroxide

The application of benzoyl peroxide should be one of the last steps of a nightly skincare routine. The treatment works best when applied after cleansing and exfoliation, yet before you apply your preferred moisturizer. Unlike salicylic acid which is used as a preventative measure and applied all over the skin that is prone to acne, benzoyl peroxide should be applied as a spot treatment. Start with a lower strength to give the skin the chance to acclimate to the treatment.

Other Tips

One of the biggest downsides of using benzoyl peroxide is that it stains. Therefore, it is important to take care that you do not get it on your clothes or towels. Using the product at night will also ensure that sweat will not carry it onto your clothes and stain them. If you are applying benzoyl peroxide to the shoulders or back, it is a good idea to wear an old shirt. If applying to your face, be sure to let the product thoroughly dry before getting into bed so that the benzoyl peroxide does not stain the pillowcase or sheets.

Best Benzoyl Peroxide Product for Acne 8-ounce 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide Treatment

Boasting a concentration of 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide, this spot treatment is applied as a colorless gel and dries quickly. The pharmaceutical-grade treatment is free of both fragrances and dyes. The ideal amount of benzoyl peroxide kills excess grime and sebum to clear up pores while not stripping the skin of crucial moisture. Studies have shown that a concentration of 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide is just as effective as products with a higher amount of this active ingredient.

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Can You Use Salicylic Acid and Benzoyl Peroxide at the Same Time?

Absolutely - acne sufferers can use both salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide concurrently.

However, using both products is not always necessary. If you are suffering from stubborn acne, the use of both acne-fighting products may deliver the best results. Following each treatment with an effective moisturizer will help to negate the side effects of dry skin. If dryness becomes an issue, cutting the usage of the benzoyl peroxide to every other day will help to alleviate the concern.

Possible Side Effects

Both salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are capable of producing side effects such as drying and peeling. If your skin becomes too irritated with daily use, you can scale back to using the products every other day. This will reduce the chances of your skin developing redness or excessive dryness. An oil-free and non-comedogenic moisturizer is helpful in delivering critical moisture back to the skin. The moisturizer should be applied after the benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid treatments.


Salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide for cystic acne?

Cystic acne can be painful and especially difficult to treat. Cystic acne sufferers can use both benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. While salicylic acid works to exfoliate the skin, benzoyl peroxide kills the acne-causing bacteria that can become trapped beneath the surface of the skin. Together, each product performs a different duty and works as a team to deliver clearer skin.

Can I layer benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid?

Yes, both of these products are compatible for use at the same time. After you have gone through your regular cleansing routine, use a salicylic exfoliant followed by a spot treatment of benzoyl peroxide and your preferred moisturizer.

What strength of benzoyl peroxide is most effective?

Less is sometimes more when it comes to using benzoyl peroxide to zap acne. This acne-fighting star is available in a variety of concentrations, up to ten percent. However, clinical studies have demonstrated that a concentration of 2.5 percent is just as effective as a dosage of ten percent without leading to side effects such as dried out and flaky skin. As with all acne treatments, start with the lowest concentration possible and then work your way up.