Benzoyl Peroxide Vs Salicylic Acid for Acne: Which Is Better?

Benzoyl Peroxide Vs Salicylic Acid for Acne Which Is Better

Acne is one of the most prevalent skin conditions that affect when you hit puberty. Hormonal changes, overactive sebaceous glands, oily skin, poor skin hygiene, and diet are some common reasons for acne and breakouts. 

Thankfully, we have multiple ingredients that work wonders against acne, helping them clear and giving smooth and flawless skin. Two such ingredients in the skincare arsenal are benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. 

In this article, we will learn the science behind these two skincare ingredients and compare them with benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. It will help you understand which of them is beneficial for your skin and its issues. 

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl Peroxide

Available as over-the-counter medication, benzoyl peroxide (1) is highly effective in treating pustules, a type of acne that develops pus-filled pimples. You can get it from a pharmacy without a prescription and apply it to acne-prone areas to combat them. 

It works by sloughing off the dead skin cells and removing the excess oil. Thus, the clogged pores and acne-causing bacteria get clear and you get healthy and acne-free skin.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid (2) also functions by exfoliating the skin and making it free from dead skin cells. While benzoyl peroxide works on pimples, salicylic acid is helpful against blackheads and whiteheads

Regular use of skincare products that have salicylic acid do not let comedones to form further and thus, keep skin acne-free. 

Below is the table differentiating benzoyl peroxide vs salicylic acid for acne

Benzoyl Peroxide Vs Salicylic Acid- What’s Better for Me?

When choosing between benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, it is important to consider the following factors-

FeatureBenzoyl PeroxideSalicylic Acid
Mechanism of ActionKills acne-causing bacteria, reduces oil production, and unclogs poresExfoliates the skin, penetrates pores to remove excess oil and dead skin cells, and reduces inflammation
Types of Acne TreatedEffective for inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne (pustules, papules, comedones)Effective primarily for non-inflammatory acne (blackheads and whiteheads)
Formulations AvailableCreams, gels, lotions, washes, and spot treatmentsCleansers, creams, gels, pads, and spot treatments
Side EffectsDryness, redness, peeling, burning, itching, and irritation; may bleach hair or fabricDryness, redness, peeling, stinging, and skin irritation; less likely to cause bleaching of hair or fabric
Usage RecommendationsTypically used once or twice daily, starting with lower concentrations and gradually increasing; can be applied directly to affected areas or as a thin layer over the entire faceCan be used once or twice daily, starting with lower concentrations and gradually increasing; often used over the entire face or targeted to acne-prone areas
PrecautionsAvoid contact with eyes, mouth, and mucous membranes

May increase sensitivity to sunlight

Can bleach hair and fabric

May cause allergic reactions
Avoid contact with eyes, mouth, and mucous membranes

May increase sensitivity to sunlight

Less likely to cause bleaching of hair or fabric

May cause allergic reactions

What Type of Acne You Have?

Acne (3) could be of various types, and these ingredients work differently on them. While benzoyl peroxide is effective for pimples, salicylic acid works against blackheads and whiteheads. 

What Is the Severity of Acne?

Even though both these ingredients are effective against acne, they do not turn the skin overnight. Only a regular application of them will help clear acne. However, benzoyl peroxide can be used as a spot treatment (4). 

What Are Your Working Hours?

Benzoyl peroxide can stain or bleach the clothes. So, if your working hours are during the day, sweat from your face may transfer to your clothes, staining them. Therefore, you can choose to apply benzoyl peroxide at night and salicylic acid in the day.

How’s Your Skin Sensitivity?

Sensitive skin should prefer salicylic acid over benzoyl peroxide as it is milder. 

Do You Have Any Underlying Medical Conditions?

Even though both the ingredients are safe for topical use, they may interact with certain medications. Therefore, if you have some underlying medical condition and are taking medications for the same, consult your doctor before using any new skincare product with specific chemicals. 

Precautions While Using Salicylic Acid and Benzoyl Peroxide for Acne

Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are highly potent for treating acne. However, using them excessively can cause more harm than good. 

Below are the things you need to keep in mind while using them-

  • Do not use them repeatedly in one skincare regimen. For instance, if your cleanser has salicylic acid, make sure it is not in the products you will use next- moisturizer or toner. Doing so will make your skin dry and irritated. 
  • Wear sunscreen each time you use skincare products with these ingredients. Sun can make acne worse. 
  • Always start with a low concentration of these ingredients. At OTC, salicylic acid can be found in 0.5 to 5% concentrations as a toner, cleanser, etc.
  • Do not use benzoyl peroxide in more than 2.5% concentration when you start for the first time. Using high concentrations may cause skin dryness and irritation. Once the skin adapts, you may increase the concentration.  

Benzoyl Peroxide Vs Salicylic Acid Is for Acne. Can You Apply Both?

People with acne-prone skin are recommended to include both salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide in their skincare regime. However, it is important to mention that using both at the same time could make the skin excessively dry, leading to skin irritation, redness, and peeling.

Instead of using them together, use them for different types of acne differently. For instance, you may use benzoyl peroxide as a spot treatment and salicylic acid to treat breakouts. You can also try applying one ingredient in the day and another in the night to achieve maximum results. 


When acne occurs due to overactive sebaceous glands that lead to clogged pores and bacteria buildup, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide can help. However, if they are happening due to hormonal imbalance, even these two ingredients can’t help but manage symptoms to some extent. 

While salicylic acid works against blackheads and whiteheads, benzoyl peroxide is effective against pimples. So, choose wisely to get maximum benefits. You can always consult your dermatologist for this. 

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