Salicylic acid vs Glycolic acid: What is the Difference Acne, Chemical Peel and More?

Salicylic acid vs Glycolic acid What is the Difference Acne, Chemical Peel and More

When it comes to ingredients that work like a miracle on the skin, salicylic acid and glycolic acid require no introduction. Due to their effectiveness, these two ingredients have become a staple in many skincare products.

With the ability to detox and exfoliate the skin, they help fight off acne and give a gorgeous glow. However, they differ from each other in certain aspects, and knowing that will help you decide which is the best for your skin type.

If you are confused, information on Salicylic Acid vs. Glycolic Acid will help. Keep reading till the end!

Salicylic Acid- Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA)

Salicylic Acid- Beta Hydroxy Acid

Naturally found in wintergreen leaves and willow bark and artificially synthesized in labs, salicylic acid offers immense benefits to the skin.

From removing excess sebum to reducing its production altogether, salicylic acid is a wonder ingredient for people with acne-prone skin, oily skin, and skin prone to hyperpigmentation. Besides, the anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties add to its value even more.

However, despite the benefits, salicylic acid may also cause skin irritation and dryness and trigger allergic reactions. Therefore, using it mindfully is important.

Glycolic Acid- Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA)

Naturally found in sugarcane and also synthesized in labs, glycolic acid is an excellent exfoliator that retains skin’s natural moisture. It removes the dead skin cells from the epidermis and helps generate new skin.

Like the former ingredient, glycolic acid also has anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, it provides protection from harmful UV rays and fights off acne-causing microbes.

Its ability to reduce aging signs and give youthful skin makes it a perfect ingredient for people with aging skin, acne-prone skin, and skin prone to hyperpigmentation.

Usually, glycolic acid is safe for all skin types, but using products that contain 10% or more content may cause skin irritation, especially among people with sensitive skin.

What is the Difference Salicylic Acid vs Glycolic Acid ?

Here’s a detailed differentiation between salicylic acid and glycolic acid for a better understanding-

FeatureSalicylic AcidGlycolic Acid
SourceNaturally derived from willow barkNaturally derived from sugar cane or fruits
Type of AcidBeta hydroxy acid (BHA)Alpha hydroxy acid (AHA)
pH2.0 – 4.03.5 – 4.0
Skin PenetrationLipophilic properties allow deeper penetration into poresHydrophilic properties allow surface exfoliation
ExfoliationPrimarily penetrates oil glands and unclogs pores, suitable for acne-prone skinPrimarily exfoliates the surface of the skin, suitable for improving texture and tone
Targeted IssuesEffective for acne treatment, unclogging pores, and reducing inflammationEffective for improving skin texture, reducing fine lines, and hyperpigmentation
Side EffectsCan cause dryness, irritation, and peeling, especially with frequent or excessive useCan cause mild irritation and increased sensitivity to sunlight, especially with high concentrations or prolonged use
PrecautionsNot recommended for use during pregnancy or breastfeeding; caution advised for sensitive skin typesCaution advised for sensitive skin types; use sunscreen during daylight hours due to increased sensitivity
Usage FrequencyOften used once or twice daily depending on skin toleranceTypically used in lower concentrations and less frequently due to potential irritation

Salicylic Acid Vs. Glycolic Acid: What’s Better for Acne?

While both these ingredients work against acne and breakouts, in comparison, salicylic acid secures more marks in this context.

Since salicylic acid works on sebum and reduces its production, it prevents the pores from clogging and thus helps in reducing the breakouts. At the same time, its antimicrobial and exfoliating properties keep bacterial growth at bay, ensuring acne-free skin.

Salicylic acid vs. Glycolic Acid: What’s Better For Chemical Peel?

Chemical peels often use ingredients that can bring an instant youthful glow to the skin by removing dead skin layers. At the same time, the peels even out the skin tone. In such cases, glycolic acid works far better than salicylic acid.

The molecular size of glycolic acid is small, helping it to enter the skin layer and exfoliate effectively. Also, it retains the natural moisture of the skin, keeping it hydrated and supple.

On the contrary, using salicylic acid in chemical peels can make the skin dry, tight, and irritated. This is mainly because salicylic acid removes skin sebum.

Salicylic acid vs. Glycolic Acid: What’s Good For You?

Now that you know how salicylic acid and glycolic acid work, it will be easy to decide which one will be useful to accomplish your goals. 

You can start using products with salicylic acid when you-

  • have active acne breakouts
  • have acne-prone or oily skin
  • have clogged pores

Glycolic acid can be your go-to product when you-

  • have hyperpigmentation or uneven skin tone
  • have aging skin 
  • do not have oily skin 
  • do not have too many breakouts 


Some ingredients are nothing less than a blessing for skincare, and salicylic acid and glycolic acid are a few of them. Both comprise amazing skincare properties and help make the skin brighter, clearer, smoother, and youthful. 

However, understanding how each of them functions will help you know which of them will be safe for your skin. While salicylic acid will work wonders on acne-prone skin, glycolic acid will give you a youthful appearance. 

Always try with a small amount and see how the skin reacts. Noticeable results came within a month of application. If you are still concerned, visit a dermatologist for consultation. 

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