Benzoyl Peroxide vs Salicylic Acid: What's the Difference?

Benzoyl Peroxide vs Salicylic Acid: What's the Difference?
by Truly Beauty

Both are excellent acne-fighting ingredients, but when it comes to benzoyl peroxide vs salicylic acid — which one’s better? Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are two of the best active ingredients for treating acne. That’s why you’ll find them in many acne treatments ranging from cleansers to toners, serums and spot treatments.

However, these two powerhouse ingredients have their differences. Here’s what you should know about salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide — including how they work, what sets them apart, and which one’s the right choice for you.



What is Benzoyl Peroxide?

Benzoyl peroxide is an organic acid in the peroxide family that mainly functions as an antibacterial ingredient. Its antimicrobial properties reduce the levels of acne-causing bacteria (P. acnes) on the skin to both prevent and treat acne. While it does have some exfoliating properties that can help remove the buildup of dead skin cells, its main function is combating acne-causing bacteria.

According to dermatologists, benzoyl peroxide is the most effective skincare ingredient for treating red, inflamed pimples thanks to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory activity. While it’s an incredibly powerful acne treatment, benzoyl peroxide is more likely to cause skin irritation than salicylic acid. For that reason, it’s best to use over the counter products with a low concentration of the active ingredient.

It is also notorious for bleaching clothing, towels, pillowcases, and other fabrics that it comes in contact with. Derms recommend opting for bright white pillowcases and towels if you’re using benzoyl peroxide products.


What is Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that works by penetrating deep into the skin to remove dead skin cells, excess oil, and impurities. It is a chemical exfoliator that decongests clogged pores and prevents breakouts. And because it’s oil-soluble, salicylic acid works deep in the pores to cut through sebum and break down the bonds between skin cells to prevent and clear acne breakouts.

Like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid also fights against acne-causing bacteria and boasts anti-inflammatory properties that can relieve redness. Salicylic acid is the best ingredient for treating comedonal acne such as blackheads and whiteheads.

Salicylic acid also runs the risk of dryness and irritation since it is such a potent ingredient. However, it’s generally less irritating than benzoyl peroxide and a preferred option for people with sensitive skin.


What is the Difference Between Benzoyl Peroxide and Salicylic Acid?

When it comes to deciding which one’s best for you, it’s important to understand their differences. The major difference between benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid is how they target acne. Benzoyl peroxide attacks acne at the source by killing acne-causing bacteria itself, while salicylic acid targets the cause of acne (clogged pores) by removing dead cells and excess sebum.

Another important difference to note is that they both treat different types of acne. Benzoyl peroxide treats inflammatory acne like red pimples, papules, and pustules. Salicylic acid, on the other hand, fights comedonal acne, like blackheads and whiteheads, as well as oily skin and large pores.




Benzoyl Peroxide vs Salicylic Acid: Which is Best for Acne?

Which is better benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid? Both ingredients function differently but they’re both highly effective at treating and preventing acne. So, which should you choose? It all depends on your skin type and acne type. If you’re dealing with angry red blemishes, benzoyl peroxide will be more effective. If blackheads, whiteheads, and large pores are an issue, salicylic acid is the better option.

Both benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid may trigger side effects such as redness, dryness, and irritation. However, benzoyl peroxide is more likely to irritate your skin than salicylic acid. So if you have sensitive skin, salicylic acid might be a gentler option that won’t cause flareups.

You can also alleviate side effects like dryness and redness by using formulas that contain hydrating, soothing ingredients like aloe, shea butter, and niacinamide. These help to counteract any negative effects from salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide.


Can You Use Salicylic Acid and Benzoyl Peroxide Together?

While the two ingredients function differently, dermatologists say they’re actually quite complementary. In fact, some dermatologists even recommend using salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide together in your skincare routine. While benzoyl peroxide fights acne-causing bacteria and angry red pimples, salicylic acid unclogs pores to prevent blackheads and whiteheads.

You’ll find these ingredients in a range of acne products, ranging from cleansers to toners, creams to serums. Can you mix benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid? It’s better to avoid mixing them together which can increase your risk of irritation. You can use them both in your skincare routine but it’s important to use them at different times of the day to avoid irritating or drying out your skin.

Since they both serve different functions, people with acne-prone skin can benefit from using benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid together. After all, it could be that you’re dealing with blackheads, whiteheads, and painful red pimples all at the same time. In this case, combining salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide could be the best choice as long as you do it properly.


How to Use Salicylic Acid and Benzoyl Peroxide Together

Your acne treatment plan could include benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid at the same time. However, it’s best to space them out to reduce your risk of redness, peeling, and dryness. The experts suggest switching between products every night. Alternatively, use one in the morning and the other at night.

For example, salicylic acid face wash can serve as your daily method to prevent breakouts, while benzoyl peroxide can function as a spot treatment only, particularly for pimples or papules, to avoid irritation.

Both benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid run the risk of sun sensitivity, so make sure you always wear sunscreen. What’s more, these ingredients can be drying which is why it’s also essential to finish your routine with a lightweight moisturizer.

Avoid using benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid together with retinoids like retinol which can cause severe skin reactions and allergies. You should also avoid applying them to skin if you have a skin condition such as eczema.



Which Truly Products Feature Salicylic Acid?

Are you dealing with large pores, blackheads, whiteheads, or oily skin? Salicylic acid is your best option. Fortunately for you, we’ve got plenty of salicylic acid skincare products that will help to clarify your skin, minimize pores, and reduce shine. Here are some of the favorites.

Truly 24K Gold Black Soap Luxury Butter Impurity Cleanser

benzoyl peroxide vs salicylic acid | salicylic acid face cleanser

This exfoliating cleanser features salicylic acid and black charcoal to absorb impurities, clear whiteheads and blackheads, and sop up excess oil. With a sprinkling of 24k gold to leave you glowing.


Truly Cherry Jelly Anti-Bacne Body Cleanser

benzoyl peroxide vs salicylic acid | cherry jelly salicylic acid body cleanser

For clearer, smoother skin, try this antibacterial body wash. It clears congested pores, treats acne, and prevents future blemishes from forming with a blend of salicylic acid, niacinamide, and mandelic acid. It even won a Teen Vogue award — Best for Bacne!


Truly Tansy Water Anti-Blemish Mist

benzoyl peroxide vs salicylic acid | blue tansy salicylic acid mist

Spritz and clear! A blend of blue tansy, blueberry, and salicylic acid works to reduce inflammation and clear up blemishes without stripping or irritating the skin. You spray it on your face or body—wherever you want to get clear.


Truly Dragon Milk Anti-Blemish Body Lotion

benzoyl peroxide vs salicylic acid | dragon milk lotion

Even acne-prone skin needs hydration. Give your skin some much-needed moisture without clogging pores with this AHA + BHA powered body lotion. Salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and lactic acid deep clean the pores while shea butter and squalane soothe and hydrate.


Benzoyl Peroxide or Salicylic Acid?

When it comes to the benzoyl peroxide vs salicylic acid debate, both are effective topical treatments for acne but it really comes down to the type of acne you have. Here’s a quick reminder...

Benzoyl peroxide targets acne-causing bacteria and works best on inflamed acne such as red pimples and papules.

Salicylic acid targets clogged pores and is most helpful for blackheads, whiteheads, large pores, and rough, bumpy breakouts.

According to board-certified dermatologists, it is possible to enjoy the effects of benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid by using them both in your skincare routine at different times of the day. Just make sure you’re using gentle OTC products and start slow to avoid irritating your skin.



Read next:

What is Salicylic Acid? Ultimate Guide


Photo by ShotPot, Pexels


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