What Is Salicylic Acid?
Salicylic acid works a bit differently than benzoyl peroxide. As a beta hydroxy acid, salicylic acid speeds up cell turnover rates. It exfoliates, helping your skin to shed dead cells more effectively. This, in turn, keeps them from building up within the pore.
Salicylic acid can be found in many over-the-counter products. It’s also very popular as a chemical peel at the salon, skin spa, or dermatology clinic.
When to Choose Benzoyl Peroxide
Because benzoyl peroxide is a great bacteria-reducer, it is especially good if your acne is red and inflamed.
Got lots of papules and pustules (basically, your typical zits and whiteheads?) Benzoyl peroxide is a great treatment choice.
When to Choose Salicylic Acid
Salicylic acid’s claim to fame is its ability to dissolve pore blockages and smooth out the skin, making it a good choice for blackheads and closed comedones.
If your skin has a rough, bumpy texture without many red pimples, you’ve most likely got comedonal acne, making salicylic acid a good choice for you.
OTC salicylic acid products tend to be less irritating and drying than benzoyl peroxide, so they are a good first-line treatment for young tweens with the beginnings of acne breakouts. For those with a sensitivity to benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid is obviously the better option.
You Can Use Both
You don’t necessarily have to choose one ingredient over the other, either. Using both benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid together can help increase their effectiveness.
Many OTC products contain both benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. You could even use a cleanser containing salicylic acid, for example, followed by a benzoyl peroxide lotion.
The possible side effects of both benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are similar—dryness, peeling, and irritation. Using them together can increase the chances of side effects, so scale back use if you’re getting especially dry or irritated.