Salicylic Acid vs. Benzoyl Peroxide: Which One Is Better For Acne?

Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are two of the most common ingredients used to treat acne. Both are available over-the-counter (OTC) and help clear up mild acne and stop it from coming back.
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Read on to find out more about each ingredient’s benefits and side effects, how to use them, and products to try.

Main effect of action

Salicylic acidBenzoyl peroxide
Removes dead skin build up.Kills acne causing bacteria.

Salicylic acid helps get rid of dead skin cells that can build up and block pores, which can cause a pimple or blackhead. Benzoyl peroxide will kill bacteria that are also to blame for acne.

Effect on skin oils

Salicylic acidBenzoyl peroxide
DryingEven more drying

Salicylic acid gets rid of the oil (sebum) in your pores by drying it out. But it could take away too much oil, leaving your face dry in a strange way. Because benzoyl peroxide dries out more than salicylic acid, it can make irritations worse.

Which type of acne it is best suited for?

Salicylic acidBenzoyl peroxide
Blackheads and Whiteheads (Comedones)Traditional red, pus-filled pimples (pustules and papules)

Salicylic acid is known for being able to open up clogged pores and make the skin smoother. This makes it a good choice for blackheads and closed comedones. If your skin is rough and bumpy but doesn’t have many red pimples, you probably have comedonal acne. Salicylic acid is a good choice for you if this is the case.

Because benzoyl peroxide kills bacteria so well, it works best on acne that is red and swollen. Have a lot of papules and pustules, which are basically pimples and whiteheads? The best way to treat acne is with benzoyl peroxide.

Best way to use it

Salicylic acidBenzoyl peroxide
All-over the faceAs a spot treatment

Your treatment plan could include both salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. But putting both products on the same area of skin, even at different times of the day, can make your skin dry, red, and peel more than it needs to.

For different kinds of acne, it is safer to use both ingredients. For example, salicylic acid may be good for treating and preventing breakouts all over the face, while benzoyl peroxide may only be used to treat specific spots.


Salicylic acidBenzoyl peroxide
Soothes skin.
Reduces pore size.
Kills bacteria.
Works quickly.
Prevents antibiotic resistance.

Salicylic acid helps get rid of dead skin cells by exfoliating the skin. It comes from willow bark and soothes skin and reduces swelling. It also shrinks the pores.

Bacteria are killed by benzoyl peroxide, and it works quickly (in as little as five days!). As a bonus, benzoyl peroxide keeps antibiotics from becoming less effective.


Salicylic acidBenzoyl peroxide
Takes longer to work.Can be irritating.
Can bleach fabric.
Can cause hyperpigmentation.

Salicylic acid may take a long time (up to four weeks!) to work. Too much salicylic acid can cause side effects, but over-the-counter products don’t have enough of it to hurt you, so you’re good. It can also make your skin dry, flake, and turn red.

Fabrics can be whitened with benzoyl peroxide.
In some cases, benzoyl peroxide can lead to hyperpigmentation after an injury (a.k.a. dark spots).

Efficacy rating

Salicylic acidBenzoyl peroxide

Salicylic acid is usually well tolerated by people, but it is not very good at treating acne. The recommendation grade for benzoyl peroxide is an “A,” but salicylic acid only gets a “B.”

Typical concentration of OTC medications

Salicylic acidBenzoyl peroxide
0.5% to 5%2.5%, 5%, and 10%

Topical concentrations of salicylic acid in creams, washes, astringents, and other over-the-counter medicines are usually between 0.5 and 5%.

When choosing a benzoyl peroxide product, you might want to start with a 2.5 percent concentration because it dries out and irritates the skin less. If you don’t see much improvement after six weeks, you can switch to a 5 percent concentration. If you don’t see results after six weeks, you might try increasing the concentration to 10 percent.

How often to use

Salicylic acidBenzoyl peroxide
Twice a dayOnce a day

You can use salicylic acid in the morning and at night. Because it is so gentle, it can also be used as a spot treatment in the middle of the day.

If you’ve never used benzoyl peroxide before, start by only using it once a day. Work your way up to applying it in the morning and at night.

In Conclusion

Acne has no real cure, but salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide may help relieve symptoms and clear up breakouts.

If after six weeks you haven’t seen any changes, you might want to talk to your dermatologist. They may suggest stronger treatments, like retinols or retinoids that you have to get from a doctor.


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