Benzoyl Peroxide vs. Salicylic Acid: What’s the Difference?

There are so many different acne products out there, how do we know which one to choose?! Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are two of the most common ingredients for treating acne, but knowing which one to choose can be difficult, especially if you only have a limited understanding about how they work to benefit your skin.

If you’re unsure about whether benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid is the better choice, then it’s important to learn how each ingredient interacts with your skin, what side effects each may have, and how these ingredients work to get rid of acne. Knowing the facts is vital before you purchase any acne product in order to prevent an allergic reaction or other skin issues.

Salicylic Acid


What is it? Salicylic Acid is a BHA (beta hydroxy acid) an ingredient that treats acne or the occasional blemish. It exfoliates to remove dead skin cells inside pores as well as on the surface of the skin. Best of all, it’s an anti-inflammatory (derived from aspirin) so it reduces redness.

What’s it good for? It is best for black heads and large inflamed spots on all skin types, especially those prone to oil and redness.

What percentage should I use? The percentage can range from .05 to 2 percent in over-the-counter products—for mild acne .05 to 1 percent is fine, but for stubborn acne look for 2 percent. Make sure to consider pH as well. The optimal pH should be around 3 to 4.

This ingredient works best in a leave-on product like a toner, gel, mask, or lotion. When found in cleansers, it just isn’t left on the skin long enough to be as effective as possible.

The Benefits and Drawbacks

One of its biggest advantages is its exfoliating properties. It can exfoliate skin without causing inflammation while also calming any redness or swelling. This is important if you suffer from cystic acne or any other kind of inflammatory acne because it works to loosen the sebum that clogs pores. It is also important to note that salicylic acid rarely causes secondary problems such as redness and peeling.

However, some medical professionals claim that this ingredient can damage skin and its cells, while others assert that the amount of this acid that is in most products is not in a high enough concentration to cause serious damage. The only exception to this may be if you use a product with a prescription-strength concentration.

Benzoyl Peroxide


What is it? Benzoyl peroxide is an antibacterial ingredient that pushes oxygen into pores and kills bacteria causing acne and inflammation. It typically works best on whiteheads. A drawback is that it bleaches clothing and other fabrics if it comes into contact with them.

Who’s it best for? It’s safe for all skin types, but people with sensitive skin should start out using it every few days and then work up to using it daily because it can dry out your skin.

What percentage should I use? The percentage of benzoyl peroxide ranges from 2.5 to 10 percent. Always start with the lowest concentration, and work your way up if your skin doesn’t respond. Starting at higher percentages right away can result in irritation and flaky, dry skin.

The Benefits and Drawbacks

Benzoyl peroxide is more powerful as it fights all different types of acne, from cystic bumps and lesions to blackheads and whiteheads. Benzoyl peroxide also kills bacteria on the surface of the skin instead of just targeting areas with acne. Another advantage of benzoyl peroxide that it tends to work more quickly, which means that you may see marked improvement in as little as seven to ten days instead of waiting weeks to see results. Many doctors use benzoyl peroxide treatments with an antibiotic to get rid of acne, as this ingredient does not readily interact negatively with antibiotics.

However, benzoyl peroxide may cause redness, stinging, peeling, and itching during use, so an acne treatment with this ingredient may not be a good choice if you have sensitive skin. This ingredient also has a one- to three-hour working time, and any product that comes into contact with it before it has completely worked its magic will likely inhibit its full effectiveness.

37702.jpgMy Thoughts

Personally, I prefer using Benzoyl Peroxide. I used Salicylic Acid for years and it definitely helped, but I would still get consistent mild blemishes. It would also damage my skin if I left too much of it on for an extended period of time. I would consistently get hyperpigmentation even if I didn’t pick at the spot. I just figured that would be my normal forever. After visiting the Advanced Skincare Solutions Affordable Skincare Salon in Philadelphia, they suggested I begin using Benzoyl Peroxide instead because Salicylic Acid was clogging my pores. They gave me the Vivant Skincare 10% Benzoyl Peroxide Gel Medication which I detail how I use in my skincare routine, and it has genuinely changed my skin for the better. My skin is so clear now! On top of a few other changes I made to my skincare routine, my skin is the best it’s ever been. Although I do consider myself to have sensitive skin, it hasn’t given me any negative reactions. In the beginning it made my skin peel a little bit, but I just used it every other day for a couple of weeks until my skin adjusted. Then, I began using it every day again and I haven’t had any problems since. Using it in conjunction with a great moisturizer helps combat any negative side effects as well. Although it has a long working time, I never wait that long to put the rest of my skincare products on. Because let’s be real… ain’t nobody got time for that. I wait minimum 5 minutes (longer if I have the time) and then finish my routine.

Conclusions: Salicylic acid seems to work better for people with mild acne or inflammatory acne of any kind. Its exfoliating properties are most beneficial for those skin concerns. Benzoyl peroxide seems to work better for people with more serious acne or for oily skin types that get clogged pores easily. If you are using one treatment and haven’t seen results after extended use, give the other one a try and it may be what you were missing.

Thanks for reading and I hope this helped you figure out your skincare regimen!

xoxo, Arielle

Disclaimer: I am not a licensed professional, so when it comes making medical decisions, it’s best to consult your doctor before trying new products.


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