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Salicylic Acid vs. Benzoyl Peroxide: What Should You Choose for Acne?

Our skin has tiny pores that release sebum, the natural moisturizer, that helps keep the skin soft and supple. But, often, the pores get blocked by the accumulation of sebum, dirt, and dead skin cells. These pores become abode to thousands of bacteria like P.acnes, which causes acne. 

About 95% of people between 11-30 years of age suffer from acne. Prepubertal and postpubertal hormonal imbalance can aggravate acne. Though various over-the-counter skincare products are available for treating acne and breakouts, not all of them work as effectively as the manufacturers claim.

Two ingredients have drawn the attention of skincare enthusiasts because of their ability to effectively treat acne: Salicylic acids and Benzoyl Peroxide. Though both of these ingredients are beneficial for reducing acne, they both have distinct properties. In this article, we will explore how salicylic acid is different from benzoyl peroxide and how they affect your skin. 

What is Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA). In pure form, this versatile compound appears colorless and crystalline. It is beneficial for treating dermatological issues such as warts, corns, ringworm, and even dandruff. It is also effective for treating psoriasis, seborrhoeic dermatitis, and keratosis pilaris. Salicylic acid is obtained from the bark of willow trees or “Salix Alba”.

Salicylic acid has keratolytic properties. When applied to the skin, it acts on the desmosomal bonds between the dermal cells and sloughs off the superficial layer of the skin. It also has comedogenic qualities that help clear out the clogged skin pores. 

In addition, Salicylic acid has bacteriostatic properties that help inhibit the growth of bacteria in the dermal layers. This BHA also has analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects. It dissolves the dead skin cells, dirt, and sebum accumulated in the pores, stops bacterial proliferation and promotes cell growth. 

What is Benzoyl Peroxide?

Benzoyl Peroxide is a white crystalline ingredient that is used in a wide range of products like cleansers, gels, creams, and ointments to help treat acne. Benzoyl peroxide is also added to other drugs like clindamycin, adapalene, and salicylic acid to make topical acne remedies more effective. 

The sebolytic properties of Benzoyl Peroxide help regulate the sebum synthesis by the sebaceous glands of your skin. It also exhibits comedolytic activities. It breaks down the keratin that blocks the skin pores and helps facilitate sebum drainage. As a result, the risk of acne is decreased. Benzoyl Peroxide also has bacteriolytic properties that help control the proliferation of P.acnes bacteria. 

Salicylic Acid vs. Benzoyl Peroxide: How Are They Different?

Both Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid have gained immense popularity as OTC products for treating acne. However, the two ingredients differ in their use and the way they work on the skin. The bacteriolytic and sebolytic properties of Benzoyl peroxide help reduce the inflammatory acne (the painful, red, pus-filled ones). On the other hand, the comedolytic and keratolytic properties of Salicylic acid can treat non-inflammatory acne (the blackheads and whiteheads). 

What Are Their Benefits?

Benefits of Salicylic Acid:

  • It gently exfoliates your skin and boosts the cell turnover of your skin. 

  • It helps treat skin conditions like acne, acne scars, spots, blemishes, and melasma. 

  • It also helps treat body and back acne. 

  • It helps unclog blocked pores, promotes sebum drainage, and reduces future incidences of breakouts. 

Benefits of Benzoyl Peroxide:

  • It helps inhibit the proliferation of acne-causing bacteria.

  • It is an effective treatment for cystic acne and acne vulgaris. 

  • It is beneficial for preventing greasy skin and gives your skin a matte look.  

What Are Their Side Effects?

Both salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are safe to use. But, they both might cause some mild-to-moderate side effects, such as:

Side Effects of Salicylic Acid:

  • Excessive sloughing of skin.

  • Irritation and itching.

  • Hives.

  • Stinging sensation

Side Effects of Benzoyl Peroxide:

  • Excessive drying of the skin.

  • Redness and peeling of the skin

  • Irritation and itching.

The Bottom Line:

As it regulates sebum synthesis, benzoyl peroxide is better for individuals with oily skin. On the other hand, salicylic acid is better for people with dry, flaky skin. It also has mild exfoliating properties that help remove the superficial dry skin cells and make your skin smoother and flawless. In addition, Salicylic acid is milder than benzoyl peroxide. Thus, people with sensitive skin or with any underlying skin condition are recommended to use salicylic acid. 

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