Salicylic Acid vs. Benzoyl Peroxide: Which Is a Better acne-clearing ingredient?

When it comes to fighting acne problems, you will find the skincare industry flooding with serums, spot treatments or exfoliators and all of these teeming a long list of ingredients. But in most cases, you will notice two ingredients standing out from the crowd: Salicylic acid and Benzoyl Peroxide.

Though these two acne-fighting ingredients target the pesky breakouts and reduce the acne-causing grime and bacteria, these ingredients are not the same. In fact, here’s where the similarities between these super-ingredients end!

These ingredients tackle distinct issues and function in different ways to help you have smooth and acne-free skin.

So, without any further ado, let’s delve into the difference between these ingredients and see how you can incorporate them into your day-to-day skincare routine for the best results!

What is Salicylic acid?

Salicylic acid is one of the oldest acne-clearing ingredients in the beauty industry. And it is mainly because of how salicylic acid targets the different causes responsible for developing acne in the first place.

It is a beta hydroxy acid that functions by going deep into your skin layers and dissolving the dirt, dead skin cells, and excess oil which clog your pores and eventually lead to acne. Keeping your pores clean helps prevent future breakouts and lowers the blemishes caused by existing pimples and acne.

What is Benzoyl peroxide?

On the other hand, Benzoyl Peroxide is an organic acid belonging to the peroxide family which is mainly known for its antimicrobial properties.

When applied, Benzoyl Peroxide breaks down and starts releasing oxygen. This helps kill the acne-causing bacteria and effectively reduces inflammation. Besides, this ingredient works best in treating inflammatory acne, the breakouts that are hot, red and too painful to touch.

Now that you have some idea of how salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide work, let’s take a closer look into how these ingredients’ benefit your skin separately.

What are the benefits of Benzoyl peroxide and Salicylic Acid?

First, let’s focus on the salicylic acid uses for skin.

  • Being an excellent oil-soluble ingredient, salicylic acid can cut through the excessive sebum to exfoliate your pore-lining and reduce the oil build-up.
  • Salicylic acid is an excellent comedolytic, which means it can prevent you from future breakouts and acne by keeping your pores clear and unclogged.
  • Salicylic acid is also an excellent peeling ingredient that helps remove dead skin build-up in the pores and enhances skin cell renewal. And this deep exfoliating property helps keep acne and breakouts at bay!

Now let’s see how benzoyl peroxide works to keep your skin acne-free.

  • Owing to its oxidizing property, Benzoyl peroxide releases oxygen in the skin upon application. This action helps murder the acne-causing bacteria and treat acne.
  • Benzoyl peroxide is also rich in anti-inflammatory properties which makes it a super ingredient to treat cystic acne, the ones that are most difficult to treat and usually have pus inside them.
  • Like salicylic acid, this ingredient can also help unclog pores. And this is probably the only similarity!

Can you use both these ingredients together?

Yes, your skincare regime can include both salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide at the same time if your skin permits. But in most cases, dermatologists suggest not to use these ingredients together as they can dry out your skin and cause redness and irritation.

However, if you really need to use them together, it is best to space them out to decrease the chances of redness, peeling and drying. For example, if you use salicylic acid in the morning, it would be best to apply benzoyl peroxide at night. Or if you are comfortable using these ingredients only at night before sleep, then, you can alternate their use.

Nonetheless, to derive the best results, it would be better to seek suggestions from a dermatologist first and then, plan out on using these ingredients together.

Salicylic acid or Benzoic Acid: Which one should you use?

Now, this is completely up to the person using the ingredients.

First, begin with understanding your skin’s needs and then, compare them with how these acne-fighting ingredients work. Like, if you are tired of blackheads and whiteheads, you should rather pick salicylic acid to clean your pores.

But if your acne tends to be inflammatory like pustules or cystic acne, opting for benzoyl peroxide will help you target these outbreaks, right from the source!

Moreover, if you have sensitive skin, we would suggest beginning with salicylic acid only. Then, as you slowly get used to these topical treatments for acne, you can opt for benzoyl peroxide. But don’t forget to start with a lower concentration! You can gradually move up if your skin handles it well.


Both salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide works to keep your skin free from breakouts. However, their way of working is completely different and that’s what makes these ingredients distinct.

Now, before you start using these acne-fighting ingredients right away, make sure you are using them right and most importantly, follow up with a moisturizer to keep the chances of dryness or irritation at bay!