Benzoyl Peroxide VS Salicylic Acid: Which One Should You Use?

benzoyl peroxide vs salicylic acid

Acne is a common skin problem that affects most teens but the struggle with breakouts doesn’t always end when you grow up. Acne is difficult to cure, and if you use the wrong products you’ll only make this condition worse. But choosing the right ones for you amid the many on the market that promise to banish breakouts and clear up your skin isn’t an easy task. The two most used ingredients used in these types of products are Benzoyl Peroxide and Salicylic Acid, both of which are effective at treating mild and moderate acne, but what are the differences between the two? And which one should you use?

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl Peroxide is one of the most effective acne treatments available in over-the-counter products. It works thanks to its peeling action: it exfoliates skin, getting rid of the dead cells on the surface, dirt and sebum that clog pores and inflame follicles causing bumps. Because it can penetrate deeply into the pores, Benzoyl Peroxide can not only clean them up but also reach the bacteria the causes acne, called P.Acnes, and kill it. And unlike antibiotics, it doesn’t pose the risk of bacterial resistance. In addition, this ingredient can also dry up existing blemishes.

Benzoyl Peroxide can be used in products in amounts up to 10%. However, scientific studies have shown that 2.5% concentrations are not only just as effective, but also less irritating. If you’re planning to start using Benzoyl Peroxide, opt for products that only contain small amounts of this ingredient at the beginning. You can always choose products with higher concentrations later on if the bacteria on your skin are particularly stubborn and lower amounts don’t work too well with them.

In addition, when you first start using Benzoyl Peroxide, you might experience irritation and dryness. These symptoms usually go away after a couple of weeks which is the time your skin needs to adjust to this strong antiseptic. For this reason, it is recommended you only use products with Benzoyl Peroxide on alternate days at the beginning. If after a couple of weeks your skin is still dry and irritating or you also experience itching, peeling, burning or swelling, stop using this product immediately. If it makes your skin too dry, your acne will only get worse, not better.

Salicylic acid

If you have sensitive skin that doesn’t tolerate Benzoyl Peroxide well, Salicylic Acid may be a better option for you. Salicylic Acid is a BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid) derived from the bark of the willow tree. Like Benzoyl Peroxide, Salicylic Acid is a peeling agent too: it has the ability to penetrate the pores, exfoliating them from the inside, while exfoliating the suface of the skin as well, thus removing dirt, sebum and dead cells that cause inflammation. By clearing up skin, it also reduces blackheads, whiteheads and blemishes.

In products designed to treat acne, Salicylic Acid is used in concentrations ranging from 0.5% to 2%. Although a lot milder than Benzoyl Peroxide, it can still cause some mild dryness, which can be healed by applying an oil-free moisturizer, and slight irritation. In this case, use the product less often and if irritation persists, stop using it.

The Bottom Line: which one is better?

Both Benzoyl Peroxide and Salicylic Acid are peeling agents that exfoliate skin to unclog pores and reduce inflammation, but the first ingredient also has antiseptic properties that make it stronger but more irritating as well. Although both of them work well in mild to moderate acne cases, we all have different skin and we all react to these ingredients differently. So, only you can decided which one is best for you based on what works better for you and what your skin can better tolerate. Those with sensitive skin could probably benefit more from Salicylic Acid though which is gentler and less likely to cause irritations.

Do you use products with Benzoyl Peroxide or Salicylic Acid? Which one works best for you?

Like this post? Tell your friends!
Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook


  1. rachelle says

    I was using a BP in the morning and SA at night for about 2 weeks. But I recently realised my pimples will be very ‘dried out’. And ended up skin looking reddened after the end of the day. After reading your comments and views, should I switch the usage to SA in the morning and BP at night instead? Or omit out BP? Thanks.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Rachelle, to me it sounds like this combination is too strong for your skin. I’d use either only SA or only BP, whichever one you think works best for you.

  2. Julius says

    I just wanna suggest rachelle that in my past experience with both Bp and sa, using both at the same time will definetely be beneficial tho too strong for her skin right now, so I really really recommend her to switch them around because bp needs more time at night to work since it needs to penetrate more deeply inside the pores to kill bacterias than just exfoliating the skin. and also starting from using both ess frequently then gradually increase the usage will fix her dryness problem.

  3. Steven says

    I fought the acne battle for nearly a decade before I finally found the combination that works for me: Clearasil face wash (with salicylic acid) followed by 5% benzoyl peroxide gel, morning & night. I have quite oily skin. Cleared up my acne within two weeks and I now have only a very occasional break-out. I also take flax seed oil capsules twice daily which has also made a big difference.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Steven, thank you for sharing your experience. I’m glad you’ve found a skincare routine that works so well for you.

  4. BruceW says

    Although Salicylic Acid works, you must be very careful! I am a licensed professional and I received a few minor burns from overlapping so be very careful not to repeat my mistake. Its quite a strong product! The Citrus Clear Grapefruit Spot Treatment did exactly what it was it was designed to do. 1 week after my 1st treatment, I was free of several stubborn blemishes that have plagued me for months. Prior to me purchasing this treatment, I had 2 treatments at my dermatologist’s office that did not produce the same results for 90 bucks each. I recommend Citrus Clear but only if you apply with caution!

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      BruceW, I agree that Salicylic Acid must be used with caution. It’s an exfoliant, so if you use too much product, or too often, it may do more harm than good. But used properly, it can be very beneficial. I’m glad the Citrus Cleat Treatment works for you, and thank you for sharing your experience.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Ml, what do you mean for unclog pore products? I wouldn’t really use other exfoliants with them or it may be too much for the skin.

  5. Somasam says

    Hello? I have an combination skin its normal and very oily on T zones. I have few acne MARKS , NOT ACNE just the marks. I use neutrogena facewash and st.ives calligen lotion afterwards. How can i get rid of my acne MARKS? Please tell me i just have few marks on cheeks.

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Somasam, I’m sorry to hear about your problem, but could you be more precise and describe what those marks look like, please? Acne marks is a very generic term and I want to be sure I recommend a suitable treatment.

      • Somasam says

        The marks i have are from previous pimple scars they are flat brownish color spots on my cheeks, it is NOT deep holes or anything like that. I never had acne only got pimples at times so they are just marks from there. I only have those marks on my right cheeks and i sometimes get pimples here and there, i have a warm undertone. I am 21 year old Asian girl.
        Also my nose, forehead and chin is very oily i try to clean it with clear-sonic mia brush and it is working good. BUT my biggest problem is some pimples that i get they are small tiny pimples nothing like those big ones (THE pimples usually have those white puss inside) and then they leave brownish marks afterwards even thu i don’t tuch them. I have recently started using Ambi Skin Discoloration Fade Cream but its been just a day so i don’t know if that will work. Please tell me something that can help me get rid of pimples and those small spots on my cheeks.

        • beautifulwithbrains says

          Thanks for the clarification. I’m not a doctor, just a blogger, so I can only give you my personal opinion, not a medical one. You should consult a doctor just to be sure. But to me, it sounds like you have post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, which is the red, pink or brown discoloration that’s present after a blemish has healed. If it is so, it will disappear on its own within months, but you can speed up the process by exfoliating skin. I prefer using exfoliants with glycolic acid, but the clearsonic mia should do the job too. Ambi Skin Discoloration Fade Cream, which contains hydroquinone, is another good option.

    • Brenda says

      I would recommend the ponds clarant B3 it moisturizing cream for your face which also fades the marks of acne in a few days weeks I also have combination skin and it works great use in the morning and night (: hope that helps

  6. Jada says


    I am a recent acne sufferer in my late twenties. I have just started using Oxy 10% BP and Neutrogena Oil Free face wash 2% SA daily. So far, so good. I have two questions:
    1. Once the acne has disappeared, do I stop using these harsh products or is it okay to use forever?
    2. Apparently, BP should be used with sunscreen. I live in London, UK where we have daylight but not much sun. Do I still need sunscreen?

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Jada hi. I’m sorry to hear bout your problem.

      It is possible that, if you stop using these ingredients, your acne will come back.

      And yes, you need sunscreen. That’s because UVA rays (the type that causes premature aging and contributes to skin cancer) are present from the moment the sun comes up to the moment it comes down, and can pass through clouds and even be reflected on snow. However, you probably won’t have to reapply it often throughout the day, unless you spend hours outdoors.

      Hope this helps.

  7. Thamas says

    Hi beautifulwithbrains, i have pimples around my check and chin when i read about SA & BP i start using SA2% now about 2 weeks . But my face starts to getting mild acne having pus inside them not much but around 5-7 acne pus around my face. I live in sudan i try to try BP but i cant find those product in sudan khartoum. My question is if salicylic acid get worse at first time use. My 2nd question if SA is not for my skin type how do i know?

    • beautifulwithbrains says

      Thamas, I’m sorry to hear that. Acne accumulates under the skin, and from there it makes its way to its surface. Now SA is an exfoliant, so when it removes the top layers of the skin, it exposes the acne underneath. This purging process can take up to 4 weeks. If after that time you are still experiencing breakouts, then SA may not be the right ingredient for you. Hope this helps.

  8. gladys jerop says

    Hi I have lots of pimples on ma chic n chin av try to use no more acne soaps n even azardem cream azelic 20% BT its even becoming worse. Pliz recommend for me something better n how can I get in south Sudan.

    • Gio says

      Gladys, I’m sorry to hear about your problems. I think you should start using an exfoliant with salicylic acid daily, if you aren’t already. That can remove all the gunk that’s accumulated in your pores which will get rid of the pimples and prevent them from returning.

  9. gladys jerop says

    Would u plz advice me on how I could get this product coz I cannot find them here in south Sudan.I would really appreciat.thanks

    • Gio says

      Gladys, I’m afraid I don’t know what products are available in South Sudan. Just go to the store and look for serums and exfoliant that list salicylic acid among their ingredients. If you prefer to buy online, check out the Paula’s Choice line. They have several exfoliant with this ingredients and they all work very well.

  10. says

    Hi beautifulwithbrains , I used to be in a condition as a severe acne and acne scar , which has lasted for two years so far …. Four months lately , I been using oatmeal to cleanse my face daily and use it as mask along with honey twice a week , and I also use turmeric cream for treating acne scar , but I notice the turmeric slowly damage and even cause much more prone acne than before all over my cheeks , so I rightaway stopped using these natural treatment even though I really have no problems with oatmeal . Since last week , I’ve started using BP for treating prone acne and notice that it really works for me , but on the downside is that I notice the acne scar look a little bit darker than before and that really makes me concern … Should I stop using it and use SA instead , plz help me out :( !
    Hoang Hua´s last blog post ..Product Review: Osmo Extreme Volume ShampooMy Profile

    • Gio says

      Hoang, do you have dark skin? Because unfortunately both BP and SA can cause hyperpigmentation in darker skintones. If that’s the case, I’d recommend you consult a dermatologist and use one of these ingredients under her medical supervision.

      • Hoang Hua says

        First of all , thanks for your replying … I’m asian and actually have quite bright skin , now I’m using proactive plus , which includes pore targeting treatment contains 2.5% BP and complexion perfecting hydrator contains 0.5 SA , I just been using these for two days and notice it really smoothes my skin . I put moisturizers on my face all day , the Cetaphil one use for moisturizer along with SPF 30 + ( like 2 options in one product ) . Do you think oily face like me need using moisturizer all day long just because I put BP on my face for whole day ?
        By the way , is it possible to just use proactive plus products so as to fade out my acne scars within one month ? I don’t think I have severe acne anymore , which is mild now , but the acne scar quite moderate as a matter of fact …………..

        • Gio says

          Hoang, that depends. If BP is drying out your skin, you may need to use moisturizer daily. Otherwise, you may be able to skip it and use sunscreen alone.

          Acne scars take a while to fade. If it works for your skin (the only way to know for sure i to try it), you may use only the proactive products, but you still need to be patient.

          • Hoang Hua says

            Hi beautifulbrain , I actually used Vivo Per Lei Exfoliant yesterday , and I just used it once a week , my acne and blemish still there , and yeah I still have freaking breakouts …. I notice that when I exfoliated my skin , and then apply Proactive Plus products I feel so itchy and quite redness appear on my face , I think that due to the purging process of Proactive Plus products ( Benzoyl Peroxide and SA ) … Is it okay ? Will you recommend me stopping using Vivo Per Lei exfoliant or still using it once a week ?

            • Gio says

              Hoang, yes, I would recommend you stop using Vivo Per Lei. SA and BP already exfoliate skin, so there is no need to use another exfoliant. It would only irritate your skin.

              • Hoang Hua says

                I wonder whether I can use BHA 2% Liquid Perfecting Exfoliant from Paula’s Choice along with Proactive Plus ? Will you recommend me for this ?

                • Gio says

                  Hoang, maybe you can use them on alternate days. Otherwise the combination may be too strong for your skin.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge