Thought acne would disappear once you’d turn 20? Sometimes, it does. Other times, it curses you long after that. It can often feel like an ever-ending struggle!
That’s especially true if you use the wrong products. In the best case scenario, they do nothing. Worst case, they make things 10 times worse!
How are you supposed to make sense of the hundreds of products lining the stores’ shelves when you can’t trust their promises? It’s not as tricky as it seems.
You need to look for two ingredients: salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. Not at the same time. Both are effective at treating mild to moderate acne, but there are some differences between the two you should know about before picking the right one for your needs.
So, let the benzoyl peroxide vs salicylic acid fight begin. Here’s which one you should be rooting for:
Benzoyl Peroxide is one of the most effective acne treatments available in OTC products. It works thanks to its peeling action: it exfoliates skin, getting rid of the dead cells on its surface, and the dirt and sebum that accumulate in the pores, inflaming follicles causing breakouts.
Because it can penetrate deep inside the pores, Benzoyl Peroxide can also easily reach P. Acnes, the bacteria that causes acne, and kill it.
Best of all? Unlike antibiotics, it doesn’t pose the risk of bacterial resistance. You can safely use it without fear it’ll become ineffective in a few weeks or years.
The side effects
Like all the most effective skincare ingredients, such as retinol and glycolic acid, benzoyl peroxide can irritate skin. That’s why it’s best used in small doses. Scientific studies have shown that 2.5% concentrations are already very effective, and less irritating.
To be on the safe side, start with products that contain even smaller doses, and use them only every other day. You can always choose products with higher concentrations, and use them more frequently, later on if the bacteria on your skin are particularly stubborn and you need something stronger to deal with them.
Even then, especially if your skin is particularly sensitive, you may experience irritation and dryness. These symptoms should disappear after a couple of weeks. If not, stop using it. It’s not made for you, and will just make your acne worse.
One last word of warning. Because of how harsh it is, benzoyl peroxide should only be used on your blemishes. There’s no need to apply it on clear, healthy skin at all.
Best products with benzoyl peroxide
Paula’s Choice Clear Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment with 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide ($17.00)
This powerful treatment is infused with a bunch of soothing agents, such as bisabobol and allantoin, to help counteract the harsh effects of benzoyl peroxide and heal skin faster. Its lightweight texture and matte finish make it a perfect base for makeup. Available at Paula’s Choice.
Proactive & Proactiv+ Pore Targeting Treatment ($42.00)
This treatment is very moisturizing, which helps counteract the drying effects of benzoyl peroxide. This makes it suitable for all skin types. You can get a tube at Amazon.
Your skin can’t tolerate benzoyl peroxide? Turn to salicylic acid. It’s 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 inside the pores, exfoliating and unclogging them from within. It also removes the dead cells that accumulate on the skin’s surface and make it dull and rough.
This dual action clears up the skin, reducing blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, and all kinds of blemishes you already have, and preventing new ones from forming again.
The side effects
Although a lot gentler than benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid can still cause some mild dryness. Again, follow the same precautions. Start with smaller doses, and apply them every other day. Increase both dose and frequency easily as your skin becomes used to it.
Best products with salicylic acid
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Lotion ($28.00)
Like all Paula’s Choice products, this exfoliant too is enriched with soothing agents that can calm down irritations and help skin recover. It’s best suited for those with dry skin prone to blemishes, but everyone can use it. Available at Paula’s Choice.
Philosophy Clear Days Ahead Oil-free Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment & Moisturizer ($39.00)
This is one of my favourite Philosophy products. It fights blemishes, moisturizes and soothes skin, and even contains a smidget of antioxidant. Check it out at Sephora.
The Bottom Line: which one is better?
Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid work in a similar way. They can both penetrate inside the pores and clear them up. But benzoyl peroxide can also kill P.Acnes, which makes it more effective but also more irritating. If your acne is severe, that’s a better option. If it’s mild, or you have sensitive skin, go with salicylic acid instead.
Do you use products with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid? Which one works best for you?