Benzoyl Peroxide or Salicylic Acid: Which is Better for Acne?

You're not a teenager anymore (sadly), yet, your skin is constantly breaking out like you're 13 again. It's time to fight back! But what should you use on your skin to unclog those blocked pores and battle unwanted blemishes?

With the drug store shelves lined with a multitude of acne-fighting products, it can be super-confusing. We asked top Toronto dermatologist, Dr. Paul Cohen, to give us the scoop on two of the best zit-zapping ingredients: benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, and what the pros and cons are for using each of them.

BENZOYL PEROXIDE

Pros

"While benzoyl peroxide is a topical antibiotic, it is not something to which we can develop a resistance. Traditionally, when it comes to traditional antibiotics like the ones that you can take by mouth, you may build a resistance to them. With benzoyl peroxide, you can’t develop a resistance to it with continuous use."

Cons

"Although benzoyl peroxide can be very drying to sensitive skin types, it's usually well-tolerated, but the main downside is it bleaches clothing, pillow cases, sheet, towels, etc. and I usually like to warn my patients in advance of this."

Try

B.Kamins Blemish Gel 5% ($29)
Clean & Clear Persa-Gel ($8.99)
*NEUTROGENA Benzoyl Peroxide Cleanser / Mask ($7.97)

SALICYLIC ACID

Pros

"Salicylic acid is good for cleaning the skin, and takes excess oil off when used for cleansing. It is good for the face and body too – especially since it doesn’t bleach clothing or towels. Like benzoyl peroxide, there is no antibiotic-resistance built up from this either. It is a great adjunct to traditional acne antibiotics, to be used in tandem."

Cons

"It can be drying and slightly irritating for people with sensitive skin, particularly people who have a condition like rosacea."

Try

Pure Control Targeted Acne Gel Treatment Roll-On ($12.99)
*NEUTROGENA Oil-Free Acne Wash Pink Grapefruit Facial Cleanser ($9.99)
Olay Total Effects Anti-Aging Anti-Blemish Cleanser ($9.97)

HOW TO CHOOSE BETWEEN THE TWO

"Some people find benzoyl peroxide to be more drying and stronger than salicylic acid, so I sometimes recommend starting with the more mild salicylic acid first. It really depends on how your individual skin tolerates the two different ingredient, so try them and see which is more compatible with your skin. For people who want to use both, I like salicylic acid as a wash and benzoyl peroxide as a treatment."

WHEN IT'S TIME TO VISIT A DERMATOLOGIST?

"You should visit a dermatologist when traditional over the counter products aren’t working, and when all of the “best practices” are being taken into account (wearing oil-free make up, practicing proper hygiene, etc.) – but you are still having issues with acne flare-ups.

Additionally, stubborn or concentrated acne on the chin or jaw may signal a hormonal issue, so I recommend seeing a dermatologist to determine if you need medication, like a birth control pill to help with the imbalance."

* Dr. Cohen recommended

Tags: Acne, benzoyl, Remedies, salicylic acid, sensitive skin, skin care

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