Benzoyl Peroxide vs Salicylic Acid: Which is Best for Adult Acne?

by Marisa Amorasak

benzoyl vs salicylic

Acne affects up to 90% of all people. And while it’s often seen by skincare companies as a strictly adolescent issue, adult acne can come and go throughout a grown person’s life, or be a permanent fixture. For people with severe adult acne, it’s best to see a dermatologist or an aesthetician who can recommend in-office skincare treatments and prescription medication. For those that suffer from mild to moderate adult acne—blackheads, whiteheads, and the rare pustule—an over-the-counter solution will probably do the trick. The majority of the acne treatments available at drugstores and specialty cosmetic outlets contain one of two ingredients: Benzoyl Peroxide or Salicylic Acid.

Breaking Down Benzoyl Peroxide and Salicylic Acid

In order to make the choice between Benzoyl Peroxide and Salicylic Acid, let’s get a better understanding of both ingredients.

Benzoyl Peroxide is an organic compound containing two benzoyl groups bridged by a peroxide link. Benzoyl Peroxide is one of the world’s most important peroxides, due to its variable uses: acne treatment, hair and teeth bleaching, food lightening, and much more. To give a better idea of how important Benzoyl Peroxide is, the World Health Organization (WHO) has listed it as an Essential Medicine, or the minimal necessities for a healthcare system. Benzoyl Peroxide certainly has a presence, but what does that mean for your acne?

On acne, Benzoyl Peroxide acts as an antiseptic and oxidizing agent. It effectively kills acne-causing bacteria (p.acnes) on contact while also providing oxygen to the bacteria, which needs an oxygen-free environment to survive. It’s impossible to say whether Benzoyl Peroxide works better for certain types of acne than others, because its efficiency depends on the cause of a person’s acne. If your acne is caused by an overabundance of acne bacteria, then Benzoyl Peroxide might be your saving grace.

Salicylic Acid is an organic acid derived from the plant metabolism process. It’s used primarily for acne treatment, but can also be found in medications for scaling overgrowth like psoriasis, dandruff, dermatitis, corns, and warts. Aspirin contains a form of Salicylic Acid, which explains why you may have heard of making an anti-acne treatment out of crushed up aspirin pills. Since its created during the plant metabolism process, Salicylic Acid is found in many fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, rubbing mass amounts of guavas or peanuts on your face won’t give you the same results as concentrated salicylic acid formulated for anti-acne use.

For the treatment of adult acne, Salicylic Acid reduces swelling and redness while unclogging blocked pores. It is also an excellent exfoliant, as it encourages dead skin cells to shed quickly. If your adult acne is caused by pores that are consistently clogged with dirt and oil, Salicylic Acid may help clear your skin. It’s less likely to cause irritation than Benzoyl Peroxide, but mild dryness and flaking are common side effects.

Common Brand Names for Benzoyl Peroxide and Salicylic Acid

Both Benzoyl Peroxide and Salicylic Acid are commonly found in over-the-counter acne treatments. You’re probably familiar with Clean and Clear, Clearasil, Oxy, Persa-Gel, and ProActiv—all of these products use Benzoyl Peroxide as an active ingredient. Salicylic Acid can be found in Stri-Dex, Noxzema, Zapzyt, and many Neutrogena products. There’s nothing wrong with using Benzoyl Peroxide and Salicylic Acid together, but you may be in for more skin irritation than you would in using just one.

Other Solutions for Persistent Adult Acne

While Benzoyl Peroxide and Salicylic Acid pose good first steps against adult acne, not everyone’s face will clear up using a one-size-fits-all regimen. If these products haven’t made a dent in your acne, there are other—more aggressive—solutions available. Healthy Skin Portal offers a wide range of premium skincare treatments that can aid an existing anti-acne regimen, or be the first step in a new approach to treating acne.

  • IPL Photofacial - An innovative treatment that uses Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) to penetrate deep into the skin to rejuvenate the skin’s natural defense system. The IPL Photofacial is a popular option for people with adult acne because in addition to battling large pores, blackheads, and pustules, it also helps smooth out fine lines and wrinkles.
  • Blue Light Therapy - As another form of a photofacial, Blue Light Therapy was developed specifically for acne sufferers. The visible violet light destroys acne-causing bacteria deep in the skin, alleviating even the most persistent breakouts.
  • Laser Skin Rejuvenation - Primarily used to eliminate difficult acne scarring and hyperpigmentation, Laser Skin Rejuvenation can also treat and prevent existing acne by exfoliating pore-clogging skin cells and debris on the surface of the face.
  • Chemical Peel - A Chemical Peel offers moderate exfoliation, cystic acne treatment, and pore refinement in a single treatment. And contrary to popular belief, chemical peels are highly customizable to make recovery a breeze.

If you’d like more information on what these treatments (plus these!) can do for your skin, Healthy Skin Portal is here to help. Contact our representatives online or give us a call to set up a complimentary consultation with a skincare expert in your area.

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