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Salicylic Acid vs. Benzoyl Peroxide: Everything You Need to Know

Salicylic Acid vs. Benzoyl Peroxide: Everything You Need to Know

A few names are regularly thrown around in the battle for skin care ingredient superiority.

When it comes to products that help fight blemishes, that conversation revolves around the benefits of salicylic acid vs. benzoyl peroxide. 

But which ultimately comes out the victor? And what should you know about both? At Skin Pharm, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about salicylic acid vs. benzoyl peroxide.

First up, what do salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide have in common?

The salicylic acid vs. benzoyl peroxide conversation happens because both ingredients can limit the amount and intensity of breakouts that people may deal with. Because blemishes are one of the leading skin care concerns that impact people, these discussions are essential.

First of all, these two ingredients are some of the most well-known on the market, along with glycolic acid. In most cases, they are available in multiple over-the-counter skin care products, so they are accessible to most people. 

The main goal of both salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide is to help clear the build-up of dead skin cells on the skin’s surface.

Doing so reduces the risk of clogged pores that can lead to blemishes. Along with lowering the amount of oil on the skin, keeping the pores open is one of the best ways to prevent breakouts. 

Got it. So what is salicylic acid? 

Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that functions as an exfoliant. If you’re unfamiliar with exfoliants and what they do, their main goal is to help clear the skin’s surface of any dead skin cells that may have accumulated there. 

Salicylic acid is manufactured artificially, but its core components come from the bark of the willow tree. Its benefits come primarily because it is oil-soluble, which can dissolve most easily in oil. This is a significant benefit because a build-up of oil on the skin can lead to trapped bacteria, which causes blemishes for most people. Because salicylic acid dissolves in oil, it can travel deeper inside the pores and make a more considerable difference. 

What are the benefits of salicylic acid?

Salicylic acid is perhaps the best-known skin care ingredient for helping to manage breakouts, especially blackheads and whiteheads. When it’s regularly used as part of a well-rounded skin care routine, it can help clear existing breakouts and reduce the risk of them recurring in the future. 

Other benefits of salicylic acid include:

  • Clearer skin
  • Increased exfoliation + smoother skin
  • Brighter skin
  • Less visible pores

And what is benzoyl peroxide? 

Benzoyl peroxide may provide some of the same benefits as salicylic acid, but it does not fall into the exfoliant category. Instead, benzoyl peroxide is an antibacterial agent. One of the significant triggers of blemishes is a bacteria known asP. acnes. Products that reduce the amount of that bacteria on the skin can also reduce the risk of blemishes. 

What are the benefits of benzoyl peroxide?

Benzoyl peroxide offers similar benefits on a more minimal scale. As far as skin care ingredients go, benzoyl peroxide gently helps to perform the same job as salicylic acid. 

However, instead of the more common blackheads and whiteheads, benzoyl peroxide is better for handling pustules (the red, pus-filled pimples common during adolescence). It also tends to be more drying, so people who already struggle with skin dryness may want to avoid it.

Are there side effects that come with these ingredients?

Due to the effectiveness with which salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide impact the skin, there may be a few side effects that come along with their use. However, both products are also known for being safe for most people. 

In terms of what side effects you may experience are simply uncomfortable — especially in the first few days. 

Dryness, flaking, irritation and redness can occur as part of your skin adjusting to the increased skin cell turnover rate. If you introduce skin care products slowly and take a break if your skin starts to become sensitive, these symptoms should only occur on a short-term basis. 

In addition, benzoyl peroxide can stain clothes and hair, so use caution when using it. This side effect can also occur if you sweat during the day, so it may not be an option for people who live an active lifestyle or sweat excessively. 

Salicylic acid vs. benzoyl peroxide – who wins?

Although the salicylic acid vs. benzoyl peroxide discussion revolves around what your specific skin care concerns are, as a whole, salicylic acid comes out as the winner.

Salicylic acid is just as effective as benzoyl peroxide at helping to minimize breakouts with far fewer drying side effects. It is also a more mild exfoliant, so people who have sensitive skin may react less to salicylic acid than they do to benzoyl peroxide. 

While there are plenty of benefits to benzoyl peroxide, its list of potential side effects puts it lower on the list of skin care products. 

In addition, some of the other commonly used skin care products (especially in the realm of anti-aging) have a more challenging time being combined with benzoyl peroxide. If you’re interested in using other products, like retinol or retinoids, you may want to stay away from benzoyl peroxide. 

How to use salicylic acid in your skin care routine

If you’re interested in starting to use a salicylic acid product in your skin care routine, start with a single product. While it may seem tempting to go all out and use multiple products with the same beneficial ingredient, this can increase your odds of developing side effects. 

Stick with one product, like our Crystal Clear clarifying pads, and slowly introduce it to your skin care routine. If you deal with blemishes on your back or chest, you can also use our Clay Time polishing charcoal mask, which helps extend those benefits to the rest of your body.   

Salicylic acid also pairs extraordinarily well with vitamin C. Both ingredients help the skin be as bright and radiant as possible while counteracting many signs of the aging process. 

When you use them both in your skin care routine, you double their benefits without adding to the list of side effects. However, it’s often best to separate them (either using them on different days or times of the day) to minimize any potential for irritation.

How to counteract dryness 

Everyone goes through a period of skin dryness, especially those with naturally dry skin. Inevitably, especially when starting with salicylic acid, you will experience some skindryness

Having a few tricks in your back pocket to help you deal with that dryness can be the difference between prematurely aging skin and just a temporary period of tightness and discomfort. 

Skin dryness isn’t just your skin feeling dry when you touch it. Your skin will often not feel physically dry but more tight and flaky. People with the most dehydrated skin tend to have skin that looks more oily, as oil is the skin’s natural protectant against dryness. 

If your skin is showing signs of dryness, taking care of it isn’t something you should put off. Once your skin has gotten to the point where it shows how dry it is, it’s likely more dehydrated than you think. 

Your skin is begging for hydration, and you need to provide it right away. Times like this require a heavy-duty moisturizer to help rehydrate the skin and keep any moisture from evaporating. 

You may also want to check the remainder of your skin care products for fragrances or other irritants. While it’s nice for your skin care products to smell beautiful, the ingredients needed to make them smell great can also be excessively drying for the skin. 

Switch to gentle products and follow with a moisturizer to protect the skin and help it heal. Continue this routine for a week or so, then add the rest of your products slowly as well. It can also help pat your skin dry instead of rubbing it with a towel after cleansing. 

Rubbing the skin is irritating and abrasive, but patting it helps remove the excess moisture without damaging the skin. 

To sum things up... 

So, who wins in the battle of salicylic acid vs. benzoyl peroxide? For most situations, the answer is salicylic acid. Between the two, salicylic acid offers the same blemish-fighting benefits as benzoyl peroxide without as many of the overly drying side effects. 

When you’re trying to keep your skin looking and feeling as youthful as possible, you don’t want to do anything that will rob it of any of its necessary moisture and hydration. 


Salicylic acid | HOC6H4COOH | PubChem (

Studies on the effect of salicylic acid on normal skin | PubMed (

Dry skin: Who gets and causes | AAD


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