What’s the difference between salicylic acid & benzoyl peroxide?

Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are two of the most common active ingredients in daily skincare routines. Even though you may see them throughout the world of acne-fighting products, the two are far from interchangeable, functioning in completely different ways. Let’s compare benzoyl peroxide vs salicylic acid to see how each operates. Plus, we’ll uncover their unique benefits and fundamental differences.

What is salicylic acid?

Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid, originally derived from willow tree bark, that helps exfoliate the skin. It’s a chemical exfoliant that works at clearing away dead skin cells and excess oil from the surface of your skin. Rather than attacking the acne itself, salicylic acid helps prevent pore blockages before they can form by reducing the amount of material on your skin that can clog pores. It can even help smooth out the appearance of skin texture.

Because of its wide-reaching benefits, salicylic acid is a very common ingredient in over-the-counter skincare formulas. It’s featured as part of the Complexion Perfecting Hydrator in the Proactiv+® Acne Treatment System, where its properties as a chemical exfoliant truly shine. The salicylic acid in the Complexion Perfecting Hydrator works gently on the surface of your skin to dissolve excess oil, dead skin and debris.

What is benzoyl peroxide?

Benzoyl peroxide was one of the first ingredients ever used in acne treatment. You probably see it in many acne treatment products, and you might be thinking to yourself, "What does benzoyl peroxide do for acne that makes it so popular?"

Excess oil from your skin and dead skin cells can mix to clog your pores. When acne-causing bacteria infiltrates these blockages, inflammatory acne can form. Benzoyl peroxide delivers oxygen into your pores, creating an oxygen-rich environment in which acne-causing bacteria has trouble surviving. It also helps out as an anti-inflammatory to reduce the redness that often occurs with this type of acne, and it is a widely tolerated ingredient. No wonder it’s so popular.

In the Proactiv+® Acne Treatment System, the Pore Targeting Treatment is dermatologist-developed to deliver the benzoyl peroxide directly to your pores, where it can best take care of its job.

Benzoyl peroxide vs salicylic acid

Both benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are massively popular acne-fighting ingredients. The biggest difference between the two ingredients is that benzoyl peroxide functions by targeting acne-causing bacteria, while salicylic acid targets clogged pores. Your skin is unique, so one ingredient may function better for you than the other in response to what your skin needs the most help with. But both have been proven highly effective over many years in the skincare ecosystem.

When to use both products

Because salicylic acid specifically helps prevent clogged pores, it works especially well if you want to primarily prevent blackheads and whiteheads. But if bacteria are a major cause of your acne, the salicylic acid may need some assistance.

Benzoyl peroxide is focused on the bacterial portion of acne, so it will be particularly effective against pimples caused by bacteria. So, is benzoyl peroxide good for acne? Very much so, but you should consider the type of acne and what your skin is struggling with when looking for the right acne fighting system for your skin.

Can you use benzoyl peroxide with salicylic acid?

You can use both ingredients together, but you should exercise some caution, as using too many active ingredients in one skincare routine can dry out your skin. Dryness on your skin is bad when you are trying to fight off acne, because when your skin is dry, it naturally produces more oil to hydrate itself. In doing so, it creates an environment with excess oil that can mix with dead skin cells to produce more acne.

Since maintaining your skin’s moisture barrier is one of the most basic steps on the skincare checklist, if you use both benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid in your routine, you should make sure they are in separate products, so that you can adjust the amount of each ingredient up and down depending on how your skin responds. The Proactiv+® Acne Treatment System is a three-part skincare system that features both benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, but in different products within the system. Because the proactiv® products were developed specifically as one cohesive system with these two featured active ingredients in mind, the system is balanced to get the job done without drying out your skin. The benzoyl peroxide in the Pore Targeting Treatment handles the bacterial side of acne, while the salicylic acid in the Complexion Perfecting Hydrator helps redness, brighten tone and fade post-acne marks.

If you use other acne treatment systems and combine benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, beware of layering too many products in the hopes of speeding up acne recovery. When the ingredients you apply aren’t tested for their safe and effective amounts, you run the risk of slowing down your skin’s recovery through dryness and irritation. And of course, you don’t want to slow down the clearing of your skin.

Possible side effects

The most common side effects using both benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid simultaneously are dryness and irritation. It’s extremely important to moisturize frequently to keep your skin hydrated. And when in doubt, ask your dermatologist!

The bottom line

Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are both highly effective acne-fighting ingredients, which has led to their popularity over the years. When used in amounts that are right for your unique skin type in products that are dermatologist-developed to be tough on acne but gentle on your skin like the Proactiv+® Acne Treatment System, it becomes less about benzoyl peroxide vs salicylic acid and more about getting the best benefits out of each ingredient in a simple-to-use system that makes fighting acne easy as 1-2-3.