If you want truly beautiful skin, you'll need to keep it fresh, clear, and healthy. Pesky pimples and blackheads can get in the way of a glowing complexion, and it can be hard to know exactly what to use to treat these common but frustrating skin issues. What ingredients should you look for if you want to get rid of clogged pores and enjoy gorgeous skin?
Some of the most effective skincare products for acne and clogged pores include either salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. These names probably sound familiar to you, but knowing which one to choose for your specific needs can be a challenge.
The most important difference between the two is how they work to clear up unwanted skin inflammation. While salicylic acid targets the pore-clogging material that leads to acne, benzoyl peroxide kills the bacteria that lead to pimples and other skin issues. Read on to learn even more about these unique yet equally important skincare ingredients and when to use each one for healthier skin.
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“While salicylic acid targets the pore-clogging material that leads to acne, benzoyl peroxide kills the bacteria that lead to pimples and other skin issues.”
What Is Salicylic Acid?
Of the two skin-clearing ingredients, salicylic acid is by far the most commonly used. It's FDA-approved, which means it's safe and gentle enough for frequent, proper use. You can find it in most over-the-counter acne products, from scrubs and cleansers to toners and creams.
Salicylic acid can help prevent and treat breakouts because it penetrates deep into pores, removing oil, dirt, and dead skin cell buildup well below the surface. This deep-down clean is essential for preventing and cleaning the clogged pores that lead to zits and blackheads. It also helps slough away layers of dead skin cells, resulting in healthier skin that looks and feels fresher and smoother.
When used as directed in the right amounts, salicylic acid is gentle enough for daily use. It can even be used as part of a leave-in treatment so your skin can enjoy all of the benefits for better results. However, be sure to follow the product's recommendations and pay attention to how your skin reacts to this ingredient. Just like with many other skin-clearing ingredients, too much exposure can lead to excess dryness.
What Is Benzoyl Peroxide?
This product is an antibacterial agent, killing the harmful bacteria that can lead to pimples and breakouts. It can be very effective in combating more severe cases of acne and can also be used to help remove excess oil and dead skin cell buildup for a cleaner and healthier complexion.
Using benzoyl peroxide for blackheads is a great way to clear out pores, eliminate bacteria, and prevent future breakouts and blemishes. However, it is a very strong ingredient, so it should never be left on the skin for longer than recommended and should usually be rinsed off after use. You're more likely to find benzoyl peroxide in cleansers and scrubs rather than leave-on treatments.
Salicylic Acid vs. Benzoyl Peroxide
Even though both of these ingredients can help fight clogged pores, they aren't necessarily interchangeable. Benzoyl peroxide actually targets and neutralizes bacteria, while salicylic acid mainly focuses on clearing away the acne-causing oil, dirt, and skin cell buildup that tends to cause blackheads and pimples. There are some other key differences to keep in mind when you're considering salicylic acid vs. benzoyl peroxide.
Benzoyl Peroxide: Fast but Tough
Because of its antibacterial properties, benzoyl peroxide works quickly. In fact, you can start to see results in as little as five days with many products that contain this ingredient. However, take care when using benzoyl peroxide. It can be very drying, even when used as directed. Benzoyl peroxide can also stain clothing, towels, and other fabrics.
Salicylic Acid: A Gentler Long-Term Solution
Unlike many other acne-fighting treatments, salicylic acid can actually soothe your skin. It's gentler than other options, such as benzoyl peroxide, but it can still be drying if you use too much at one time. While it is very effective, it's more of a long-term approach. It works well as a preventative measure, but it can take a little longer before you start to notice results if you're treating existing issues.
Is Salicylic Acid or Benzoyl Peroxide Better? When To Use Each
If you're dealing with acne and blackheads, both of these ingredients can be beneficial and effective. The risks for experiencing irritation or dryness are also similar, although you're a little more likely to deal with it when using benzoyl peroxide. So, which one should you choose? Several factors can help you decide on whether to use salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or a combination of both.
Consider Your Specific Skin Issues
Take a good look at your skin and identify the types of blemishes you see the most. If blackheads and whiteheads are more prominent, your focus should be more on keeping your pores clear. Salicylic acid could be the right choice for you. However, if you have larger pustules or more severe redness and inflammation, benzoyl peroxide can help by killing the bacteria that lead to painful and unsightly inflammation.
Consider Your Unique Skin Type
No matter what your skin type, you can likely benefit from using salicylic acid as directed without concern. Give yourself time to adjust to using this type of ingredient and be sure to moisturize daily to keep your skin hydrated. While most skin types can also use benzoyl peroxide, it may be too strong for you if your skin is sensitive and easily prone to dryness or irritation. However, those with normal to oily skin may find that it works well without causing any issues and may even help to balance their complexion.
“While most skin types can also use benzoyl peroxide, it may be too strong for you if your skin is sensitive and easily prone to dryness or irritation.”
Consider Your Everyday Skincare Routine
For many people, a careful combination of both ingredients can help them achieve clearer and more radiant skin. Try using a benzoyl peroxide product in the morning to help defend your skin during the day, when it's the most exposed to dirt and bacteria. At night, use a salicylic acid product to slough away dead skin and remove dirt and oil and prevent excess dryness while you sleep. While you can use both products on the same day, just be sure you aren't doubling up on a single ingredient. For example, don't use both a cleanser and a toner that contains salicylic acid; choose one to ensure you don't dry out your skin.
Consider Your Desired Timeline
If you have a seriously painful or troublesome pimple and you need faster results for an upcoming event, benzoyl peroxide is the way to go. Just be sure to use it as directed to prevent any further skin irritation. For results that last longer and can give you clearer skin long-term, salicylic acid can be more effective. However, those with chronic acne may find that regular benzoyl peroxide use can also be a helpful preventative treatment.
“For results that last longer and can give you clearer skin long-term, salicylic acid can be more effective. However, those with chronic acne may find that regular benzoyl peroxide use can also be a helpful preventative treatment.”
- Salicylic acid targets the pore-clogging material that can cause skin issues, so it's better suited for clearing away acne causing blackheads and whiteheads.
- Benzoyl peroxide kills the bacteria that leads to acne, so it's better suited for dealing with pustules and inflammatory acne.
- Both ingredients can be used on a routine basis, but pay close attention to how your skin reacts to prevent excess dryness or irritation.