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Salicylic Acid vs Benzoyl Peroxide

Is Benzoyl Peroxide or Salicylic Acid Best for Acne?

Acne is not an exclusive problem. It doesn’t discriminate against age, race, wealth, or the amount of success you’ve reached in your life. In fact, it is one of the most common problems in the world. And the problematic part is that acne can come from several different sources.

As we know, oily skin is one of those sources, which blocks pores and results in a breakout. In some cases, hormones are the culprit. Even stress can add to the degree of severity associated with an acne breakout.

But in terms of general treatment, specific focus is brought to specific elements. For example, you get Salicylic Acid, a clinically proven treatment that can penetrate oil and break it down.

You also get Benzoyl Peroxide, another clinically tested ingredient that effectively fights acne. And this article is going to do a detailed comparison between the two.

Even though both are recommended for great results, it’s important to establish what makes them unique. Because as mentioned earlier, acne can have different sources. And sometimes, a combination might be necessary. But here is what you need to know in more detail.

Key Differences Between Salicylic Acid and Benzoyl Peroxide

proactiv skin smoothing exfoliator with benzoyl peroxide

In basic terms, the main difference you’ll find between Salicylic Acid and Benzoyl Peroxide is how they react. More specifically, Salicylic Acid is effective for penetrating oil that clogs pores, while it removes the dead skin cells that cause the blockage.

Benzoyl Peroxide, on the other hand, is known for its bacteria-killing properties – another big source of acne breakouts. Thus, there are other differences to be aware too.

They include:

One is Gentler on the Skin

While both treatments are relatively safe if you don’t have any underlying medical conditions (which should be discussed with your doctor first), it is important to note that one is gentler on the skin than the other. Salicylic Acid is your choice if you want the milder option, but it might also take a little longer to work.

However, both are recommended for light to mild acne breakouts.

Different Purposes

Yes, both can be used for acne in general. But it appears that Salicylic Acid brings about better results when used for blackheads and whiteheads. Whereas Benzoyl Peroxide is going to be more effective for mild pustules. But at the end of the day, both options have clinical backing where treating acne is concerned.

Different Side-Effects

In the cons section later, more will be discussed about the different side-effects. But for this section, you should know the side-effects are not the same. And if you have very sensitive skin, definitely keep reading.

What is Salicylic Acid?

proactiv blackhead disolving gel with salicylic acid

Salicylic Acid is a hydroxy acid, but with a difference. Typical alpha hydroxy acids are not oil-soluble. So, Salicylic Acid can be regarded as a beta hydroxy acid.

If you take a deeper look, you’ll see the molecular structure between the acids is different, giving the latter the ability to penetrate blocked pores so easily.

A natural and common source for this acid is the White Willow. Other uses for this ingredient include food preservatives, antiseptic medicine, and as a bactericidal.

Salicylic Acid Pros & Cons

Unfortunately, it is not a perfect ingredient, depending on your skin type and the severity of the acne. In other words, there are many pros to look forward, but there are also some cons to be aware of. However, the cons are rarely a problem.


  • It provides deep exfoliation
  • Stimulates collagen production
  • Brightens and evens out your complexion
  • Reduces the size of the pore
  • Serves as a natural treatment for hyperpigmentation
  • Very effective for the treatment of blackheads and whiteheads
  • Effective against acne in general


  • Dry skin
  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Peeling skin

Top Acne Fighting Products with Salicylic Acid

proactiv md before and after

In terms of recommending products that contain Salicylic Acid as an active ingredient, the Proactive range is by far the best possible choice. And there are extensive options you can choose from.

If you’re interested in learning more about Proactiv, be sure to check out our full review.

They are:

Proactiv+ Complexion Perfecting Hydrator

In order to prevent side-effects like dry skin, you can try the hydrator. It feels like a gel when applied, but it acts like a cream. It also comes with the acne-fighting ingredient, as well as botanicals for radiance.

Blackhead Dissolving Gel

In addition to penetrating and dissolving blackheads, the gel will absorb excess oil while it provides a deep clean for the blemish-causing impurities.

Deep Cleansing Wash

For those who struggle with acne on parts of the body, there is the deep cleansing wash available.

Clarifying Night Cream

The night cream is a dual-purpose formula. That means it fights acne and blackheads during the night, while it nourishes the skin for better texture and tone.

Mark Correcting Pads

proactiv success story

The mark correcting pads can also be considered a dual-purpose formula, seeing as it aids in resurfacing the skin, as well as reduce the signs of wrinkles or other post acne blemishes.

Cleansing Body Bar

This is a soap-free option if you want to target acne on the body with a mild touch of Salicylic Acid. And while looks like a soap bar, the purpose is very different.

Clear Zone Body Pads

The body pads were designed with convenience in mind. Seeing as you don’t always have time for a shower, the pads will penetrate pores and clean out excess oil.

Advanced Daily Oil Control

If you are struggling with oily skin in general, the daily oil control will bring back the balance, in addition to reducing blemishes.

What is Benzoyl Peroxide?

It’s already been established that Benzoyl Peroxide is the more aggressive choice, which is what some individuals are looking for. As a typical medication for acne, this ingredient has been part of the medicinal world since the 1930s.

Other uses that are not related to medical treatments include hair bleach and teeth whitening.

And as a side-note, it can be safely used in combination with Salicylic Acid.

Benzoyl Peroxide Pros & Cons

original proactiv


  • It works relatively quickly in terms of clearing acne
  • Acts as an inflammatory agent


  • Can make the skin more sensitive to sun
  • Itchiness and dryness
  • Can lead to hyperpigmentation
  • Stinging and irritation

Top Acne Fighting Products With Benzoyl Peroxide

Given that Benzoyl Peroxide is not as gentle as the acid alternative, the quality of the products you use with this active ingredient is really important. And once again, the Proactiv range has yet to be equaled.

Here are some of the most popular products in the range:

Proactiv+ Skin Smoothing Exfoliator

This is a creamy cleanser which effectively kills bacteria that lead to blocked pores, and it clears them out to prevent more breakouts from happening. At the same time, it aims to soothe the skin and stop excessive dryness from becoming a problem.

Emergency Blemish Relief

If you live a life on the go, this invisible spot treatment could be the perfect partner. Because when you suddenly notice blemishes, the blemish relief contains a double dose of the active ingredient.

Soothing Shave Gel

a woman with beautiful skin after using proactiv

When shaving only makes living with acne more challenging, the shave gel acts as a gentle toner while fighting acne. For men, this is probably what you have been waiting for.

Proactiv Renewing Cleanser

Instead of oil, you will find tiny beads in this formula. These are specifically part of the cleanser for exfoliating purposes, and to remove all those dead skin cells.

Proactiv Repairing Treatment

While this treatment unblocks pores, it aims to correct current blemishes and prevent new ones from surfacing. And, of course, it kills all the bacteria at the heart of the problem.

Comparison Summary: Which One Works Best?

Now that you have a better idea of what both treatments offer, you are probably wondering which one to choose when looking for treatments? Well, everything depends on certain variables.

For example, if you have a very sensitive skin type, you could stick with the Salicylic Acid. But if you need something more aggressive and with quicker results, the Benzoyl Peroxide could be the answer.

But who says you only need to use one? Seeing as it is totally safe to use these ingredients at the same time, why not look into the Proactiv MD Three-Step system? It consists of everything you need to fight blackheads, whiteheads, acne, and it doesn’t have to damage your skin while doing it.

In other words, you utilize a combination of both ingredients to get quick and satisfying results.

Obviously, not every individual who tries the treatment will be ecstatic. But this is to be expected. With so many different skin types and causes for acne, it would be difficult to come up with an all-in-one solution for everyone.

Instead, the Proactiv range offers a solution that has helped the majority of users suffering from mild acne.

So don’t limit yourself when you can have the best of both worlds.