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Benzoyl Peroxide or Salicylic Acid: What do dermatologists say?

Posted by connie cho on
Benzoyl Peroxide or Salicylic Acid: What do dermatologists say?

Not all acne is created equal. Dermatologists recommend benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid to treat acne, but which one should you use? Both products treat acne, but they target different types.


The general rule of thumb: Inflammatory acne (red pimples, papules, pustules) responds to benzoyl peroxide, which fights bacteria that cause zits, while comedonal (whitehead/blackhead) is best treated with exfoliating salicylic acid, which removes dead skin cells and bacteria from the pores.

Salicylic acid works by dissolving oil and dead skin cells. It exfoliates to remove dead skin cells inside the pore and also on the surface of the skin. It's an anti-inflammatory so it reduces redness and soothes skin. Salicylic Acid is considered a BHA (beta hydroxy acid).

  • Do you have a lot of blackheads and/or closed comedones (whiteheads) and blockages? Whiteheads appear when pores clog with oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria. Pores close up and a white bump forms. Salicylic acid helps remove oil & exfoliate dead cells to keep pores clear.
  • This especially works for those prone to oil and/or redness.
  • Best to use if you have sensitive skin or allergic to benzoyl peroxide.
  • This ingredient works best in a leave on product like a toner, gel, or lotion. When found in cleansers, it just isn't left on the skin long enough to be as effective. The optimal pH should be around 3 to 4.
  • Cover-Dot Acne Care contains hydrocolloid, which helps absorb impurities from open pimples by creating a moist environment conducive to healing. This is safe to use, so stick one on after your normal skincare routine (after other products have dried). Works great on whiteheads.

Benzoyl peroxide is an antibacterial ingredient that gets inside the pore and kills the bacteria causing acne and inflammation.

  • Do you have inflamed acne or extremely oily skin? You might prefer benzoyl peroxide, at least until the inflammation is under control
  • Benzoyl peroxide is stronger than salicylic acid but it can be very drying and can cause redness.
  • Do you have small patches of small, red zits that don’t come to a head (papules)? Benzoyl peroxide kills bacteria and reduces inflammation.
  • Cover-Dot will take longer to help healing for cystic acne or closed pimples, but it is safe to use with other products so it is perfect to apply after your normal skincare routine. It also reduces pain from those red, painful pimples.
This advice is a general rule of thumb. Both ingredients have been proven to treat acne but results vary because everyone's skin is different. If you're allergic or sensitive to either benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, consult your dermatologist before use.

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