Ever watch Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier? It was said to be one of the greatest battles of all time. The battle between salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide is something like that, minus the trash talk. But while these two heavyweights are often pitted against one another, there’s really no competition. One gets the belt, and the other gets knocked out. When it comes to treating acne, salicylic acid is the undisputed heavyweight champ.

Here are three things you need to know:

  1. Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are two common skin care ingredients, both of which penetrate the pores for a deep clean to prevent acne.
  2. The primary difference between these two acids is that salicylic acid is significantly milder, making it a better choice for daily use and sensitive skin.
  3. Both ingredients should be accompanied by a high-quality facial moisturizer to help offset any drying effects.

      Salicylic Acid

      Salicylic acid is derived from beta hydroxy acids and is found a wide variety of acne cleansers, spot treatments and masks. Found in Salix Alba Bark Extract—an extract we use as part of our Acne System—this skin wonder-worker has anti-inflammatory capabilities and causes an exfoliating effect, which quickly reduces the size of acne and blackheads. Salicylic acid also does a great job at preventing acne by clearing dead skin cells that would clog pores, and it can help prevent redness by soothing inflammation.

      This ingredient is suitable for all skin types and works exceptionally well on sensitive skin, those prone to excess oil and those prone to redness. It’s best to cleanse your skin of dirt and oil in the morning and at night with products that contain this ingredient, and to treat blemishes with a salicylic acid cream, like our Acne Cream. We use 1.6 percent salicylic acid, which is the perfect amount to clear away debris without causing irritation.

      Infographic showing the chemical structure of salicylic acid


      Benzoyl Peroxide

      Like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide is a topical antiseptic that can pass through the pores and get rid of acne and inflammation-producing bacteria deep down. But, unlike salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide is relatively tough on skin. It’s known to cause irritation, redness, dryness and flakiness, especially in people with sensitive skin.

      We’re not saying you should totally write off benzoyl peroxide. The stuff can be safe for some people in small quantities, like when used for the occasional spot treatment. But in general, it’s best to stick with milder salicylic for your everyday skin care products.

      Infographic showing the chemical structure of benzoyl peroxide


      The Winner

      So the clear winner is—salicylic acid! One thing to note is that both of these acids may trigger reactions or dryness in people with sensitive skin types, especially when used in higher concentrations. We always recommend following up an acne treatment with a hydrating moisturizer to keep the skin soft and hydrated. If you’re not sure where to start, try our Acne System that eliminates the guesswork from men’s skin care.