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Benzoyl Peroxide or Salicylic Acid for Acne?

Benzoyl Peroxide or Salicylic Acid for Acne? Benzoyl Peroxide or Salicylic Acid for Acne?


Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are two common topical, or skin, treatments used to combat the effects of mild acne. Although either medication may be used in combination with other acne treatments, they are not typically used with each other. Doctors determine the suitability of benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid for acne treatment on an individual basis.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide has antiseptic properties that help reduce the amounts of bacteria and yeast on your skin, according to the New Zealand Dermatological Society. It also acts as an anti-inflammatory and oxidizing agent, and can reduce the number of acne blemishes, or comedones, on your skin. Depending on your circumstances, you may receive prescription or nonprescription benzoyl peroxide medications in the form of washes, creams, gels or lotions. Since benzoyl peroxide can reduce bacteria populations, it is particularly effective when used in combination with antibiotics that may promote the growth of resistant bacteria.

Salicylic Acid

Topical salicylic acid belongs to a class of medications called keratolytic agents, according to the U.S National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus. When applied to your skin, it helps shrink pimples by unplugging clogged pores and reducing redness and swelling. It can also help prevent pimple formation. Salicylic acid products come in both prescription and nonprescription strengths. Depending on the particulars of your situation—including the strength of the product in use—you may apply salicylic acid to your affected skin anywhere from several times a day to several times a week.

Determining Appropriate Use

You may receive either benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid as part of standard treatment for milder forms of acne, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. You doctor will use several criteria to determine which product is more appropriate for your situation, including your specific acne symptoms, age and gender. If you are female, your doctor will also want to know about any pregnancies, potential pregnancies or breastfeeding prior to treatment. Your doctor may also use other topical medications to treat acne symptoms, including antibiotics and vitamin A-related medications called retinoids.

Benzoyl Peroxide Considerations

You should not provide benzoyl peroxide to a child under age 12 without a doctor’s advice, Medline Plus notes. Potential minor side effects of use include stinging and skin dryness or peeling. If these effects become serious or persist long-term, tell your doctor. More serious potential effects include itching, redness, blistering, burning, swelling and skin rash. Tell your doctor immediately if you experience any amount of these more serious effects.

Salicylic Acid Considerations

If you are already using benzoyl peroxide, you should not use topical salicylic acid without the explicit advice of your doctor, Medline Plus reports. If your teenager or child has the flu or chicken pox, you should not provide salicylic acid without your doctor’s approval. Potential side effects of topical salicylic acid include stinging and skin irritation at the application site. Tell your doctor if these effects become severe or persist long-term. More serious potential side effects include hearing loss, confusion, dizziness, rapid breathing and headache. Call your doctor immediately if you experience any degree of these effects.

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