What's the Difference Between Salicylic Acid and Benzoyl Peroxide?

Salicylic Acid vs. Benzoyl Peroxide, what’s the dif?

There are a few ingredients that pop up in acne products a lot. Two that you’ve probably heard of are salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide.  What are the main differences between these two? They have a wide variety of medicinal and cosmetic uses between them – let’s explore their basic chemistry (Didn’t think you’d have to use that subject again? Wrong!) and how they work differently to help clear up skin.

Salicylic acid is a monohydroxybenzoic acid (mouthful, right?): a colorless crystalline organic acid that is often found in nature working as a plant hormone that aids organic synthesis. Its name is derived from “salix,” Latin for “willow tree” whose bark provided the first source of this acid. 

Willow bark has been known to have pain and fever relieving properties as well as anti-inflammatory powers since ancient times. Today it is an important ingredient in aspirin, becoming a prodrug once the body has metabolized the aspirin. And, of course it’s also a main ingredient of many skincare products.

Salicylic acid is able to treat a variety of skin conditions and complaints because it:

A: helps dead skin cells shed more easily

B: opens up clogged pores and neutralizes bacteria in them

C: help close pores up again to prevent further clogging and encourage new cell growth

Whew! That’s quite a list of accomplishments from one little acid! Not only does salicylic acid make it into a lot of skincare products it can even be found in dandruff shampoos. Its skin-clearing attributes are widely respected in the field of skincare and dermatology.

While benzoyl peroxide has more varied uses outside of skincare (in addition to bleaching hair and whitening teeth it polymerizes polyester – say that five times fast), within the world of skincare it really only does one thing: it helps skin cells turnover faster by peeling away dead layers on top. It also has antimicrobial effects due to its place in the peroxide family of organic compounds.

Ultimately salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide both fight acne and blemishes – it’s just a matter of using them effectively!





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