Acne, also known as Acne Vulgaris, or commonly called ‘pimples’, is a skin condition that affects most individuals. While acne can occur almost anywhere on your skin, the most common sites are the face, back, shoulder, neck, chest, and upper arms.

Although acne is one of the most common skin diseases, it can be annoying and stressful for most to deal with it, especially for teenagers (13-19 years old) and young women. Acne affects men equally but its severity can differ depending on your age and gender. 

If treated early and at the right time, acne can prevent long-lasting scarring (growth of tissue marking the spot where the skin has healed after an injury) and pain. 

Before we look at the treatment options available for acne, let’s take a quick look at how acne is formed.

How Is Acne Formed?

Acne occurs as a result of an overactive sebaceous gland. Sebaceous glands are small oil-producing glands present in your skin that secrete an oily or waxy matter, called sebum, which lubricates your hair and skin. 

An overactive sebaceous gland will produce excess sebum, which can cause plugging of your hair follicles (tunnel-shaped structure on the outer layer of the skin from which the hair starts growing) with oil and dead skin cells. 

When these clogged hair follicles or pores become infected with bacteria, it forms a pimple, which is a small red bump with pus at its tip.

Salicylic Acid and Benzoyl Peroxide Treatment Options for Acne

If you were to just google “treatment for acne”, you will be served a pool of extremely varying results. This is because the skin care industry is inundated with products, all with one single claim – “cure acne”. 

Treatments usually include over-the-counter creams and cleansers, as well as prescription antibiotics (medicines used to stop the growth of bacteria causing acne). However, the efficacy of most of these products is rather unknown. 

That said, two ingredients tend to stand out above the rest: salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. Both of these are referred to as 'super ingredients’ that fight a different acne-causing source. Salicylic acid clears pores by removing dead cells off your skin and benzoyl peroxide kills bacteria.

Let us see in detail how each one is beneficial in treating acne.

Salicylic Acid in Acne Treatment

Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) derived from willow bark, wintergreen leaves, and sweet birch. It works as a keratolytic agent, i.e., it promotes skin shedding by reducing adhesion between skin cells. Simply put, it reduces the size of your pimples. It does not prevent acne, it treats them.

Salicylic acid is oil-soluble, which makes it capable of cutting through oil and exfoliating deep within your pores to remove blockages. It works by increasing the amount of moisture in the skin and dissolving the substance that causes the skin cells to stick together.

Salicylic acid is often used in face peels during skin treatments. It is a common ingredient that is available in most dermatologically tested creams, cleansers, toners, and serums. 

If you use salicylic acid regularly, you may notice your skin starting to dry. Don’t fret. Top it up with a layer of a good pH-balanced moisturizer. During the daytime, consider using sunscreen as well. Salicylic acid is best suited for those with oily skin. For those with dry, or sensitive skin, this ingredient could be too harsh and may lead to skin irritation.

The use of salicylic acid concentration in various products varies from person to person. The most common side effects of salicylic acid include dry, burning, and overall irritated skin in the areas of application. Always consult your dermatologist to understand how much you can use, how often you can use and how to use it.

Benzoyl Peroxide for Acne

Benzoyl peroxide, on the other hand, is an excellent anti-acne medicine used mainly for grade 1 (mild) and grade 2 (moderate) acne vulgaris. 

Its bacteriostatic action helps reduce the count of the bacteria found in pimples (P.acnes). Additionally, it also has comedolytic properties. Comedolytic comes from the two words ‘comedo’ meaning pore blockage and ‘lytic’ meaning termination. In simple words, benzoyl peroxide works as an antiseptic to reduce the number of germs (bacteria) on the surface of your skin.

Benzoyl peroxide is an active ingredient available most over-the-counter (OTC) gels, cleansers, body washes, face washes, foams, and spot treatments that come in different concentrations. The concentration that you choose should be suitable for your skin. 

Remember that your facial skin is more sensitive than the skin on your back and chest. Benzoyl peroxide is usually well tolerated on your back, chest, and shoulders in comparison to your facial skin.

While benzoyl peroxide is considered safe for most people, it can cause some side effects. Benzoyl peroxide works by peeling away the skin to get rid of dead skin cells, leading to dryness, as well as redness, and excessive peeling. It can stain your clothes and hands. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after each application. If you have an allergic reaction, stop using the product immediately.

Your dermatologist may not recommend benzoyl peroxide if you have sensitive skin, as you would be more prone to side effects such as rashes and irritation. 

Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are both used widely to treat acne and acne scars. Consult your dermatologist before self-medicating or trying a new skin care product for acne treatment. Do not fall prey to false claims and promises made by several skin care and cosmetic products. Check with your doctor first to prevent skin irritation and other side-effects.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.