You can tell which ingredient your skin needs based on the type of breakout you’re experiencing. Because salicylic acid is an exfoliating acid, and thus dissolves pore-clogging debris, Hartman says that “it works best on blackheads and whiteheads,” although “it is also ideal for aging skin, photodamaged skin, and uneven skin tones affected by hyperpigmentation.”
Benzoyl peroxide, according to Ciraldo, “works best on red, inflamed acne lesions since the inflamed acne lesions are the ones that have the P. acnes overgrowth.” This differs from whiteheads and blackheads, which are clogged pores without much bacterial overgrowth.
To sum it up, if blackheads and whiteheads are the banes of your existence, reach for a product that contains salicylic acid, which will break up the pore-clogging debris and increase cell turnover, revealing clearer, smoother skin. If you’re dealing with angry, red, and inflamed acne, reach for a product that contains benzoyl peroxide. It will kill acne-causing bacteria and decrease existing inflammation.