Raise your hand if you’ve ever stood in the acne treatment aisle wondering ‘what the heck are all these products and how do I choose the right one?’
We’ve all been there. There are many options from so many brands that it can be overwhelming and confusing to navigate all of the products. But if you look more closely you’ll see that almost all of these products have one or both of these ingredients: Salicylic Acid (Sal Acid) or Benzoyl Peroxide (BP).
Sal Acid is a Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) and exfoliator that helps to get rid of dead skin cells that sit on the surface of the skin and clog the pores. This debris can also get in the way of your other skincare products working properly. Imagine you need to open a door, but there is a bunch of junk in front of it stopping you from getting to the doorknob! Sal Acid does a great job of working through gunk and oil that clog the pores and allows for a deeper penetration of other topical cleansers, lotions, gels, etc. While Sal Acid is fantastic at unclogging those pores, it doesn’t offer everything the skin usually needs to treat acne.
Enter Benzoyl Peroxide! BP is also an exfoliator but has the added benefit of being able to kill bacteria. The combination of clogged pores and bacteria can create acne. BP offers the added benefits that Sal Acid doesn’t, so when these twp products are used together they can be very effective at treating mild acne. Sal Acid scoops away the pore clogging gunk, with the added benefit of some skin smoothing and brightening, and allows BP to penetrate more deeply into the pores to kill bacteria.
While these medications are safe and easily available, they are not without side effects. Both can cause dryness, so you don’t want to overdo it! BP also comes in strengths up to 10%. The stronger formulations can be more irritating, so decrease to every other day if your skin gets dry. A word of caution with BP: it can bleach your fabrics! Our pro tip? Keep products with BP in your shower so that you can rinse them off thoroughly. This will prevent those annoying bleached towels!
Most BP and Sal Acid products will come in a wash form or a spot treatment, but we are seeing some great new ways to use these ingredients in products like cleansing wipes, acne treatment ‘stickers’, acne treatment oils, peel pads and daily moisturizers. BP and Sal Acid are also great for tackling acne on the back, chest, and buttocks; the ingredients can be found in body washes and cleansers, perfect for using on these areas.
Whenever we treat patients for acne we always talk about the importance of using moisturizer along with your acne treatment regimen. It can make a huge difference in how you tolerate these treatments and can make the entire acne treatment experience easier!
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If you are suffering from deep, painful acne or acne that does not go away after using over the counter treatments for a month, it’s time to see a Dermatology provider to talk about treatment.