Q: What’s the best thing to use on a breakout if my skin is sensitive?
A: The choice between acne-fighting ingredients (benzoyl peroxide vs. salicylic acid) is a matter of personal preference, but it also depends on the kind of zit you are trying to combat. The main difference between the two is that benzoyl peroxide kills acne-causing bacteria, so this is the big gun to use on a gross, infected, angry-looking, pustule-like pimple. (The kind you want to pop, but shouldn’t.) Unfortunately, benzoyl peroxide is notoriously irritating, especially in concentrations higher than 2.5 percent. (It’s also strong enough to bleach your pillowcase, towels, and clothing.)
If benzoyl peroxide makes your skin turn red, burn, or peel, then try salicylic acid as an alternative. “Salicylic acid has anti-inflammatory properties that calm the skin, so it’s recommended for people with rosacea or sensitivity,” explains Santa Monica dermatologist Ava Shamban. And it’s able to stop the blemish-making process before it begins. “Sebum can build up and harden under the skin’s surface and clog the pore, making it impossible for newly produced sebum to be released. This leads to whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples.” Salicylic acid unclogs pores, but look for a product with a concentration of at least 2 percent, such as Clean & Clear Advantage Spot Treatment or Stridex Daily Care Acne Pads. Use it as a preventative measure when you feel a zit coming on, or apply it regularly onto oily, problem areas, like the nose or chin, to keep them clear and pimple-free.