The two most popular (and effective) over the counter treatments for acne are benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. However, these two products come in many different concentrations. Which is the ideal amount? The concentration of the product may change how you want to use the product, so read this guide to discover how different concentrations of these active ingredients can change the way the acne product works:
Benzoyl Peroxide Concentration
- 2.5%: The 2.5% concentration of benzoyl peroxide is the lowest known concentration to effectively combat acne. This concentration is ideal for products that rub in and are not washed off.
- 3.5%: The 3.5% concentration of benzoyl peroxide is stronger than the 2.5% concentrations but still can be left in and not washed off. This is the concentration found in the Exposed Skin Care line.
- 5%: The 5% concentration is in the middle of the approved range and is ideal for wash-off applications. You can apply a cream or lotion containing this concentration, allow it to soak for a few minutes, then wash it off with water.
- 10%: The 10% concentration is the strongest approved concentration in the USA for acne relief. This strength is much more likely to cause redness and dryness and may burn the skin. I do not recommend it.
- Over 10%: Using concentrations of over 10% is not approved by the FDA for acne treatment. Concentrations over 10% are very likely to cause skin burns and be no more effective at reducing acne than lower concentrations.
Salicylic Acid Concentration:
Much like benzoyl peroxide, the differing concentrations of salicylic acid change its effectiveness, the ideal product, and the possible side effects from its use:
- .5%: Less than 1% concentrations of salicylic acid are not proven to be effective at fighting acne. These are often used as part of “strips” and bandages that are stuck to the skin overnight. Pads and bandages that are “spot reducers” often contain very low concentrations of salicylic acid and are applied directly to acne lesions.
- 1%: The 1% concentration of salicylic acid is very versatile and found in everything from face washes to rub-in treatment creams. This concentration may cause dryness if used in “rub in” preparations but is less likely to cause any issues when used as part of a face wash.
- 2%: The 2% concentration of salicylic acid is a lot like the 1% concentration. It is found in the same types of products but is usually considered the “extra strength” version. It may be used as a face wash or as a rub-in treatment. It is more likely to cause irritated skin than the 1% version, but may be more effective. Oily skin types may want to choose the 2% over the 1%.
- 3%: The 3% concentration of salicylic acid is only approved for wash-off treatments and home chemical peels. It should not be left on overnight as it may result in burns. Always wash this concentration off. It is rarely found in OTC products, except for those advertised as home chemical peels.
- Over 3%: Using concentrations higher than 3% is not approved in the US. This may result in skin burns and serious side effects. Higher concentrations are used as a wart treatment, but these should not be applied to acne, as these do burn the skin.