Glycolic Acid vs. Salicylic Acid for Closed Comedones

Glycolic and salicylic acid are two of the most popular active ingredients in skincare products. Both acids are known for their ability to exfoliate the skin and unclog pores.

And while both acids can help reduce the appearance of closed comedones, which one you choose to use depends on your skin type, skin concerns, and skin condition.

Therefore, this article will take a closer look at glycolic and salicylic acid, compare their benefits and drawbacks, and help you decide which one is right for your closed comedones.

Glycolic Acid vs. Salicylic Acid for Closed Comedones - The Skincare Culture

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What Are Closed Comedones and What Causes Them?

How Does Benzoyl Peroxide Help to Treat Closed Comedones - The Skincare Culture

Closed comedones are small, flesh-colored bumps that form on the skin when a hair follicle becomes plugged with sebum and dead skin cells.

They also don’t have a white head that can be popped or scratched off, just like some inflamed types of acne (pustules) do.

However, even though they can’t be popped and appear “blind,” a closed comedo has a small opening at the top, but we can’t see it with the naked eye.

And besides being graded as a non-inflammatory type of acne, closed comedones can turn into a pimple if not treated properly.

This happens when an overgrowth of the acne-causing strain of bacteria inside the pore triggers the immune system to fight it by sending white blood cells to the affected area and causing inflammation.

The result can be an inflamed pimple such as a pustule (with a white head on top), a papule (a blind pimple), or a more severe cyst.

How Does Glycolic Acid Work?

Glycolic acid is the strongest and most potent member of the AHA family, and this is due to having the smallest molecular weight, which allows it to work faster.

Glycolic acid is also a water-soluble substance, which means it has the ability to work on the surface layer of the skin; however, it cannot cut through the oil and penetrate deeper into the pores, so it is most useful for superficial exfoliation.

Superficial exfoliation can be beneficial for targeting various skin concerns, including superficial lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tone, and rough, bumpy texture due to closed comedones.

Additionally, glycolic acid can also be good for acne-prone skin in some instances due to its antibacterial properties.

Some benefits of using glycolic acid are:

  • Brightens and evens out the complexion.
  • Smooths out skin texture.
  • Fades discolored or hyperpigmented scarring.
  • Improves the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
  • Dissolves closed comedones and open comedones.
  • It can help soothe inflamed acne in some cases.

How Does Salicylic Acid Work?

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that works deeper into the pores to dissolve the gunk made up of dead skin cells, white blood cells, oil, and other cellular debris that’s causing a stiff clog.

This will, in turn, allow for our natural oil to flow freely out of the pores instead of remaining stuck inside and causing issues such as closed comedones, open comedones, and inflamed acne.

Some benefits of using salicylic acid include:

  • Soothes inflammation on the skin.
  • It cuts through the surface oil and deeply cleanses congested pores.
  • It makes the pores appear smaller and clear.
  • Can clear moderate to severe acne breakouts.
  • Dissolves closed comedones, blackheads, and sebaceous filaments.
  • Soothes deeply inflamed cysts and picked spots.

Which Acid is Better for Closed Comedones?

Both glycolic and salicylic acid can help dissolve and clear away closed comedones; however, which one will work better depends on your skin type, skin concerns, and the formulation of the product you choose.

Glycolic acid is a better option for dry and mature skin that gets a rogue closed comedone here and there, as this active ingredient will keep the pores clear and prevent closed comedones from forming long-term.

On the other hand, salicylic acid is better for oily, coarse, and acne-prone skin where closed comedones, along with open comedones and other types of acne, such as papules, pustules, and cysts, are a regular occurrence.

Additionally, which product works better for you can also be down to the formula, which is why you have to take the state of your skin into consideration when choosing a product to target your closed comedones.

For example, choosing something that’s too harsh while your skin is sensitive can lead to even bigger issues, such as a compromised skin barrier, dehydration, and irritation with frequent use.

On the other hand, choosing a product that’s not strong enough for your needs can lead to little to no results, leaving you feeling frustrated.

Best Glycolic Acid Products for Closed Comedones

If your skin is on the dry side or you get the odd closed comedone here and there, these glycolic acid products can help keep your pores clear and prevent them from forming in the first place.

SkinCeuticals – Purifying Cleanser

SkinCeuticals Purifying Cleanser - The Skincare Culture

Best for oily, acne-prone skin.

The Skinceuticals Purifying Cleanser is a foaming gel cleanser that contains 2% glycolic acid, which is good enough to lightly exfoliate the skin on a daily basis and dissolve closed comedones without causing dryness and irritation.

Paula’s Choice – 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant

Paula’s Choice – 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant – The Skincare Culture

Best for dry, sensitive skin.

Paula’s Choice 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant is a serum with a lightweight gel texture that contains 8% glycolic acid to exfoliate the skin, smooth rough and bumpy texture, and dissolve closed comedones.

The formula is excellent for those with dry, sensitive, and reactive skin as it contains soothing and antioxidant ingredients such as chamomile and green tea to instantly calm sensitive reactions.

Paula’s Choice – Smoothing Treatment 10% AHA

Paula’s Choice – Smoothing Treatment 10% AHA - The Skincare Culture

Best for mature skin.

Paula’s Choice Smoothing Treatment 10% AHA is an excellent treatment for mature skin dealing with blemishes, hyperpigmentation, enlarged pores, and closed comedones.

It contains a blend of several alpha hydroxy acids, including glycolic, lactic, and malic acid, and works to rejuvenate the skin, smooth out the complexion, and minimize fine lines and wrinkles.

Best Salicylic Acid Products for Closed Comedones

On the other side, if your skin is oily and you are frequently dealing with closed comedones, blackheads, and other types of acne, these salicylic acid products can help keep your pores clear and your skin looking flawless.

Paula’s Choice – Regular Strength 2% Salicylic Acid Exfoliator

Paula’s Choice – Regular Strength 2% Salicylic Acid

Best for combination, oily and acne-prone skin.

Paula’s Choice Regular Strength 2% Salicylic Acid Exfoliator is perfect for oily skin dealing with all types of acne, including closed comedones, blackheads, and inflammatory pimples.

It has a lightweight texture, doesn’t feel heavy on the skin, and is generally well tolerated by all skin types, including sensitive skin.

Paula’s Choice – Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

Paula's Choice – 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

Best for all skin types.

Paula’s Choice bestseller, the Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, is a leave-on toner with a slightly richer and more nourishing texture than the one mentioned above and also contains 2% salicylic acid to unclog pores, dissolve sebum, and clear out closed comedones.

It’s suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin, thanks to the soothing antioxidants it contains, and can be used up to 3-4 times a week to keep blemishes at bay.

COSRX – BHA Blackhead Power Liquid

COSRX – BHA Blackhead Power Liquid - The Skincare Culture

Best for sensitive skin.

COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid is a leave-on exfoliant containing 4% Betaine Salicylate, a gentler alternative to salicylic acid that dissolves hardened sebum inside the pores and helps clear out closed comedones without causing dryness and irritation.

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