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If you've had a few pimples in your lifetime, you're probably familiar with the superstar anti-acne ingredients known as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. But do you know how to use each to maximize their blemish-busting benefits? We talked to a few dermatologists to get the scoop.

If you've got a major breakout
For large tender, red bumps under the skin (cystic acne), your best bet is likely benzoyl peroxide. “It kills the bacteria, called P. acnes, that's partly to blame for the inflammation of an angry pimple,” says N.Y.C. dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D. Try using a cleanser like PCA Skincare’s formula (BPO 5 Percent Cleanser, $35; to squelch zits. Let the cleanser sit for a minute so it has time to make contact into the deeper layers of the skin before rinsing. We also like using spot treatment overnight, such as Neutrogena's On-the-Spot ($8;, which contains 2.5% benzoyl peroxide and isn't as irritating as some higher concentrations.

If you've got blackheads and clogged pores
For comedonal acne (whiteheads and blackheads), look for lotions or creams laced with salicylic acid. It penetrates the hair follicle and oil glands and helps with exfolitation, says San Diego derm Melanie Palm, M.D. Since it unclogs pores and sloughs off dead skin cells, it also has an advantage over benzoyl peroxide: "It helps remove surface cells, thereby lessening the dark spots that can be left behind after inflammation," says Palm. More effective in a leave on treatment, opt for a lotion or cream (we like Aveeno Clear Complexion Daily Moisturizer, $14; that allows the salicylic acid to remain in contact with the skin for a longer period than a cleanser.

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