Benzoyl peroxide (BPO) is a key ingredient in the most commonly used over-the-counter (OTC) acne-treatments as well as some prescription medications. One of the first proven treatments for acne, it is often the first choice for those suffering from mild to moderate acne. So, what do you need to know about benzoyl peroxide and acne? Read-on and we cover it all!
If you’re not sure exactly how acne occurs, check out our About Acne page, which goes through the full lifecycle of a pimple.
What is benzoyl peroxide?
Benzoyl peroxide is a potent antimicrobial compound formed when benzoyl chloride is combined with hydrogen peroxide. It is often more effective against acne than its main competitor, salicylic acid, but it also has a higher risk of negative side effects.
How does benzoyl peroxide treat acne?
BPO works to treat acne in two primary ways:
- It kills bacteria. Propionibacteria acnes, or P. acnes, are the bacteria responsible for breakouts. This form of bacteria cannot survive in an aerobic (oxygen-rich) environment, which is where BPO comes in. Benzoyl peroxide introduces oxygen into the pore, killing the bacteria population and reducing breakouts.
- It opens your pores. The benzoic acid in benzoyl peroxide is a mild exfoliator, which reduces the build up and congestion around your pores. Clearing the pores of dead skin cells reduces the chance of developing comedones (pore blockages), preventing breakouts before they start.
Over-the-counter vs. Prescription BPO
In the past, higher consistency benzoyl peroxide products required a prescription, but in 2010 the FDA legalized the sale of benzoyl peroxide consistencies between 2.5% and 10% to be sold without a prescription. While there is limited research directly comparing OTC to prescription benzoyl peroxide products, those in favor of the latter claim that prescription medications may not only be gentler on the skin, but are overall more effective because the benzoyl peroxide crystals are smaller and therefore better able to penetrate into your skin.
How to choose the best benzoyl peroxide:
Benzoyl peroxide products range in concentration from 2.5% to 10%. However, higher percentages (5-10%) are more likely to cause skin irritation and are not proven to be more effective than products with a lesser concentration. BPO comes in a number of forms, including:
- Facial Cleansers
- Spot Treatments
For best results, it’s important to determine the right application method and treatment strength for your specific acne issues.
Best benzoyl peroxide facial cleansers:
Benzoyl peroxide facial cleansers are usually the best bet. These cleansers can be used in the morning and/or evening when you are taking a shower or just washing your face over the sink. To reduce the likelihood of side-effects, try applying a moisturizer immediately after you finish washing your face.
Best benzoyl peroxide creams:
Benzoyl peroxide creams are sometimes preferred because they typically include some moisturizing lotion in them. That being said, you may just want to choose a facial cleanser or gel and then apply your favorite moisturizer immediately afterwards.
Best benzoyl peroxide gels:
Benzoyl peroxide gels should be applied in the morning and/or evening, before you go to bed. To reduce the side-effects, try mixing your gel with a moisturizer or apply a moisturizer immediately afterwards.
Best benzoyl peroxide spot treatments:
Spot treatments are used for treating individual pimples. There is some degree of effectiveness to spot treatments but we highly recommend that you apply medications to your whole affected area daily so that you can fight the pimples before they arise.
What are the side effects of benzoyl peroxide?
There are several side effects associated with the use of benzoyl peroxide. These are the most common:
- Dry skin
- Sensitivity to sunlight
Be aware that benzoyl peroxide can also bleach your clothing.
How can I avoid the side effects?
To avoid the side effects of using benzoyl peroxide, start with a low concentration and monitor your skin closely for adverse reactions. Since benzoyl peroxide mainly causes dry skin, applying a moisturizer with your benzoyl peroxide or immediately afterwards can significantly reduce your side effects. For sun sensitivity, use a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher that protects against UVA light until you gauge how your skin reacts to the medication.
Many of the most popular OTC acne-fighting products on the market contain benzoyl peroxide. Avoid BPO with a higher concentration than 5%. If you find that BPO isn’t getting the job done, consider a consultation with a dermatologist who can write you prescriptions for more aggressive medications.
About us: YoDerm is the only way to get a prescription medication safely and legally online. Each of our dermatologists are board-certified and will treat your acne within 24 hours. If you’re struggling to get clear, click here, and let us help.
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