Benzoyl Peroxide is probably THE most popular acne treatment ever. Every doctor/dermatologist/aesthetician knows about this ingredient — and you should too!
What Is Benzoyl Peroxide?
Benzoyl Peroxide is an over the counter drug that treats acne. In layman terms, it actually penetrates deep into the pore where it kills acne causing bacteria with oxygen — it’s antimicrobial.
Benzoyl Peroxide (BP) also comes with a few other benefits.
It dissolves in oil! It can get through sebum and penetrate the pore, clearing out clogs.
It also has anti-inflammatory effects on pimples…which are formed because of inflammation. By reducing inflammation on the skin, a pimple is less likely to form!
It is also keratolytic — that is, it helps exfoliate the skin! In fact, this study showed that Benzoyl Peroxide is better at treating inflammatory acne than Salicylic Acid, because it goes deeper.
Unlike with antibiotics, you don’t develop a resistance to BP. That means you can keep using it without it becoming ineffective!
I’ve personally used Benzoyl Peroxide for over 10 years, on and off, with awesome results. My skin doesn’t tire of it.
Annoyingly, the natural skin care craze has swept the world, scaring people from this ingredient because proponents of natural skin care generally don’t understand how skin works…
They believe that Benzoyl Peroxide is dangerous…
If you want to learn about common skin care myths keeping you from having clear skin, then you can sign up for my 10 Days of Busting Beauty Myths video series here.
So what’s all the controversy about?
The Controversy With Benzoyl Peroxide
Unsurprisingly, most people have no idea what they’re doing when it comes to even basic skin care…and especially with BP.
Sites like acne.org have spread a dangerous myth of “more is more” with Benzoyl Peroxide and the results were not good. Like I’ve said in the past, being harsh with your face will not get you the skin you want.
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The founder of acne.org said things along the lines of, use three finger lengths of the product — which is absolutely insane and unnecessary, but amazing for selling more BP…
Benzoyl Peroxide can be VERY drying when used the wrong way, while 5% of people can actually have an allergy to this ingredient. A friend of mine was one of these 5% — her eyes would swell shut if BP got near them. Great for getting out of exams…
If you experience extreme redness and burning when you use the product, then it’s probably not for you. By probably, I mean definitely.
It is true that your skin will require about a week to get used to this product, and this is totally normal.
There are ways to use Benzoyl Peroxide that render it completely harmless — without any of the extreme side effects that people report (mostly just super dry skin!).
Alas, most people do it wrong.
What Is The Wrong Way Of Using Benzoyl Peroxide
There is a totally wrong way of using Benzoyl Peroxide.
This includes using more than a pea sized amount of the product twice or more a day.
In other words, using too much BP too often can lead to extreme dryness.
But other ways to contribute to extreme dryness is using a harsh/drying cleanser in your routine, and not moisturising properly after using BP.
What Is The Right Way To Use Benzoyl Peroxide
Firstly, you can’t rush into using Benzoyl Peroxide. It’s a very strong ingredient!
Start by applying the product every other night, and then increase to every day, and then if your skin is looking great, you can try it twice a day. Listen to your skin.
A lot of people get overexcited and start slathering on insane amounts of it and at higher strengths…But the dose makes the poison.
The ideal strength to use is 2.5% BP, and anything greater just causes more irritation rather than killing more bacteria.
Any dermatologist that prescribes a greater percentage, like 5% or 10%…is whack.
Secondly, the ideal amount of Benzoyl Peroxide is about a pea-sized amount, just a very thin layer to cover the acne-prone areas of your face.
For example, if you don’t break out on your forehead, then don’t apply BP there.
You also have to use it consistently to see results. It might take as little as a week for new acne lesions to stop forming after starting to use Benzoyl Peroxide. Don’t stop using it after your skin is clear, because chances are the acne will return.
If you’d like to stop using Benzoyl Peroxide then try to just use it less and less frequently. If you used it twice a day, then try using it once a day, or every other day for a week or two, and then stop.
Thirdly, your whole skin care routine must support the use of Benzoyl Peroxide in order to have incredible results instead of drying out your skin.
This means that you need to have an extremely gentle, soap-free cleanser to cleanse your face twice a day.
You also need to moisturise like a pro — which means never on dry skin, and with ingredients that really hold in moisturise and keep water from evaporating from your skin. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a lot of product in order to keep your skin super plump and moist.
But the last, and probably most important step is SUNSCREEN.
Benzoyl Peroxide has been said to sensitise the skin to UVB light, making the skin more prone to burning. But again, context matters!
This has only been shown in a study on mice, and the Benzoyl Peroxide was applied in a combination with acetone. The results of an overview of various studies conclude, “Thus, to date, available scientific evidence does not allow the results of these rodent promotion studies to be meaningfully applied to human safety assessment.”
However, if you’ve been following along with what I’ve been saying…
Sunscreen is astronomically important in skin health, and if you want your skin to heal then you need to wear sunscreen.
There are people on the internet who claim that BP causes premature aging because it forms free-radicals and depletes antioxidants (vitamin E specifically).
Yes, it’s true that BP forms free-radicals and depletes vitamin E in the skin.
You know what creates free-radicals that age the skin? The SUN.
You know what else depletes antioxidants in skin? ACNE.
That is to say that mere living does this to our skin…Our skin has a lot of environmental stressors to deal with every day.
Lucky for us, the skin gets antioxidants from your blood, so whatever antioxidant stores are depleted by Benzoyl Peroxide, are also restored by your blood — all the time, if you eat a nourishing diet.
So the way to counter any aging effects of Benzoyl Peroxide (or life in general) is by eating a diet full of yummy antioxidants and wearing sunscreen 365 days a year.
use a pea-sized amount of BP 2x a day max
(along with a soap-free cleanser, and a 3-step moisturization routine — the only moisturization routine that really works)
wear sunscreen every single day, even if you’re not leaving the house because UVA rays penetrate glass
eat your veggies
So Is Benzoyl Peroxide An Effective Acne Treatment?
Yes, Benzoyl Peroxide is an effective acne treatment. It really does decrease acne lesions, lower inflammation on the skin, promote cellular turnover, and kill p.acnes bacteria.
The benefits of BP outweigh the risks.
My Experience With Benzoyl Peroxide
I first found Benzoyl Peroxide in the Proactiv Solutions acne system…But it didn’t really work that well for me then because the rest of the system was so harsh and drying.
My skin was extremely sensitive, oily, but dehydrated on Proactiv, and I still broke out regularly. To be fair, my diet was also mostly sugar at the time.
Later I found BP in the acne.org Regimen, which I used for about 2-3 years. Here the Benzoyl Peroxide worked wonders UNTIL the founder changed the moisturiser in his 3-step system illustrating why a moisturiser and BP must go hand in hand.
This made the regimen far too drying for me, and my skin was literally falling off in huge dry chunks.
After becoming a bit smarter with skin care, and literally researching moisturisers for 4 months to replace my lost favourite…I put together a skin care system that was extremely gentle, yet extremely effective.
I kept the BP from acne.org because it was actually a really good product, but I started using a tiny amount…Almost symbolically, just to say that I used it.
And my skin LOVED it!
A gentle skin care routine was what my skin CRAVED after all the harsh products from my past.
Quitting Benzoyl Peroxide
I’ve tried going off of Benzoyl Peroxide at different stages of my life, with varying results, because context matters!
When I stopped using BP as a teenager, the acne returned…unsurprisingly, since my diet was largely gluten, skim milk, and SUGAR. Plus the rest of my skin care routine was horribly harsh.
As an adult, when I stopped using BP and replaced it with jojoba oil? My skin exploded with new acne.
I went from my skin being regularly exfoliated by the BP to being clogged by the oil.
When I recently stopped using BP for over a month because of travels, my skin didn’t explode. I did get a few more little pimple here and there, but nothing huge.
I attribute them more to hormones and stress…and the Ukrainian diet (inflammatory oils, more dairy, and gluten).
I think that this time, the rest of my skin care routine was supportive and healing enough to be able to stop using the BP without a disaster on my face!
However, about a month ago, I decided to try BP again for 10 days while visiting family in Ukraine.
I kid you not, 5 days later my skin was flawless…I definitely saw an improvement, and realised that BP really does what its created to do.
Benzoyl Peroxide And Other Acne Fighting Ingredients
You can easily use Salicylic Acid along with Benzoyl Peroxide to treat acne. Salicylic Acid is best known for treating comedonal acne, while BP is better at treating inflammatory acne.
When used together, these ingredients are pretty awesome! Again, a good moisturization routine can mitigate any dryness.
You can use a 2% Salycilic Acid solution like this one from Paula’s Choice after cleansing, then apply the BP followed by a moisturizer (and sunscreen in the AM).
But there is some literature that says that Retinoids do not mix with Benzoyl Peroxide, and that using Benzoyl Peroxide and Retinol together will render them both ineffective. But it also depends on the strength of each product…It can get a bit complicated.
An easy solution is to use BP in the morning and retinol at night. You can also switch it up and use BP one day, and retinol the next. There’s some room for experimentation.
Keep in mind that if you have dry, flaky skin from retinol it means you are using too much. Retinol is supposed to make your skin function normally, it’s not supposed to be more dry or uncomfortable.
Personally, Benzoyl Peroxide has mostly worked wonders for me. I use Dan’s 2.5% acne.org formula but I don’t listen to his instructions! I use only a pea-sized (or smaller) amount and only on areas where I’m more prone to breakouts.
BP alone is not the solution for acne, although it’s VERY effective in managing symptoms of acne…
I’ve helped a friend of mine cure her cystic acne with mostly a gentle skin care routine WITHOUT BP, and a huge diet and lifestyle overhaul. This process took longer, but was very effective. This experience shows that Benzoyl Peroxide isn’t necessary for clear skin…and that diet and lifestyle play a HUGE role too that you can’t afford to ignore!
I just wanted you to be aware of another option that is available to you on your journey towards clear skin. BP is not scary when used correctly.
What are your experiences with Benzoyl Peroxide like?