Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Ingredient Spotlight: Benzoyl Peroxide May 26, 2010

One of the most common and easy to find anti-acne ingredients is benzoyl peroxide.  There is a simple reason for benzoyl peroxide’s availability – it works well as an anti-acne treatment particularly in conjunction with alpha hydroxy acids (like glycolic) or even better with salicylic acid products.  In the case of benzoyl peroxide there is both exhaustive and conclusive research that proves its effectiveness in fighting blemishes which definitely makes it a worthwhile ingredient to seek out if you suffer from blemishes.  


How Benzoyl Peroxide Works


Benzoyl peroxide works by destroying the acne causing bacteria in the hair follicles; benzoyl peroxide can penetrate into the hair follicle without causing too much irritation at the same time.  Benzoyl peroxide works by allowing the benzoyl to draw peroxide into the follicle.  Once the peroxide is in the follicle it releases oxygen that destroys the acne causing bacteria.  Additionally, benzoyl peroxide is anti-inflammatory and can help reduce inflammation around the hair follicles. 


The Upside and Downside to Benzoyl Peroxide


Benzoyl peroxide works quickly which is a definite upside about this product.  Another good thing about benzoyl peroxide is that it does not lose its effectiveness over time like antibiotics do.  Having said that many people have the perception that benzoyl peroxide does lose its effectiveness over time.    What really happens when someone perceives this problem is that benzoyl peroxide has done all that it can to heal the acne lesions, and in order to see further improvement the acne sufferer needs to add another anti-acne ingredient to their daily skincare regime like salicylic acid or a retinol. 

The downside to benzoyl peroxide is that it can cause irritation, dryness, stinging, and even bleach the clothes and hair of the user.  For that reason not every acne sufferer finds that they can use or want to use benzoyl peroxide.



Which Benzoyl Peroxide Product is Right for You?


Benzoyl peroxide can be found in face washes, creams, gels, and serums in both OTC versions and prescription ones.  Some of the prescription benzoyl peroxide products are combined with antibiotics which makes them super anti-acne fighting products and are good for those suffering from more severe acne.   You can find benzoyl peroxide in concentrations of 2.5%, 5%, and 10% in anti-acne products.  In higher concentrations benzoyl peroxide can be irritating, as already mentioned above, and as such it is a good idea to start out using the 2.5% concentration (my favorite 2.5% benzoyl peroxide product is pictured above) especially if your skin is more sensitive or on the dry side.  If you find cream or gel benzoyl peroxides to be irritating you can try a face wash that contains benzoyl peroxide since the active ingredient won’t stay on the skin for too long.  Begin by using the benzoyl peroxide product once a day, working up to twice a day, if necessary, once your skin has adjusted to the product.  Apply the product after cleansing but before your moisturizer, sunscreen, and make-up.

Another interesting point when it comes to benzoyl peroxide products is that a 2.5% concentration product can be just as effective as a 10% concentration product depending on the formulation of the product.  I always recommend that clients start out using a 2.5% benzoyl peroxide concentration product before trying a 5% or 10% product.  Depending on your acne and skin the lower concentration of benzoyl peroxide might be all that you need to help get your acne under control.



Sources and Further Reading



8 Responses to “Ingredient Spotlight: Benzoyl Peroxide”

  1. Pam Says:

    Thanks for this write-up. I gave up on Benzoyl Peroxide until I discovered My favorite is Dan Kearn’s 2.5% BP I can’t find a bigger or more affordable tube with other brands.

  2. Amanda Says:

    Great information. I actually keep a tube of this in my bathroom but I’ve never really thought much about it as an active ingredient. I use it as an overnight spot treatment. It can bleach clothes and it does dry put the skin but I don’t mind so much because it does work quickly at reducing a pimple if not getting rid of it completely.

  3. antiqueshoes Says:

    i use this brand of neutrogena!
    actually all of my facewashing needs are fulfilled by neutrogena at this point. =) i like it!

  4. Joe Says:

    May I ask why you recommend using benzoyl peroxide before moisturizing? Does applying moisturizer first reduce efficacy of bp that much?

    • Applying moisturizer before any strong product (like Retin-A or BP, etc.) will lessen the effects of the product applied on top. If your skin is sensitive, but you still need acne treatments applying moisturizer first might be helpful.

  5. toby Says:

    would you recommend using benzoyl peroxide as a spot treatment or used all over the skin?

    • You can use benzoyl peroxide either way – it depends how widespread your acne is. If you only have a few breakouts, I would spot treat. If you have breakouts everywhere you need to use benzoyl peroxide all over. Just remember even when your breakouts clear up you still should use benzoyl peroxide a few times a week to maintain clear skin.

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