Acne has no cure but it can be treated using various treatments. One popular topical treatment option is benzoyl peroxide, but because the efficacy of treatments varies and there are many over the counter products that claim to help acne scars and spots yet don’t work, the question, “Is benzoyl peroxide good for acne?” is bound to arise. Today we examine the use of benzoyl peroxide for acne scars, cysts, and spots treatment.
What Is Benzoyl Peroxide?
It is a popular medication in treatment of mild to moderate acne be it face acne or body acne (on the back, chest, jawline, neck etc.).
The use of benzoyl peroxide for acne treatment dates back more than five decades, being one of the first scientifically proven acne treatments.
When it comes into contact with the skin, benzoyl peroxide breaks down into benzoic acid and oxygen.
Benzoyl peroxide acne treatment products are widely available over the counter in the forms of topical creams, lotions, soaps, face wash (cleansers), and topical gels - e.g. Clearasil, ProActiv etc. - as well as in prescription products. The concentration of benzoyl peroxide in these acne products range from 2.5 to 5 and 10 percent.
Benzoyl Peroxide for Acne – How does it Work?Now, how does benzoyl peroxide treat acne? When applied topically to the skin, benzoyl peroxide helps to treat and clear acne whiteheads, pustules, and cysts in various ways:
1. Killing Acne Bacteria: According to the Cleveland Clinic, topical application of benzoyl peroxide for acne treatment helps by targeting and killing the skin bacteria that contribute to acne, Propionibacterium acne (P. acnes). These bacteria cause the redness and inflammation typical of acne pimples and cysts (nodularcystic acne)
These bacteria cannot live in oxygen-rich or aerobic environment. When benzoyl peroxide is applied to the skin, it breaks down into oxygen and benzoic acid. The ability of this antiseptic to introduce oxygen into the skin pores gives benzoyl peroxide a powerful bactericidal action against P. acnes which then reduces the extent and numbers of acne spots breakouts.
In fact, eMedTV says that “Benzoyl peroxide is best at killing Propionibacterium acnes bacteria”.
A remarkable advantage of benzoyl peroxide for acne treatment over oral antibiotics is its ability to prevent – and reverse the severity of acne symptoms caused by – bacteria resistance as found in a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology.
2. Unclogging the skin pores: As an oxidizing agent, benzoyl peroxide has keratolytic properties which helps to unplug blocked skin pores, says The DermNet New Zealand Trust. By removing the cellular debris accumulated in the skin pores, benzoyl peroxide helps to heal existing acne whiteheads (comedones) and pimples while preventing new ones from developing.
3. Oil Drying: The benzoic acid released when benzoyl peroxide breaks down on the skin helps the skin to dry and peel. Excess skin oil production due to hormonal changes is often the starting point of acne breakouts in teenagers and adults alike. By drying and peeling the skin, therefore, benzoyl peroxide acts as a potent acne treatment.
4. Fighting Inflammation: The ability to fight the inflammation typical to acne pimples and cysts has also contributed to the widespread acceptance and popularity of BPO.
Given these acne healing benefits of benzoyl peroxide, not to mention its relatively low cost, it is not surprising that is the active ingredient in a whole range of over the counter acne spots treatment products such Clearasil and ProActiv. Benzoyl peroxide also features in a range of prescription medications for acne.
There are reviews and medical expert opinions galore online to support benzoyl peroxide acne treatment. The deep exfoliating and oil drying action of BPO makes it a good choice for under the skin pimples, also referred to as blind pimples.
Read more about blind pimples
Benzoyl Peroxide for Acne ScarsScars are associated with long standing acne breakouts, especially more severe cases. Scarring is part of the skin’s attempt to heal itself. Usually in the form of deep depression but sometime raised (hypertrophic), acne scars heal and fade away on their own after treating the breakouts.
Scars are not to be confused with the purple, brown, or red marks that occur after a few weeks of treatment with benzoyl peroxide. These are the result of hyperpigmentation that become more visible as the acne pimples clear. As with the scars, acne marks fade away on their own.
Now, does benzoyl peroxide help acne scars? Well, benzoyl peroxide acne treatment works solve the acne problem right from the source by killing acne bacteria while promoting skin exfoliation and reducing oil production. While this will not directly treat acne scars, having the acne under control helps to kick-start the natural scar healing process while preventing the formation of new scars.
Benzoyl Peroxide Cystic Acne Treatment – Should You Use Benzoyl Peroxide for Acne Cysts?Cystic acne is the most severe form of inflammatory acne. It is also referred to as nodularcystic acne when the acne cysts occur alongside nodules (another severe type of acne lesions). Moderate acne sufferers may occasionally experience cysts breakouts.
Read more about types of acne
Cystic acne typically occurs when bacterial inflammation occurs too deep in the skin that one or more soft, pus-filled lumps (cysts) result, coupled with redness on surface of the skin. These deep lesions form when the wall of the affected hair follicles rupture to release the bacteria and other debris into the dermis layer of the skin, in turn causing a membrane to develop around the infection as the body’s way of fighting back.
As the deep acne cyst moves further up towards the surface of skin, it causes further infection, damage, and inflammation of skin tissues. Acne cysts are more likely to cause scars than any other type of acne lesions.
Now, is benzoyl peroxide effective for cystic acne? The answer is a resounding YES. You can benefit from using benzoyl peroxide for acne cysts treatment.
Unlike salicylic acid that only aids in exfoliation (sloughing off) of dead skin cells as a way to treat acne pimples and enhance the appearance of acne scars, benzoyl peroxide also addresses the underlying factors for cystic acne, i.e. bacteria and excess sebum (skin oil) production while still providing for deep down exfoliation; thus treating acne cysts as well pimples, whiteheads, etc. more effectively.
Whether those painful, cysts occur on the jawline as a result of hormonal changes (such as those associated with menstrual cycles) or on the chest, benzoyl peroxide cystic acne treatment may be your answer to that clear skin that you are so desperately wishing for.
Cleansers and soaps are especially good for cystic acne but you may as well try using one of those benzoyl peroxide pads for cystic acne treatment. The most severe or persistent cases of cystic acne may benefit from using a prescription combination treatment e.g. clindamycin/BPO cream or topical benzoyl peroxide vs. oral antibiotics. Talk to a dermatologist about it.
How to Use Benzoyl Peroxide for Acne Spots TreatmentAs regards using benzoyl peroxide, the Mayo Clinic points out that products containing benzoyl peroxide, be they over the counter or prescription, should only be used on the skin (topically).
Even then you should not use these products in and around the eyes, on the lips and inside the mouth, inside the nose, on sensitive parts of the body especially the neck, and on broken skin to avoid irritation. Rinsing with water can help correct accidental application in these areas of the body.
Benzoyl peroxide is widely available over the counter in the forms of creams, gels, lotions, and face wash with concentrations ranging from 2.5% to 4% 5% and 10%. Studies have shown 2.5% benzoyl peroxide preparations to be just as effective as the higher concentrations but with the added benefit of less skin irritation.
Before using benzoyl peroxide acne treatment on the whole of the affected area of the skin, it is advisable to do a patch test on a small section to see how it affects your skin. Simply apply a small amount of the gel, lotion, cream etc. on the affected areas of the skin for 3 days. If discomfort or irritation occurs, stop using the product otherwise continue with the treatment. Below is a guideline outlining how to use benzoyl peroxide for acne:
How to Use Benzoyl Peroxide Gel, Cream, or Lotion for Acne TreatmentA benzoyl peroxide cream lotion, gel or cream of 2.5% concentration is usually a good starting point in the fight against acne and the associated acne scars.
- Wash the face with a mild, non-medicated soap or cleanser and warm water.
- Pat the face dry with a clean towel.
- Apply a thin film of the benzoyl peroxide product of your choice on the areas of the face (or body, but after cleaning as well) affected by acne spots and then rub it in gently until well spread.
- Repeat this acne treatment once every other day in the evening (before bedtime), then increase frequency to once or twice per day as tolerated.
Pay attention to the instructions given on the package as some products may require you to rinse the product off the skin for a certain treatment duration. For maximum effectiveness, benzoyl peroxide should also not be used for spot treatment; apply on the entire affected area rather than on individual pimples, cysts, whiteheads, or blackheads.
How to Use Benzoyl Peroxide Cleansing Bar Soap or Liquid Face Wash (Cleanser)To use any of the many cleansing products that contain BPO, simply replace your regular soap with it as follows:
- Splash water all over your face
- Apply the cleansing product gently on your skin for 10 seconds.
- Work the product up gently into a full lather without scrubbing, then rinse the facial skin thoroughly with water.
- Pat it dry.
- Repeat this process once or twice daily.
How to Use a Shaving Cream with Benzoyl Peroxide for AcneIf you tend to develop acne breakouts along the jawline (a preferred spot for hormonal acne), you may want to try using a shave cream that contains benzoyl peroxide when shaving.
- Splash water to the face or the area you intend to shave.
- Apply a dab of the shave cream and massage it in lightly.
- Rinse the skin with water and then pat it dry.
- Skip using your usual after-shave lotion or cream unless otherwise instructed by your doctor.
How to Use Benzoyl Peroxide Pads for Acne Cysts and PimplesBenzoyl peroxide is these days also available over the counter in medicated pads or sponges (wipes). Below is a guideline on using these medicated pads to clear acne breakouts:
- Cleanse the face or the affected area of the skin with a mild soap or cleanser and water.
- Pat it dry with a clean towel.
- Wipe the medicated pad lightly onto the skin.
- Apply the medication once or twice (later on) a day as instructed by your pharmacist or doctor.
How to Use a Benzoyl Peroxide Acne MaskSome products containing benzoyl peroxide e.g. Neutrogena Clear Pore Cleanser/Mask can be used both as a cleanser for the face and as a mask. For an acne fighting mask, follow these steps:
- Wash the face with a mild cleanser or soap.
- Rinse it off and the pat it dry with a clean towel.
- Apply a thin film of the product all over your face (or the affected part) as a mask.
- Leave the mask on until it dries off. This may take 15 minutes for some products but Neutrogena Clear Pore Cleanser/Mask specifically recommends leaving the mask on for 5 minutes.
- Rinse the mask off with warm water.
- Pat the skin dry.
- Repeat one a week; the dosage recommended by the Mayo Clinic.
Combination Benzoyl Peroxide Treatments for AcneFor prescription treatment of mild to moderate acne, BPO may be used either alone or in combination with other medications (topical or oral) as your dermatologist deems appropriate. Among the combinations most commonly used in treating spots due to acne breakouts are:
- Benzoyl peroxide/clindamycin (an antibiotic)
- Benzoyl peroxide/adapalene (a topical synthetic retinoid)
It is also possible to use Benzoyl peroxide together with salicylic acid, erythromycin (an antibiotic), or sulfur. According to a research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, combination therapy seems to be slightly more effective that benzoyl peroxide alone in clearing acne lesions.
One important thing about using benzoyl peroxide for acne treatment needs to be mentioned at this point. It is not a cure for acne, neither is it a quick fix. According to the MedlinePlus, it may take as long as 4-6 weeks for the acne lesions to clear and even after that, you will still want to continue with the treatment a while longer to ensure maximum efficacy. Should it take longer than that however, consider seeking the help of your doctor.
Your dermatologist may recommend continuing with benzoyl peroxide acne treatment after the full 6-weeks course - albeit on a less frequently basis - to prevent the recurrence of acne spots.
According to the MedlinePlus, you should not use products containing benzoyl peroxide in children aged below 12 years.
Side Effects of Benzoyl PeroxideDespite being a common first line treatment for acne spots, benzoyl peroxide, as with any other medications, has some side-effects associated with it. Common side-effects of BPO include:
- Dryness and flaking in the treated area: It is rather common to experience mild dryness and sometime flaking (peeling) of the skin after beginning to use benzoyl peroxide since it reduces oil secretion in the skin. Applying a light, water-based moisturizing lotion or cream daily is usually helpful as The DermNet New Zealand Trust says.
- A burning, stinging or itching sensation: This is rarely severe. If the irritation becomes intolerable, however, discontinue using benzoyl peroxide.
If you experience severe redness and/or itching, swelling, or blisters, stop using benzoyl peroxide and seek medical attention immediately.
These side-effects aside, it is also important to watch out how you use benzoyl peroxide for acne spots and scars treatment as it is pretty bleaching to clothes and hair when it comes into contact with them. Ensure therefore that the BPO has dried off completely before the treatment area comes into contact with clothing.
Benzoyl peroxide also makes your skin more sensitive to light. It is therefore advisable to avoid sunlight and other UV sources, e.g. sunlamp, for an hour or so after applying it. Also, wear sunscreen when hitting the road outdoors.
The MedlinePlus further recommends staying away from substances and products that may irritate your skin further while treating it for acne with BPO e.g. abrasive soaps and cleansers, skin care products containing alcohol, skin drying and medicated cosmetics, etc.
Best Acne Products with Benzoyl Peroxide and Where to Buy ThemBeing among the first ever proven acne treatment medications, benzoyl peroxide is very popular and widely available in both over-the-counter and prescription products. You will be able to easily find a benzoyl peroxide acne product at your local drugstore (chemist). Start with a product with 2.5% concentration. Brand names to look for include Benzac, PanOxyl, and Brevoxyl.
You can as well ask your dermatologist about prescription-based benzoyl peroxide creams such as Epiduo® (benzoyl peroxide/Adapalene) and Duac® (Benzoyl peroxide and Clindamycin).
In addition to these options, you can as well look for and buy over-the-counter acne products with Benzoyl peroxide on Amazon. Among the best products to look for are:
Best Acne Cleansers and Acne Face Wash with Benzoyl Peroxide
- Neutrogena Clear Pore Cleanser/Mask: Best 2.5% acne cleanser with benzoyl peroxide
- Clean and Clean Continuous Control Acne Cleanser – 10% concentration
- DermaTopix Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Wash for the face
Best Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Creams
- Clearasil benzoyl peroxide acne cream - 10% concentration
- Neutrogena On-the-Spot Acne Treatment Cream – 2.5% concentration
Best Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Kits/Systems
Best Acne Lotion with BPO
Best BPO Soap for Acne Cleansing
Best Benzoyl Peroxide Gels for Acne
Should You Use Benzoyl Peroxide for Acne During Pregnancy?Elevated hormone levels and the subsequent overproduction of sebum (skin oil) during pregnancy can trigger ace outbreaks. In fact some women who have never had problems with acne may experience the condition during pregnancy.
Using the wrong products to treat adult acne during pregnancy can cause birth defects if not increase the risk of miscarriage and infant death. You will specifically want to avoid hormonal treatment therapies such as spironolactone, topical retinoids e.g. adapalene, isotretinoin, and oral tetracyclines e.g. doxycycline while pregnant or intending to become pregnant.
Given the safety concerns about acne medications, you may then wonder, if it is safe to use benzoyl peroxide during pregnancy. According to The DermNet New Zealand Trust, benzoyl peroxide is considered safe to use during pregnancy. Medscape.com agrees with this claim saying that topical therapy is preferred in treating acne during pregnancy and “Topical erythromycin (category B), clindamycin (category B) and benzoyl peroxide (category C) are considered safe in pregnancy.
The Mayo Clinic however says there is still little research to ascertain the safety of BPO in spite of the fact that no problems have been reported yet. In that regard it is advisable to use Benzoyl peroxide during pregnancy only after self-care measures e.g. daily cleansing with mild soap or cleanser and water, shampooing oily hair to avoid clogging of the facial skin pores etc. coupled with lifestyle changes (e.g. use of non-comedogenic, oil-free products) have failed to work.
Reviews provide good anecdotal evidence to guide our judgment about given acne clearing medications and home remedies. There are lots of positive reviews for - and a number of negative reviews as well from people who had bad experience with – over the counter benzoyl peroxide containing products such as gels and creams among others.
Benzoyl Peroxide for Acne Reviews
Here is one positive review:
And to provide a balanced examination, I have as well included a negative review below from a patient who gave it a rating of 2/10 because it gives her a burning sensation. If you experience unbearably burning or itching sensation, stop using the product and talk to a dermatologist.
As you may have noticed, dryness comes out as a major concern by people who use BPO for spots treatment.
Can Benzoyl Peroxide Cause Acne to Get Worse?You may have heard people talk about benzoyl peroxide making their acne breakout get worse. According to the WebMD, acne may get worse before it gets better after starting to use benzoyl peroxide; you may hear some people refer to this phenomenon as “acne purging”. Don’t panic unless, of course, you experience some serious side-effects such as blisters, rash, and swelling.
There is another common myth that benzoyl peroxide that acne spots strike back with vengeance when you stop using benzoyl peroxide. It is just that; a myth. Because BPO is not a quick fix or cure for acne lesions, it is considered a long-term treatment; typically over a period of 4-6 weeks. After effective treatment, you may be able to stop using the medication without your skin “getting addicted” to it.
Benzoyl Peroxide for Acne before and AfterBefore and after pictures also provide insightful anecdotal evidence to support the efficacy of an acne treatment. To end this research, I have looked for some before and after photos showing patients who have used benzoyl peroxide for acne treatment.
Before you start using benzoyl peroxide, keep it at the back of your mind that it is not a quick spots and scars treatment. You will have to use it consistently over a period of 4-6 weeks to see optimum results.
- American Journal of Clinical Dermatology: Benzoyl peroxide-based combination therapies for acne vulgaris: a comparative review.
- The DermNet New Zealand Trust: Benzoyl Peroxide
- eMedTV: Acne Medications
- Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology: Meta-analysis comparing efficacy of benzoyl peroxide, clindamycin, benzoyl peroxide with salicylic acid, and combination benzoyl peroxide/clindamycin in acne.
- Mayo Clinic: Benzoyl Peroxide
- MedlinePlus: Benzoyl Peroxide Topical
- Medscape.com: Practical Guide to Dermatological Drug Use in Pregnancy
- WebMD: Acne Treatment with Benzoyl Peroxide
- Wikipedia: Benzoyl Peroxide