POSTED: 6 Jul 2023

Is Benzoyl Peroxide Your Key to Clear Skin?

Acne is a common skin concern that affects so many of us, regardless of age, gender or lifestyle. With the sheer number of treatments available, it’s easy to get lost in the search for an effective solution. One active ingredient that consistently proves its acne fighting prowess is Benzoyl peroxide. Yet so many people sleep on it or give up too soon after trying it. This simple product can actually prove to be the game changer you’ve been searching for in your quest for clear skin. We’re dedicating this blog post to Benzoyl peroxide creams, gels and everything in between! Here is why we think it needs to be in your acne clearing routine.

What Does Benzoyl Peroxide Do To Your Skin?

Benzoyl Peroxide is an organic compound that has been a staple in the skincare world for many decades due to its potent antibacterial and exfoliating properties. It’s a regular star ingredient in various over the counter and prescription acne treatments and comes in a variety of forms including gels, creams, cleansers and lotions.

This is How Benzoyl Peroxide Treats Acne

As you may already know, acne is mainly caused by the over production of sebum, a buildup of dead skin cells and the presence of Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) bacteria. Benzoyl peroxide directly addresses two of these issues. It can kill bacteria and can break down dead skin cells. This makes it a valuable weapon against acne.

P. acnes bacteria can’t survive in an oxygen rich environment. Benzoyl peroxide works by introducing oxygen into the pores, thereby killing this acne-causing bacteria. It is also keratolytic which means it can loosen dead skin cells. This further helps to clear up blocked pores.

Benzoyl peroxide can work on all types of acne lesion. It can clear up comedones like blackheads and whiteheads by breaking down the blockages of dead skin cells. In the case of inflammatory acne where there are inflamed pustules and papules, the antibacterial action of Benzoyl peroxide targets the bacteria causing the inflammation and hence suppresses the inflammatory response driving the lesions. Whilst cystic acne is far more complex and difficult to treat,

For more severe forms of acne like nodules and cysts, Benzoyl peroxide can be used in combination with other treatments like oral antibiotics, oral retinoids or topical retinoids like Tretinoin for a more robust treatment approach.

Benzoyl Peroxide Gel vs Cream: What’s The Difference?

There is a lot of choice when it come to Benzoyl peroxide. Whilst it actually comes in a range of preparations such as gels, creams, cleansers and lotions, the two most popular forms are gels and creams. Both Benzoyl peroxide gels and creams deliver the same benefits. The primary difference lies in their preparation and which one you use depends on your skin type and what you prefer as an individual. Whichever type of product you choose, remember to patch test it first and start with lower strengths to figure out your skin’s tolerance level.

Gels are usually lightweight, get absorbed fast and leave a matte finish. This makes them ideal for oily or combination skin types but they can be drying. As such, they’re ideal if you only need to use Benzoyl peroxide gel as a spot treatment for a small area. Benzoyl peroxide cream and lotions, on the other hand, are usually more hydrating and may be better suited for dry or sensitive skin. They’re also best if you need to use them on a wider area such as the entire face and/or neck or treatment area or if you are using them for preventative measures. Cleansers and body washes containing Benzoyl peroxide are great for regular daily use and when a large area needs to be covered. They are also great for moderate to severe acute breakouts, prevention or to maintain results.

How to Use Benzoyl Peroxide

Using Benzoyl Peroxide is straight forward and you can easily add it into any routine. It’s however important to introduce it into your skincare routine carefully to get the best out of it and minimise the risk of irritation.

Before fully adding Benzoyl peroxide into your routine, conduct a patch test first. Do this by using a small amount of the product on an easily visible area like your collar bone or your forearm. Monitor for 24 hours and check for itching, redness, bumps or any other signs of allergy. If you notice any signs of allergic reaction, wash off the product and seek medical help immediately.

Top Tips for Getting Started:

  1. Start Small: to reduce irritation, begin with a lower strength product (2.5% is a good start). Use it no more than once a day initially to let your skin adjust. If your skin handles this well you can increase frequency and then dose. However, if you experience irritation then you nay need to reduce the frequency or stop completely if there are signs of allergic reaction.
  2. Correct Application: to get the best results, start by cleansing and drying your skin. Then apply a thin layer of Benzoyl peroxide either as a spot treatment (if theres only a small breakout). Otherwise, you may need to do this to the entire area of skin around and in where you get breakouts (not just active blemishes) if you get them regularly and they are widespread.
  3. Protect your clothes: since Benzoyl peroxide can bleach clothes and linens, make sure you wash your hands really well after you have used it. If you don’t do this it will bleach your clothes and towels!
  4. Follow Up with Moisturiser: Benzoyl peroxide can be very drying to your skin. To avoid this, follow up with a hydrating moisturiser.
  5. Sun Protection: unfortunately, Benzoyl peroxide can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Make sure you’re using a broad-spectrum sunscreen during the day with at least SPF30.

Benzoyl Peroxide Downsides, Side Effects & How to Minimise Them

Like all active ingredients, Benzoyl peroxide can cause some side effects. The main side effect of Benzoyl peroxide is skin irritation. This usually presents as dryness, peeling, redness, itching or stinging. Irritation is most likely to occur when you first start using Benzoyl peroxide and usually settles with time. Of course there’s also the risk of allergic reaction. This can be mild (similar symptoms to irritation) or severe (e.g. anaphylactic shock).

Here are some tips to reduce the side effects and risks of Benzoyl peroxide:

  • Always Patch Test: this is even more important if you have a history of allergy.
  • Start Gradually: begin by using the product daily or every other day if you have sensitive skin. Gradually increase the frequency but only as much as your skin is able to handle.
  • Choose Lower Concentration: when you first star, higher strengths (above 5%) aren’t necessarily more effective. However, they can be more irritating and hence off putting.
  • Apply a Moisturiser: a hydrating moisturiser can counter against the drying, peeling and sensitivity side effects.
  • Don’t Combine with Other Potent Actives: using other potent actives like retinoids, AHAs, or BHAs simultaneously can worsen the side effects of Benzoyl peroxide. Consult your doctor or skincare professional if you are using these. They will help you find the best way to use them alongside benzoyl peroxide.

When You Shouldn’t Use Benzoyl Peroxide

Whilst Benzoyl peroxide is generally safe for most people, it’s not suitable for everyone. People with extremely sensitive skin or those who have had allergic reactions to it in the past should avoid using it. Additionally, individuals who are pregnant or nursing should consult with a doctor or skin specialist before using products containing Benzoyl peroxide. You should also speak with your skincare professional if you’re using other possibly irritating topical treatments, like retinoids or other acne medications.

Benzoyl Peroxide & Other Acne Treatments

Incorporating Benzoyl peroxide into your skincare routine can be an effective way to target acne. However, it is important to consider how it reacts with other skincare ingredients. In particular Benzoyl peroxide gel and cleansers can be quite drying. So, it’s super important to use hydrating moisturisers to protect and maintain your skin’s barrier. Hyaluronic acid, glycerol, ceramides and polyglutamic acid are all great ingredients to look for.

If you are using active skincare, then be very careful with using Benzoyl peroxide alongside other possibly irritating ingredients. These include retinol or retinoids like Tretinoin or Adapalene, hydroquinone, Vitamin C or exfoliating acids like AHA’s, BHA’s or PHAs. In these situations you should seek the guidance of a skincare doctor. This is because combination of these products can over exfoliate and irritate your skin, causing more harm than good. They may advise stopping some actives or adjust the strength and/or cycling of your active products to reduce irritation.

As you can see, Benzoyl peroxide is a powerful ally in the battle against mild, moderate and even severe acne. Even though it may seem out of date or old fashioned, Benzoyl peroxide could be the game changer you’ve been seeking. As with any potent active, you get the best result by starting slow, regular use and listening to your skin. It is also worth speaking with a doctor if you have stubborn or severe acne. They will ensure you use the most effective and safe products

Our doctor led online skin clinic offers acne treatments like the Benzoyl peroxide containing Obagi CLENZIderm system, Tretinoin cream and hydroquinone. If you would like to learn more about, please book a virtual appointment or use our online consultation form todayOur doctors will create a personalised treatment plan to treat your acne and meet your skin goals.


Authored by:

Dr Amel Ibrahim
Aesthetic Doctor & Medical Director
Founder City Skin Clinic
Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England
Associate Member of British Association of Body Sculpting GMC Registered - 7049611

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