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 compound 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, Benzoyl peroxide gel 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 frequent star ingredient in various over-the-counter and prescription acne treatments and comes in a variety of forms including gels, creams, cleansers and lotions.
As you may already know, acne is primarily caused by the overproduction 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 formidable 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 formulations 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 formulation and which one you use depends on your skin type and individual preference. Whichever formulation you choose, remember to patch test it first and start with lower concentrations to figure out your skin’s tolerance.
Gels are usually lightweight, fast-absorbing 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/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 maintaining results.
How to Use Benzoyl Peroxide: A Step-by-Step Guide
Using Benzoyl Peroxide is straightforward and it can easily integrate into any protocol. 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.
- Patch Test: before fully incorporating Benzoyl peroxide into your routine, conduct a patch test first. Do this by applying a small amount of the product onto an easily visible area like your collar bone or your forearm. Monitor this for 24 hours and check for itchiness, redness, raise bumps or any other signs of allergy. If you notice any signs of allergic reaction, wash of the product and seek medical help immediately.
- Start Small: to minimise irritation, begin with a lower concentration product (2.5% is a good start) and use it no more than once a day to initially let your skin adjust. If your skin tolerates this well you can increase frequency and then dose whereas if you experience irritation then you nay need to reduce the frequency or stop completely if there are signs of allergic reaction.
- 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) or to the entire area of skin around and in where you get breakouts (not just active blemishes).
- 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 your clothes and towels will get bleached!
- Follow Up with Moisturiser: Benzoyl peroxide can be very drying to your skin. To counteract this, follow up with a hydrating moisturiser.
- 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 which can be mild (similar symptoms to irritation) or severe (e.g. anaphylactic shock).
Here are some tips to minimise 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 as your skin tolerates.
- Choose Lower Concentration: when you first star, higher concentrations (above 5%) aren’t necessarily more effective but can be more irritating and hence off-putting.
- Apply a Moisturiser: a hydrating moisturiser can counteract 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 exacerbate the side effects of Benzoyl peroxide. Consult your dermatologist or skincare professional if you are using these to 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 healthcare provider before using products containing Benzoyl peroxide. You should also speak with your skincare professional if you’re using other potentially 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 its compatibility 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 potentially 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 minimise 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, being consistent and listening to your skin. It is also worth consulting with a doctor if you have stubborn or moderate to severe acne to ensure you use the most effective and safe products
Our doctor-led prescription skincare service offers acne treatments like the Benzoyl peroxide containing Obagi CLENZIderm system, Tretinoin cream and hydroquinone. If you would like to learn more about, please schedule a virtual consultation with us today Our doctors will create a personalised treatment plan to treat your acne and meet your skin goals. Take your first step towards better skin by booking an online consultation today.