Ingredient Spotlight: How to Use Benzoyl Peroxide Properly
If you are one of the 95% of people that have experienced acne at some point in life, then you probably have heard of benzoyl peroxide before. It’s one of dermatologist’s top ingredient recommendations for any sort of acne flare-ups, but how exactly do you know if benzoyl peroxide is right for you?
- Benzoyl peroxide is an antiseptic that is used for multiple skin concerns, but mostly mild inflammatory acne.
- It’s best to start slow when introducing it into your routine and use the lowest possible percentage for your lotions, creams, gels, and cleansers.
- You don't typically need to use it more than once a day, and it's best used at night.
What is benzoyl peroxide?
Benzoyl peroxide is a topical antiseptic that is used to treat a variety of skin concerns, but specifically acne. It’s best used to treat mild-moderate cases of acne. You can find it in multiple forms such as creams, cleansers, and spot treatments.
This ingredient works at the root cause of acne; it reduces the number of acne-causing bacterias that are present on and within the skin. Because it’s used to treat acne, it is a drying ingredient. Once it seeps into the skin and fights off the bacteria, it causes the skin to dry up and peel off to reveal a newer, healthier layer of skin.
Is it effective?
Well, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, benzoyl peroxide is the number one most effective ingredient for acne that is available over the counter. Prescription acne products will typically go into effect quicker because they contain higher doses of more potent ingredients. Over the counter products usually have to be converted into usable molecules by the body first, so it takes longer for them to work. But, access to dermatologists and prescription products are not readily available to everyone; so finding products and ingredients that are available at your local store and work for you is important.
It's fairly universal when it comes to what types of acne it can treat. However, it’s best for inflammatory acne, the kind that is red and raised:
If you’re struggling with whiteheads or blackheads, opt for a product containing salicylic acid instead. Benzoyl peroxide can also aid in reducing the appearance of acne scarring. However, it does make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so it’s important to wear SPF daily in combination with using these products, otherwise the unprotected sun exposure can worsen scars.
Types of Products
Like I mentioned earlier, benzoyl peroxide comes in numerous forms including creams, cleansers and spot treatments. It’s important to recognize your specific skin concern and skin type in order to determine which form is best for you.
If you are somebody that likes to maintain a very simple skincare routine, or you struggle to keep a routine at all, a cleanser containing benzoyl peroxide may be the best option for you because you don’t have to add any extra steps to your routine that you’ll just end up skipping or forgetting.
If you are somebody that is extra sensitive to new products and ingredients, introducing this in the form of a lotion or cream that is applied to the entire face as both a treatment and a preventative product is ideal. A gel or a spot treatment typically comes in higher doses because they are not meant to be applied to large areas of skin.
It’s also important to take into account the percentage you’re using. The acceptable range for over the counter benzoyl peroxide is 2.5% to 10%. I would recommend starting out at the lowest possible percentage and moving up once you see that your skin can tolerate it. Most people can tolerate up to 4% and nothing higher is necessary, but it’s best to introduce higher dosages slowly and to do a patch test on another part of your body first before using it all over your face.
If you notice burning, stinging, redness, or insanely dry skin that peels or flakes, stop using the product and talk to your doctor; you may have been using too high of a percentage or using it too often.
Benzoyl peroxide can also be used on areas of the body other than the face. If you struggle with neck, chest, or back acne, incorporating a body wash can help fight off that acne-causing bacteria and clear up those pesky pimples. The face is the most sensitive skin on your body, so your back, chest and neck can usually tolerate a higher percentage. This would be the time to use up to a 10% benzoyl peroxide wash, but avoid getting it on your face; again, if you experience any burning, stinging or insanely dry skin, stop using the body wash.
How often should you use it?
As with anything in skincare, it’s extremely specific to your skin. If your skin is not super sensitive, benzoyl peroxide can be used once a day. It’s not typically necessary to apply more than once per day, but if your acne is severe, talk to your doctor about introducing it into your routine more frequently.
If your skin is on the more sensitive side, it’s best to introduce benzoyl peroxide into your routine once or twice a week at first. That way you give your body time to adjust to the ingredient and build up a tolerance. If your skin responds well, you can try applying your products three to four days a week, but it’s not necessary to use it more than that if you have sensitive skin. If you overuse benzoyl peroxide, it can result in irritation and a burning and inflamed face, so it’s best to start slow and not overdo it. A tip when using an active ingredient in the form of a cleanser is to apply a thin layer and leave it on for a minute or two before rinsing off to allow the active ingredient to actually sink in and work.
Remember: using a product every single night or applying large amounts of it will NOT get rid of acne quicker, it will usually just make the situation worse. The phrase I like to use in regard to any active ingredient is “start slow and low”, meaning to slowly introduce the ingredient into your routine and start with a low dosage first to see how your skin tolerates it.
AM or PM?
Depending on how tolerant your skin is to the ingredient, benzoyl peroxide can technically be used in both the morning and night. However, for most people it’s not necessary to use products more than once a day, so if you are going to incorporate it into your routine, it’s best used at night.
Because this is an acne treatment, it works in the deeper layers of skin and can have some side effects. Because of this, it’s best used during a nighttime skincare routine so that your body has time to replenish and restore those skin cells from the previous day and will further reduce the chances of it causing irritation. Side note: it tends to bleach pillowcases.
- Panoxyl 4% Acne Creamy Wash ($9.49)
- Cerave Acne Foaming Cleanser ($11.00)
- Differin Adapalene Gel ($15.69)
- Paula’s Choice Daily Skin Clearing Treatment ($19.00)
Benzoyl peroxide is a phenomenal ingredient for several different types of acne, and it’s readily available at drugstores in all types of products. Remember to start slow and low, and if something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. In that case, stop using the product immediately and talk to your doctor. Otherwise, benzoyl peroxide is such a beneficial ingredient and is so easy to get your hands on. Next time you take a trip to Target, look for this ingredient in your skincare products!
Written by Jordan Hammaren