Is Benzoyl Peroxide right for your acne?

If you’re acne prone, you’ve likely come across benzoyl peroxide (BPO) and maybe even used it to treat or prevent breakouts. Let’s learn a bit more about the ingredient and how you might incorporate it into your acne-fighting routine.  

What is benzoyl peroxide and how does it work?

Benzoyl peroxide is a popular antibacterial ingredient for acne-prone skin. It can be found over-the-counter in face washes, serums and spot treatments and is also available in some prescription formulas. 

BPO is most well-known for its ability to kill acne-causing bacteria (by exposing it to oxygen). It can also contribute to the reduction of dead skin cell buildup, but is not in the same exfoliating category as AHAs and BHAs.

What kind of acne does it work best on? 

Because of its antibacterial nature, benzoyl peroxide is particularly effective at treating inflammatory acne, such as papules, pustules, nodules and cysts (think: anything red and angry!) Though it may provide some benefit, it is not particularly effective at treating noninflammatory acne like whiteheads and blackheads.

How is it different from salicylic acid?

Benzoyl peroxide is often used in conjunction with other acne treatments, such as salicylic acid (BHA). Whereas BPO’s standout feature is killing bacteria, salicylic acid shines elsewhere, penetrating deeper into the pore to break down oil and dead skin cells. This makes it better at treating and preventing blackheads and whiteheads. Many people find success using both ingredients.

How do you use it?

Benzoyl peroxide is notorious for being drying, so it’s important to pick the right product and concentration for your skin type. While BPO can be found in concentrations as high as 10%, most people only need to use 2.5-5% to see results. Start low and only increase if advised by a professional. 

In addition to dryness, you may experience redness and peeling when starting. Start by using twice a week, adding in additional days as tolerated/needed. If using other acne-fighting products, like exfoliating acids or retinoids, start by incorporating BPO at a different time of day to reduce irritation and make sure your routine has plenty of hydration to counteract dryness. Don’t forget sunscreen!

A great technique for benzoyl peroxide is short contact therapy, which means rinsing the product off after a bit. This allows for the ingredient to be delivered into your skin while reducing the risk of irritation. You can leave your face wash on like a mask for 3-5 minutes before rinsing or wash-off your spot treatment after 20 minutes. 

Before you go off applying, there’s one more thing to know: benzoyl peroxide can stain clothes, sheets and light hair. Avoid using dark towels/pillowcases and make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after applying. Short contact therapy is a good way to help prevent staining!