A Dermatologist’s Guide To Using Benzoyl Peroxide For Acne

Reviewed by Dr. Divya Sharma

MBBS (Gold Medalist), MD (Skin)

Written by Sumona BoseNov 30, 2023
A dermatologist’s guide to using benzoyl peroxide for acne

As far as dealing with acne is concerned, it’s all about using the right ingredients. This is because you need active ingredients to help treat the issue at the core, and deliver long term results instead of temporary, superficial results. One of the most well known ingredients for acne is benzoyl peroxide, an antimicrobial and exfoliating agent, often prescribed with oral antibiotics to help deal with mild, moderate and sometimes extreme forms of acne. We wanted to know more about this popular and effective acne-fighting agent from an expert to know how it works, the best way to use it and other pressing questions about the same.


Benefits of benzoyl peroxide

FAQs about benzoyl peroxide

According to Dr. Divya Sharma, “Benzoyl peroxide is a topical antimicrobial agent which destroys bacteria known as Propionibacterium Acnes, both inside the oil glands and on the surface. Benzoyl peroxide decomposes on the oil glands to release oxygen molecules, which destroy the bacteria and decrease inflammation. It also helps reduce the blockage in the oil gland duct or at the mouth of the oil gland.”


How does benzoyl peroxide work?

FAQs about benzoyl peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide loses oxygen in the presence of water to form benzoic acid. Benzoyl peroxide is not water-soluble and is thus able to form a film on the surface of your skin. In the presence of heat, benzoyl peroxide splits to form free radicals, which help fight breakouts. Thus the film-forming quality of benzoyl peroxide helps in treating acne, blemishes, age spots, scars, aids in drying up pus-filled pimples, cystic acne and also whitens teeth.

Dr. Sharma elaborated further and said, “We all know that acne or pimples are caused by inflammation around a blocked oil gland. The low oxygen levels inside the oil gland create the perfect environment for overgrowth of the bacterium known as P. Acnes. The bacteria and inflammation is warded off by the free oxygen radicals released by benzoyl peroxide. These agents do not let the bacteria survive and hence reduce the inflammation and pimples or acne”.


What kinds of acne does benzoyl peroxide help treat?

FAQs about benzoyl peroxide

One of the major uses of benzoyl peroxide is that it can reduce antibiotic resistance in acne treatment. Plus, it is one of the most prescribed solutions for pustular acne, where it is known to show excellent results. Benzoyl peroxide-infused body washes and creamy face washes can help deal with a lot of truncal acne, back acne, chest acne and severe grade 3 and grade 4 acne. It has very good drying-up action on a number of different kinds of acne, including blackheads and whiteheads, cystic acne and regular breakouts. It is also a good exfoliant to get rid of dead skin debris from your skin, thus helping with the fading of acne scars indirectly.


How to use benzoyl peroxide for acne safely?

FAQs about benzoyl peroxide

Much like other active ingredients, benzoyl peroxide also needs proper care while being incorporated into your routine. It can have an irritant potential, but newer formulations are made using hydrophase technology to ensure a moisturising base. So make sure you are properly consulting with your dermatologist to pick the least irritating agent for your skin type.

Pick preparations that contain nanoparticles or polymeric micelles, they help in targeted delivery of the drug into the depth of the oil glands and hence reduce its irritancy potential. Also, a combination of benzoyl peroxide and clindamycin will make the experience considerably less irritating for your skin as well.

Apart from choosing a newer formulation, try starting with a shorter contact period and gradually build-up to the overnight application. Make sure that you use a good non-comedogenic moisturiser and sunscreen in the daytime. If you still feel excessive dryness or irritation, you can moisturise first and then apply the benzoyl peroxide treatment, using the sandwich method to reduce surface dryness significantly. If you notice flaking or dryness, avoid using cleansers or exfoliants with other active ingredients like salicylic or glycolic acid.


Are there any side effects to using benzoyl peroxide for acne?

FAQs about benzoyl peroxide

About any adverse effects associated with this ingredient, Dr. Sharma said, “Benzoyl peroxide is a safe and effective medicine for acne. It may cause allergic contact dermatitis, especially at higher strengths like 10%, which is very rarely used for truncal acne. It may cause bleaching of clothes and sometimes of the skin surrounding the application spot. Otherwise, there is no short or long term side effect. It is rather helpful in preventing the resistance to other medications used to treat acne, making it very popular among dermatologists for their patients.”


What are some expert tips to keep in mind while using benzoyl peroxide for acne?

FAQs about benzoyl peroxide

Here are some dermatologist-approved tips from Dr. Sharma about the proper use of benzoyl peroxide for acne:

  • Choose a gentle cleanser in the initial days of therapy
  • Use a non-comedogenic moisturiser in the daytime followed by sunscreen
  • Avoid usage of exfoliating products or home remedies
  • Start with a shorter contact period like 15 minutes and gradually build it up to leaving it on overnight
  • It may initially cause dry patches which may look like pigmentation. This is temporary and represents shedding of dead skin, so do not stress about it and stop use immediately
  • If using for areas like the back, do not wear clothes until it dries off completely to prevent bleaching of the fabric, although newer preparations are safer and devoid of this side effect Benzoyl peroxide is a safe and effective molecule, but
  • it requires the expert opinion of your dermatologist. So always start using the treatment under the proper care and advice of an expert


FAQs about benzoyl peroxide

FAQs about benzoyl peroxide

Q. What concentration of benzoyl peroxide is safe for use on acne?

A. Benzoyl peroxide is available in many concentrations, with all of the ranges being effective in treating acne. The only way the concentration matters is that higher concentrations are more drying on the skin. So a formulation with 2.5% benzoyl peroxide will work on acne as 5% or 10% would - but they will have varying levels of dryness on your skin. While the range of 3 to 5% is the most common prescription, your dermatologist will be able to recommend the right formulation for your skin type.

Q. Is benzoyl peroxide suitable for all skin types?

A. While benzoyl peroxide is a safe medication to help treat acne, it can be too drying or irritating on sensitive skin types. As such, make sure you are picking formulations with the lowest concentration of benzoyl peroxide, or replace it with other ingredients that won’t irritate your skin.

Q. What kind of benzoyl peroxide products are available for acne treatment?

A. Benzoyl peroxide can be incorporated into your skincare routine in many different ways. You can use it in the form of spot treatments, face masks, leave-on creams, cleansing waters, night masks and other staples. The right kind of product will depend on your skin type and level of acne concern.

Q. Can I use benzoyl peroxide in toner form?

A. Yes, benzoyl peroxide can be used in toner form and is beneficial in terms of giving you more control over the application. Most toners are formulated with a hydrating base, so they are perfect for someone dealing with excessive dryness, simply apply a couple of drops on a cotton ball and gently dab on the affected areas.

Q. Does benzoyl peroxide have any interactions with other ingredients?

A. It is often recommended that you do not use too many benzoyl peroxide products at the same time. For instance, vitamin C is known to reduce the efficacy of the ingredients when used together with benzoyl peroxide.

Sumona Bose

Written by

Sumona Bose is a writer, skincare junkie and a self-professed makeup connoisseur. Equipped with a Master's degree in Fashion Management and over 3 years of experience writing in the beauty and fashion space, her passion for learning new things has no bounds. Working closely with dermatologists, beauty excerpts, makeup artists and hairstylists, she brings you the best of all things beauty. From trending skincare ingredients to makeup looks that help you slay, she manages to bring something new (and vital!) to our readers every single time. Her hobbies include home workouts, watching foreign films and binge-watching makeover shows!


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