Benzoyl peroxide is one of the most common and effective acne treatments available, but it’s not without its cons. Here, we explain the ingredients’ benefits and potential adverse effects so you can determine whether or not it’s right for you.
When we think of treating acne, two ingredients may immediately come to mind: Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. The latter has proven to be quite powerful for treating even the most stubborn forms of acne, but is it the best ingredient for you? We explore the pros and cons of the ingredient to help you decide.
Pro: It Works on All Types of Acne – and Fast
Salicylic acid is great for exfoliating pores and treating blackheads and whiteheads. Benzoyl peroxide exfoliates pores as well, plus it kills bacteria that causes acne. It can be used for treating all types of acne including inflammatory spots. Because it’s so potent and targets bacteria, BP can also deliver pimple-diminishing results quicker than salicylic acid.
Pro: It’s Anti-Inflammatory and Antibacterial
On top of working quickly to kill acne-causing bacteria, it quickly reduces the size of visible bumps as well. Benzoyl peroxide has the power to act as an anti-inflammatory agent, which is one of the most uncomfortable things about acne to begin with. Those raised (and often red) bumps can be quite painful and difficult to reduce in size, but benzoyl peroxide can get them down fairly quickly. The ingredient also has antibacterial properties, meaning that while it treats existing acne, it also prevents future acne from forming.
Pro: It’s Affordable and Accessible
Topical products formulated with the ingredient are often affordable and easy to find. You don’t need to visit the beauty counter or dermatologist’s office (though you can be prescribed stronger concentrations of the ingredient by a derm) to get your hands on it. As a matter of fact, you can find many skin care products at your local drugstore that contain benzoyl peroxide as a featured ingredient.
However, we do recommend consulting a dermatologist before use due to the cons mentioned below.
Con: It Can Irritate and Dry Out Skin
Given its potency, benzoyl peroxide can be irritating to those with more sensitive skin. The affected areas of the skin can become inflamed, red, dry, and even cracked if the benzoyl peroxide percentage is too high for your skin.
Benzoyl peroxide is available in 2.5%, 5%, and 10% concentrations over the counter. Always start with the lowest dose or consult a skin expert to determine the right percentage for you, and follow use with soothing and moisturizing products.
Con: It Makes Skin More Sun-Sensitive
The FDA warns that anyone who frequents sun exposure should be very cautious when using benzoyl peroxide products. Because benzoyl peroxide can shed layers of our skin, it becomes a lot more sensitive in the sun. The photosensitivity that it causes can result in skin damage and sunburns.
Con: It Can Bleach Fabric
Benzoyl peroxide is a strong bleaching agent and can strip the color off of fabrics like sheets, towels, and clothing. There have been some cases where benzoyl peroxide users have reported that the ingredient even stripped some color from their hair.
Alternatives to Benzoyl Peroxide
If you’re on the fence about using benzoyl peroxide, there are plenty of effective acne-fighting ingredients that aren’t as intense. Spot treatments with tea tree oil (like the Neogen A-Clear Soothing Pink Eraser) work to bring down inflammation and soothe affected areas. Acne patches are also very popular and many of them aren’t infused with any ingredients at all – the hydrocolloid material does all the work.