All You Need to Know About Benzoyl Peroxide (and Why I Think It's Amazing)
April 01, 2018
by Samantha Rizzo
Benzoyl peroxide (BP) isan ingredient commonly seen inproductsaimed at people with acne-prone skin. It’s one of the most successful over-the-counter acne treatments out there, targeting several of the acne pathways: it penetrates pores and pimples easily, it exfoliatesdead skin, and it’s both anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory. This makes it a powerful weapon againstboth inflammatory and noninflammatoryacne, and it’s why so many people choose to include it in their routine.
Even thoughbenzoyl peroxideis a wildly common, effective and safe acne treatment, ithas gotten a bit of a bad rap within theskincare community. I’m here to set the record straight once and for all. WhileBPmay not be the perfect acne treatment,itcan anddoes helpmany people – sodon’t rule it out, at leastuntil you’ve readall the wayto the end!
who should use benzoyl peroxide?
You may be thinking, “benzoyl peroxidejust isn’t for me” –and honestly, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that! Thereare some negative side effects to BP (discussed below) thatare a bit of a turn-off. Even still,BPoffers a fast and effective acne treatment that, in the right formula, can be suitable for almost anyone. Products containing BP can be especially useful for those who feel hopeless and out of options, who have stubborn and resistant acne, and those who are currently using topical antibiotics (BP is more effective, and bacteria won’t become resistant). If you’re thinking of usingbenzoyl peroxide, keep reading to see if it’s right for you.
picking a concentration
Benzoyl peroxideproductstypically come in concentrations of 2.5%, 5%, and 10%. Let me save you the hassle right away – it doesn’t matter what your skin type is, or how bad your acne is,you shouldstart at 2.5%and only work your way up to 5% or 10% if you need to.Not only will starting at a lower concentrationreducetheside effects that make BP so undesirable –irritation (redness, itchiness,dryness and flaking) – but it will also enable you to find the perfect concentration for your skin without over-drying or damaging it.Not to mention,higher concentrations aren’tnecessarilymore effective.
You may prefer to start with abenzoyl peroxide face wash instead of a leave-on product, which will ultimately spend less time on the skin (reducing the risk of side effects) butwill also be less effective.
how often should i use benzoyl peroxide?
Benzoyl peroxidecancause irritation and redness, which are considered common and normal side effects. Most effective acne treatments – retinoids, AHAs, BHAs, and even antibiotics –have similar side effects. The key is inusing the productappropriately to reduce the severity of the side effects to a manageable level.
To combat these side effects, you should build upthefrequency of use to a point where you’re satisfied, and then gradually scale back to a comfortable “maintenance” use.
Althoughit will vary a little from person to person, most people can start out with once daily use, and slowly increaseto twice or three times a day, as needed. Some sensitive skin types may benefit from using it only every second day.
After getting the initial breakout under control, some people can even scale back use to just a few times a week and supplement with other great acne-fighting ingredients the other days!
how to use benzoyl peroxide
Usingbenzoyl peroxideproperlyreallyis the key to getting the best results with the least amount of side effects. Too often people simply skim product directions as if they’re mere suggestions, but following the instructions when usingproducts likeBP is integral to the success of the treatment.
STEP ONE: Cleanse with a gentle, pH-balanced cleanser and let your skin dry completely. Like, completely.Damp skin enhances absorption and increasesirritation when using products likeBP,whichalready penetratethe skineasily.
Otherwise, you can choose to cleanse your skin with a BP wash, skipping step two.Then, youlet your skin dry and continue with the rest of the routine.
STEP TWO: Apply a thin layer ofbenzoyl peroxideto your entire face, oronproblem areas only.You don’t have to apply it all over if you only have a few problem areas. If your skin is sensitive, like mine, you would be better off applying it only on your problem areas.
Once you’ve applied the BP conservatively, give it a while to set into your skin and dry before applying anything else (about 5-15 minutes).
STEP THREE: Don’t skip moisturizing!Contrary to the misconception, you still need to moisturize your skin when you’re using acne treatments.Benzoyl peroxidecan make your skindry but followingit up with a moisturizer can offset this negative side effect and keep your skin looking plump and youthful.
STEP FOUR:Definitelydon’t skip the sunscreen, either. A lot of people find out the hard way that BPcoupled with unprotected sun exposure causes damage and discoloration to the skin. When using photosensitizing products likebenzoyl peroxide, sunscreen isa necessity, not an option.
Chemical sunscreens need to be applied immediately after cleansing to properly bind with the skin, but acne treatments likeBP also need to be in contact with the skin to be most effective. Because of this, mineral sunscreens may be the best option for daytime BP use, as they can be applied as the last step in your routine.
hack your benzoyl peroxide
Benzoyl peroxideon its own is great for acne, but there are other things we can do in our routine to make its (side) effects even better.
Antioxidants –Benzoyl peroxide oxidizes when itcontacts with the skin,which is one of the mechanisms it works by to clear our acne. Unfortunately, this reaction alsodepletes antioxidants on the skin’s surface.
Although our skin’s antioxidants are constantly being replenished from the foods we eat (which is why it’s important to eat a plant-iful diet), addingsome topical antioxidantsmay actually lessen any damage caused by BP.
Choose a high-quality, stable serum formula with a well-studied antioxidant (such as vitamin c) and apply it after your BP has dried completely, but before your moisturizer.
Vitamin E –If your skin can handle the added vitamin E in a product, it may be beneficial to include when usingbenzoyl peroxideas an acne treatment. However, supplementing your diet with more vitamin Emay be a better option to offset the oxidation on your skin.
Retinoids–To supplement your routine, you can also alternate BP use with acne-fighting topical retinoids. BP inactivatescertain retinoids, though, so you can’t apply them together.However, when you apply them separately (BP in the morning and a retinoid at night, oronalternating days), they work quitewell together as an acne treatment.
Despitebenzoyl peroxide’s safety profile, some people do have allergies toit. Although true allergies are rare,and side effectsof dryness and redness are common and not symptoms of a reaction, it’s something to keep an eye out for.
As always, most of thethings we don’t like aboutbenzoyl peroxide are the result of misconceptions and improper use. Following the directions carefully will help minimize most of the negative side effects associated with it.
If you ask me, everyone should have some benzoyl peroxide in their lives – even if it’s just for when you’re in a pinch and need a super effective spot treatment. I love having a product I can rely on to clear up my acne quickly, and often without a fuss.And while BP does, in effect, cause some “damage” to the skin (although much less, when used properly) itcouldalsobe argued that acne causes considerably more damage to the skin.
One thing I will say, though … although my skin loves the addition of benzoyl peroxide, my towels don’t. Consider yourself forewarned – it’ll bleach fabrics.