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Benzoyl Peroxide: What It Is and How to Use It for Your Acne Woes

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In a perfect world, no day would ever have to be ruined by a breakout. Unfortunately, the world is neither perfect nor free of acne-causing bacteria, so we turn to science to help us achieve clear and blemish-free skin instead. One of the most common ingredients in anti-acne skin care products is benzoyl peroxide, often found in cleansers, toners and treatment gels. Many swear by its effectiveness, but what some may not know is how it works exactly.

Synthesized in a lab, benzoyl peroxide is an antibacterial ingredient that kills off the acne-causing P. acnes bacteria that live deep in the pores and survive on oil, cell debris and skin tissue. It penetrates the skin and treats acne from the source while reducing redness and inflammation. “Those with mild-to-moderate acne use benzoyl peroxide in a variety of topical medications,” says board-certified dermatologist Janet Prystowsky of Livad Skincare.

Fast-acting and accessible, benzoyl peroxide is a popular first-line defense against acne and comes in different strengths—usually at 2.5, 5, and 10 percent. “Depending on the severity of your acne and your skin sensitivity, you may choose a higher or lower concentration,” says Dr. Prystowsky. For first-time users, start with a lower percentage to reduce the risk of redness, flakiness and dryness—common side effects when using the wrong amount or when mixed with the wrong ingredients.

“It works well with ingredients that open pores like retinoids and adapalene, but I recommend against using it with salicylic or strong glycolic acids as these combinations will be too irritating for some,” explains Dr. Prystowsky. Another ingredient you should steer clear of when using benzoyl peroxide? Dapsone. “It will turn your skin orange!” she warns. For best results, Dr. Prystowsky recommends using the right type of treatment products as directed, daily for most face washes and as necessary for treatment creams and gels. Washes are great for back acne while gels and creams work best for the face.

Ready to try this proven acne fighter? Find benzoyl peroxide in our top anti-acne fixes below!

Benzoyl Peroxide Washes

  1. 1.  Glytone Acne BPO Clearing Cleanser
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    1.  Glytone Acne BPO Clearing Cleanser

    Do away with the dirt and oil of the day with Acne BPO Clearing Cleanser from Glytone. A purifying gel cleanser formulated with encapsulated benzoyl peroxide to prevent breakouts, we always reach for this one for those with ultra sensitive skin. Dispense a small amount into your hands and mix with a little water. Apply a thin layer over the entire affected area once daily (gradually build to twice daily to avoid sensitivity/irritation) in a circular motion and rinse thoroughly with warm water. Apply sunscreen after using.

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  2. 2. Jan Marini Benzoyl Peroxide Wash 2.5 Percent
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    2. Jan Marini Benzoyl Peroxide Wash 2.5 Percent

    A perfect pick for those suffering with hormonal and cystic acne, Jan Marini Skin Research Benzoyl Peroxide 2.5% Wash is an effective anti-bacterial cleanser with proven results. Ultra gentle on skin, the benzoyl peroxide clarifies and cleanses, removing acne-causing bacteria without irritation. Simply apply a quarter size amount to your face and work into a lather, then remove with a muslin cloth and rinse thoroughly. Avoid eye area.

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  3. 3. PCA Skin Acne Cream
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    3. PCA Skin Acne Cream

    The rave reviewed, super speedy PCA Skin Acne Cream is a beauty editor favourite for soothing active breakouts and helping to prevent future troublesome zits. Packed with potent 5% liquid benzoyl peroxide, this wonder antibacterial ingredient gets to the root of the inflammation. Combined with antibacterial tea tree leaf oil and lactic acid to rehydrate and gently exfoliate, PCA Skin Acne Cream diminishes surface cell buildup. Simply spot treat – this is not an all over product (just for those pesky areas that always seem to break out). We love the ‘gentle enough’ formula which leaves skin feeling rebalanced – no ‘stripped’ feeling, no dry, flaky complexion.

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  4. 4. Obagi CLENZIderm M.D. Therapeutic Lotion
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    4. Obagi CLENZIderm M.D. Therapeutic Lotion

    A common misconception regarding the best way to control acne-prone skin is that its best to dry it out as much as possible. In fact, hydration is important to keep your skin from over-producing oil which is how many breakouts begin. Obagi CLENZIderm M.D. Therapeutic Lotion features an advanced formula of 5% benzoyl peroxide that targets, heals and prevents breakouts for a clear and even complexion. Its creamy texture heals skin lesions quickly without causing dryness or irritation, helping your complexion get hydrated and happy.

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  5. 5. Replenix Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Wash 5
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    5. Replenix Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Wash 5

    A great pick for those looking for a gentle active acne-clearing cleanser, Replenix Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Wash 5 harbors a spot fighting 5% benzoyl peroxide formula, with soothing aloe vera to help rehydrate and soothe inflamed skin whilst alleviating future breakouts. Simply shake well and apply to wet skin over the affected area, then simply rinse well. Begin using once daily, building to twice to avoid drying or peeling (if that happens from the start, reduce applications to every other day). Suitable for sensitive skin and also available in a 10% strength for harder to shift acne lesions.

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Beauty Reporter

Janeca Racho

With over 10 years of writing and editing experience, Janeca Racho has worked with clients in the fashion, entertainment, food, health and travel industries. An adventurer at heart, she will gladly trade her heels for a good pair of hiking shoes and skip hotels to camp under the stars. She loves horror movies, googling ingredients in her beauty products and backpacking trips with her toddler. Her newfound obsession: nude lipstick.