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!
Coming in at 4.5 percent benzoyl peroxide, this dermatologist-approved gel cleanser keeps your skin zit-free by washing away oil and pore-clogging dirt and grime. It kills pimple-causing bacteria, reducing chances of future breakouts.
Some anti-acne products offer relief from breakouts, but they can leave sensitive skin dry and irritated. This face wash offers a lower concentration of benzoyl peroxide, banishing acne-causing bacteria without stripping skin of moisture and causing excessive dryness.
This topical treatment features a formula that blends 5 percent benzoyl peroxide with natural pimple-fighting ingredients like zinc, tea tree and sage. Fragrance- and colorant-free, this not only gets rid of blemish-causing bacteria but also leaves your skin soothed and protected from free radical damage.
This spot treatment is infused with three key ingredients that deliver a powerful anti-acne punch. It features 5 percent benzoyl peroxide that eliminates the cause of inflammation, tea tree leaf oil that acts as a natural antiseptic to prevent infection and lactic acid that gently exfoliates while replenishing moisture.
Many breakouts start because of overactive oil glands, which may also be caused by the skin compensating for the drying effects of treatment products. This intensive moisturizer works by fighting off pimple-causing bacteria while reducing sebum production, thanks to its advanced formula of 5 percent benzoyl peroxide that targets and prevents pimples and heals acne lesions.
Featuring 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide and witch hazel, this treatment lotion effectively controls sebum and eliminates bacteria with its special Poly-Pore delivery system. This technology allows the formula to penetrate the skin deeply for faster and more noticeable results. It’s also infused with botanical extracts that soothe and nourish skin.
Managing acne can sometimes be a long and painful process that leaves you with a mountain of products with very few results. This treatment set streamlines your skin care routine without compromising effectiveness—thanks to its combination of prescription-grade ingredients and potent botanicals that clarify skin, control oil and prevent future breakouts. This set includes a foaming cleanser and clarifying toner with salicylic acid to unclog pores and an acne lotion with 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide. (Some skin may be sensitive to the combination of salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, so make sure to test first!)