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!