Ever noticed how you don’t really know anything about benzoyl peroxide, even though the name somehow pops up in every acne-treatment article? Because, let’s be real, if you’ve ever looked for over-the-counter acne treatments, chances are you have heard or read about benzoyl peroxide.
Whether it’s for mild acne or more severe lesions like acne scars, this organic peroxide is one of the first products you will get your hands on. So, let us explain more about this amazing chemical. It’s been on the market for many years now, it has a pretty strong reputation and it’s one of the most famous names associated with acne and acne scars treatments. Can we crown this chemical as the leader in its field? Well, let’s not rush into conclusions. We will give you the information and you be the judge.
Benzoyl Peroxide is an industrial chemical and medicine for acne and acne scars. It was first created in 1905. Recognizing its powerful antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects on the skin, shortly after - in the 1930s, people started using it in medicine. So, benzoyl peroxide has been helping people get rid of acne for more than 80 years. How can we question a history like that?
What is more, the World Health Organisation has placed benzoyl peroxide on the list of essential medications - the ones that are considered the most effective and safe to use. Synthesized in a lab, benzoyl peroxide has antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and oxidizing properties. The antiseptic and anti-inflammatory action reduces the bacteria and yeast on the skin’s surface.
Best of all, it accomplishes this without creating bacterial resistance. In fact, some sources claim it can even reduce bacterial resistance if this has resulted from antibiotic therapy. If you have never seen how benzoyl peroxide looks like, it’s an odorless white powder or granules, with a chemical formula made to break down when in contact with the skin. After using it topically, benzoyl peroxide will dissolve to release oxygen. This is lethal to the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes - the most plausible culprit causing your acne.
You can find benzoyl peroxide as a cream, gel, lotion, and as a wash at concentrations of 2.5 %, 5 %, and 10 %. Apart from acne treatment, today benzoyl peroxide is used for many diverse purposes.
Being as popular as it is, benzoyl peroxide has made its way into a surprisingly large amount of practices. The most famous and typical uses of benzoyl peroxide are:
A short time after being created, the strong anti-bacterial properties of benzoyl peroxide made this chemical one of the most popular over-the-counter treatments against acne lesions.
Just like more peroxides, benzoyl is a potent bleaching agent. If it gets into contact with fabrics or hair it can cause permanent color dampening almost immediately. Even contact with a towel that has been used to wash off benzoyl peroxide-containing hygiene products can cause bleaching effects.
The bleaching properties of benzoyl peroxide earned it place in teeth-whitening products. Although not very common, this peroxide is sometimes used for whitening teeth.
Here’s an interesting fact - Freshly milled flour has a yellowish tint. The flour you see in the supermarkets is white because most brands use bleaching agents such as benzoyl peroxide, to make it white.
If you are someone who wants to DIY her own dolls, or maybe just wants to restore the glow you toys once had - benzoyl peroxide can come to the rescue. It’s really efficient in removing ink and other stains from toys.
As a chemical and medicine, benzoyl peroxide’s primary use is treating acne and acne scars. It’s developed so that decomposes when in contact with the skin, releasing oxygen which can be lethal to the acne-causing bacteria - Propionibacterium acnes. This usually works like a charm since the bacteria can’t live in an aerobic (oxygen-rich) environment. The oxygen released from benzoyl peroxide enters the pores and destroy the bacteria. Reducing the bacteria population, in turn, reduces the number of breakouts.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), benzoyl peroxide is the most effective acne-fighting ingredient available without a prescription.
Another reason for Benzoyl Peroxide’s popularity amongst acne sufferers is because of its ability to help clear the follicle of excess dead skin cells. In this way, benzoyl peroxide helps prevent new acne outbreaks. Cleaning the pore of dead skin cells will reduce the chance of pore blockages or comedones.
Still not convinced? Well, benzoyl peroxide is completely safe to use it in combination with other powerful anti-acne treatments like salicylic acid, sulfur, clindamycin (antibiotics), or adapalene (a synthetic retinoid).
Studies have found that combination products such as benzoyl peroxide and clindamycin, or benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid appear to be slightly more effective than benzoyl peroxide alone for the treatment of more severe acne lesions, as well as acne scars.
Another famous product against acne, mentioned almost everywhere, is the salicylic acid. It’s quite understandable that you would want to know what’s the difference between these products and which is more effective.
Let me explain.
Salicylic acid is classified as a BHA or a beta hydroxy acid. It’s an anti-inflammatory ingredient that can help you treat acne. It works by removing dead skin cells from inside the pore and also on the surface of the skin. Benzoyl peroxide, on the other hand, is an antibacterial ingredient that gets inside the pore and kills the bacteria causing acne and inflammation. Both are wonderful ingredients with actual super-powers when it comes to skin problems. The main difference between them is that they attack different acne-causing sources.
Salicylic acid works on removing dead skin cells and sebum, while benzoyl peroxide kills the bacteria in the pores. If you want to know what will be most effective for you, it’s best to first find out what is causing the acne breakouts in the first place. Another way to go is to cover all your bases by using both ingredients together in conjunction. We already mentioned that one big plus for benzoyl peroxide is its ability to work efficiently with other anti-acne products. So, why not try both?
Everything sounds impressive, right? Well, you wouldn’t be here if things were that straightforward. The truth is, acne development is conditioned by a number of contributing factors, and no product, no matter how exceptional it is, can make everything go away. What’s more, the stronger and more powerful the product - the bigger the side-effects list is. Benzoyl peroxide has some downsides as well.
The most common side effects of benzoyl peroxide are dryness, redness, burning, mild stinging, and irritation.
The good news is that for most people these effects are dose-dependent and can be easily controlled. Still, if you have sensitive skin and experience such symptoms avoid using benzoyl peroxide or at least consult with your dermatologist before continuing to apply.
In rare cases, some people may experience a more severe reaction such as difficulty breathing or swelling. This might be due to an allergic reaction, and you should seek immediate medical attention.
Not health related, but another side-effect of benzoyl peroxide happens because of its bleaching properties. Use it with caution because it can bleach clothing and other fabrics on contact. This is something to consider if you are applying it before bed - don’t make the pillowcases suffer.
Is patience your strong side? It might take up to 10 weeks until you see improvement on your skin. This is not exclusive to benzoyl peroxide since all products need time to make a difference and produce visible results, but it’s something to bear in mind. Don’t give up - magical instant solutions don’t exist and persistence is the key to winning the battle against acne and acne scars.
To make sure you don’t experience any side-effects, read and follow the instructions on the product package, or those given to you by your dermatologist.
Make sure you are not allergic to benzoyl peroxide or some of the ingredients in the product before starting to use it. If you are unsure, consult with your doctor or pharmacist.
Before using, talk to your doctor about your medical history or any medication that you are taking currently.
Benzoyl peroxide is not proven to be safe to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Research on this is still lacking, so it’s best if you avoid using it while pregnant or breastfeeding.
Protect your skin with sunscreen since benzoyl peroxide can make it sensitive to the sun. You might even need to limit your sun exposure for a while.
You can find the medicine easily over-the-counter, but it’s really important to consult with your doctor or pharmacist before using it. The product usually comes with well-defined directions. Read the instructions carefully and ask your doctor if you have any questions.
The safest route to take, especially if you are trying an anti-acne product for the first time, is to check how your skin is going to react before applying it on the whole area. How to do this?
Well, apply a small amount to one or two small affected areas of the skin for 3 days. If no trouble occurs you can continue to follow the directions on the medication facts label of the product.
The first step is to make sure you have clean skin before applying. Wash the affected area with a nonmedicated soap and water, and then gently pat dry with a towel. Then, apply the benzoyl peroxide to the skin - enough to cover the affected areas and rub it in gently.
Dosage can be different for different people. Additionally, different products have different strength, from which the dosage will also depend. The standard dosage for acne and acne scar treatment is two or three times a day. But please, read the instructions on your product. High doses can irritate the skin, cause redness and burning.
You will probably need to use the product long-term for best results.
What’s the bottom line? Benzoyl peroxide is arguably the most famous name you will encounter many times in your search for acne-clear skin. Its long history and reputation on the market speak loudly in favor of this product.
Depending on the severity of your acne condition you can try benzoyl peroxide as a stand-alone treatment or combined with other potent products to help you get rid of acne and more severe acne scars.
Research has shown that combining it with salicylic acid can boost the effectiveness of the products and increase your chances of getting rid of the acne.
Beware of the potential side-effects and always follow the instructions while using it. If you experience any side-effects mentioned in the text above, please seek medical attention immediately.
It can take a while before you see improvement, which means that you need to be persistent and patient. But hey, the potential outcome is worth it, right? At the end of the day, maybe benzoyl peroxide will put an end to your acne condition.