Benzoyl Peroxide: Benefits and How to Reduce Its Irritation

by | Last updated May 20, 2020 | Acne, Ingredients | 57 comments

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Benzoyl peroxide, a.k.a. the Acne Killing King. And uh, the thing that leaves your towel and pillow cases looking like this….

benzoyl peroxide towel

Sigh, it’s true. This acne killing machine does unfortunately bleach fabric if you aren’t careful. As an aside, benzoyl peroxide resistant towels and sheets can be found at your local target (check the dorm section). Them college breakouts though…..

It’s one of the most powerful acne treatments available today, and it’s efficacy has withstood the test of time, with studies dating back 50 years. (1)

Today we’ll be discussing all the things science and benzoyl peroxide. Make sure to stick around for the secret tips on how to reduce its irritation. 

What is Benzoyl Peroxide? benzoyl peroxide

( 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide)

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Benzoyl Peroxide (BP) is an organic compound and antibacterial ingredient used in acne medications. Besides it’s antibacterial properties, it’s also an effective comedolytic and keratolytic agent, meaning it unclogs pores and sloughs off dead cells (i.e. corneocytes).(23) Unlike antibiotics, it does not produce bacterial resistance. (4, 567)

It’s the second most prescribed acne medication in the United States (given in 12.8% of all cases), (8) and can be found over the counter in concentrations ranging from 2.5% to 10%.

Pro-tip: use 2.5%. Studies have shown it’s as effective as 10% with less irritation.

In my humble opinion, it is the most effective treatment against acne (besides accutane). It’s actually what kept my skin clear during my teen years.

Its efficacy has been proven in studies that show benzoyl peroxide reduces P. acnes (i.e. acne causing bacteria) by up to 97.5% in just 5 days. (9) This is absolutely astonishing in comparison to most other acne treatments. This potency however, doesn’t come without its share of downsides.

Benzoyl Peroxide Side Effects.

Unfortunately benzoyl peroxide is pretty irritating. One study found it caused contact dermatitis, or dry-red-itchy peeling skin in 67% of benzoyl peroxide users. (10) It’s also known to induce erythema (redness), and increase sun sensitivity. (11)

And while it doesn’t cause bacterial resistance, it can seriously damage the moisture barrier and acid mantle, which could in turn disrupt the skin flora causing all kinds of problems like seborrheic dermatitis or malassezia folliculitis.

The takeaway here is that it will make your skin drier than the turkey I made last thanksgiving (I’m a terrible cook, so that means VERY dry). However, there are some secret ways of minimizing its irritation without reducing its awesome acne fighting prowess. 😉

How to Reduce Benzoyl Peroxide Irritation.

Time for the juicy secrets! There are 2 ways of doing this:

1. Buffer it with a moisturizer.

In other words, apply your moisturizer first and then layer Benzoyl Peroxide on top of it. This only slightly decreases its effectiveness, and helps reduce redness and dry skin.

2. Short contact therapy (my personal favorite).

Generally, when people use benzoyl peroxide they leave it on overnight or throughout the entire day, which could unfortunately cause irritation. Doing this might be unnecessary altogether.

One study examined the effectiveness of washing off benzoyl peroxide after a two minute application. (12) The researchers ended up ruling that it was “highly effective in reducing the quantity of P. acnes,” and comparable to a “leave on” 5% benzoyl peroxide product. Best of all, it didn’t irritate the skin!

If I’m having a breakout, I like to do this in the morning before cleansing. I simply apply the 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide Gel, let it sit for about 5-10 minutes or until it dries, and wash it off with my morning cleanser. I’ve yet to experience any irritation doing this, and it seems to work as fine as leaving the product on.

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Alrighty. That does it for Benzoyl Peroxide, folks. Hope you’ve enjoyed this!



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