Benzoyl peroxide is a well-known and talked about ingredient for fighting acne.
It is available in over-the-counter cleansers, spot treatments, gels, creams and it comes in different concentration in order to meet different severities of acne breakouts.
The over-the-counter version is up to 2.5% but there are stronger concentrations and can be prescribed by your dermatologist to treat more severe forms of breakouts.
However, if you are considering to give an over-the-counter version of benzoyl peroxide a shot in order to reduce your acne and inflammation, there are a few things you should know before getting on Amazon and buying a tube.
In this article, I want to address a few important things you should know on how does benzoyl peroxide work and how should you use it for best results.
By reading this article you will learn:
- What is benzoyl peroxide and what it does to your face?
- How does benzoyl peroxide treat acne?
- How should you use benzoyl peroxide for best results?
- Products that you should always have in combination with benzoyl peroxide.
So let’s jump right in.
What is Benzoyl Peroxide?
Benzoyl peroxide is one of the most common ingredients in skincare products designed to combat acne breakouts and it is often found in cleansers, toners, gels, and creams.
It is an industrial chemical that belongs to the peroxide family of chemicals and was first made in 1905 but it didn’t come into medical use until the 1930s.
Needless to say, this ingredient has been around for a while with undergoing excessive testing and researches of its potency and efficacy.
Through many studies, benzoyl peroxide was finally proven to have an antibacterial effect that specifically inhibits and destroys the acne-causing bacteria Propionibacterium acnes or simply P. acnes that live deep in your pores and survive on your natural oil, dead skin cells, and skin tissue.
How Does Benzoyl Peroxide Kill Bacteria?
Propionibacterium acnes is a gram-positive bacterium that is naturally a part of the normal flora of your skin and primarily lives on fatty acids present in sebum that’s secreted by the sebaceous glands.
This means that the bacteria are always present on your skin and are typically harmless unless triggered.
Sometimes, due to various reasons, your sebaceous glands that produce the natural oil to lubricate and moisturize your skin are thrown out of whack.
This can be blamed on hormonal imbalances, poor hygiene, irregular cleansing, using harsh products that are stripping your natural skin barrier, etc.
As a result of overproduction of sebum, your skin starts “suffocating” and this creates an airless environment that causes the P. acnes bacteria to turn sebum into fatty acids that activate inflammation in nearby skin cells.
Researches from the University of California have found that the fatty acids inhibited by the P.acne bacteria deactivate enzymes that normally act as a “brake” on inflammation.
Once that “brake” is off, your immune system goes into overdrive in response to the presence of P. acnes bacteria that result in cascades of chemicals produced by skin cells that aggravate the inflammation.
This is where benzoyl peroxide steps on the scene.
Benzoyl peroxide travels deeper into the layers of your skin to dissolve the build-up of sebum and infuse the hair follicles (pores) with oxygen in order to destroy the airless environment where P. acnes bacteria thrive.
What Does Benzoyl Peroxide Do To Your Face?
Benzoyl peroxide is exceptionally efficient when it comes to treating inflammatory acne such as cysts and nodules, but it is less effective in treating blackheads and whiteheads because although they are considered as acne, these are a mild form of non-inflammatory acne.
Which means that benzoyl peroxide has anti-inflammatory properties that soothe inflammatory response on the skin caused by acne breakouts.
It is a potent agent that works quickly to destroy the perfect airless environment where P. acnes bacteria thrive and reduce acne breakouts on your face as early as five days after starting treatment.
It is also helpful to use in combination with prescription antibiotics depending on the severity of the concern as it has the ability to prevent antibiotic resistance.
It works to dissolve the build-up of sebum and dead skin cells and further decongests the pores to prevent future breakouts.
Does Benzoyl Peroxide Darken Skin?
Acne scars are sometimes a result of acne breakouts. This is especially the case with inflammatory acne.
Acne scars like post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation can worsen with sun exposure so it is highly unlikely that benzoyl peroxide can darken your skin and make acne scars appear more prominent.
Moreover, benzoyl peroxide has keratolytic properties, which means that it promotes peeling and has an exfoliating effect that can help with cellular turnover and shedding of dead skin cells.
This means that it can make hyperpigmented acne scars less prominent.
How To Use Benzoyl Peroxide?
Benzoyl peroxide is often deemed as the devil, especially in the natural skincare community that believes it is extremely harmful, drying and can trigger some serious side effects.
However, as an esthetician and someone who is well familiar with how benzoyl peroxide works, I can confirm that incorrect use of benzoyl peroxide can cause unwanted side effects.
But this has nothing to do with benzoyl peroxide and has everything to do with the incorrect ways of using it.
Benzoyl peroxide is nowhere near being the devil of skincare ingredients.
It is a strong and effective ingredient that requires to be used correctly in order to give amazing benefits without unwanted side effects.
So, how do you use benzoyl peroxide correctly? Here are some important points to remember:
1. Start with a lower concentration.
Studies have shown that 2.5% benzoyl peroxide is equally effective as 10% and causes significantly less irritation when used in the beginning.
The concentration that you choose to use depends on your skin sensitivity.
2. Check for allergies.
Let’s start with the basics here.
Before using this product for the first time, regardless of the strength, you need to check if it can trigger a potential allergic reaction on your skin.
To check, apply a small amount on one or two areas of acne for a couple of days. Allergic reactions typically manifest within the first 15 minutes to 24 hours, but it is best to play it safe before applying it all over your face.
If an allergic reaction occurs then, unfortunately, this product is not the best option for treating your concern.
3. Read the instructions.
There are a variety of products available that contain benzoyl peroxide.
Many of them can be purchased without a prescription in lower strength and can come in the form of cleansers, toners, gels, and creams.
If you get a cleanser or toner that contains benzoyl peroxide make sure to read the instructions as the product may require shaking in order to deliver optimum results.
Don’t think this is less important. If it’s written on the product, it’s there for a reason.
4. Follow the instructions.
If using cleansers containing benzoyl peroxide, wet the affected area before gently rubbing the cleanser into the skin for 10-20 seconds.
Gently work into a full lather and rinse thoroughly then pat dry.
Follow the signs your skin gives you. If you experience a burning sensation or you find the product a bit too drying you may need to rinse it off sooner or perhaps use it less often.
5. Do not leave overnight.
Apply benzoyl peroxide to the areas of your skin that is affected by acne. If your acne typically occurs along the jawline, cheeks or just the forehead, there is absolutely no need that you spread it all over your face and potentially overdry areas that don’t require the treatment.
Do not leave benzoyl peroxide overnight on large areas, unless you are using it as a single spot treatment. Use the gel or cream in the morning or evening and rinse it off after 5 – 10 minutes.
Benzoyl peroxide is highly effective in reducing the P. acnes bacteria and you can achieve the desired result without irritating the skin with leaving it on longer.
6. Follow up with a moisturizer/sunscreen.
If you are using this method to deliver results and relieve your skin concern please note that it is important to use a moisturizer after benzoyl peroxide.
It is a drying product that has the ability to make your skin sensitive to the sun. Not protecting your skin from the sun will lead to a free-radical formation as well as sensitivity and pigmentation.
If you are using benzoyl peroxide in the evening, always follow it up with a moisturizer to prevent dryness and irritation.
Possible Effects of Using Benzoyl Peroxide Incorrectly.
Prescription-strength benzoyl peroxide can be pretty irritating if it’s used very often.
This can cause dry, red, itchy, and even peeling skin.
Try using benzoyl peroxide less frequently if this happens and use it as a short, 10-minute treatment rather than leaving it overnight until your skin gets used to it.
Benzoyl peroxide is considered the king of combating acne by some but proclaimed as the toxic devil of skincare by others.
In reality, benzoyl peroxide is not something that you should be scared to put on your face if you suffer from acne from fear that it will aggravate your concern.
Another thing, there is absolutely no need to continue using benzoyl peroxide because of fear that your acne is going to come back as soon as you stop.
Reach out for this treatment whenever you need it and don’t be afraid to stop using it just because.
In this article, I tried my best to share my knowledge on how does benzoyl peroxide work and hopefully help you determine whether you need this ingredient or your concern can be treated with something else.
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.
Trying to cope with my obnoxious acne breakouts forced me into finding a solution to my problem by pursuing a career in the beauty industry. Today, I’m a certified esthetician & I’m passionate about sharing what I know to help you achieve healthy, glowing skin. You can learn more about me here.