For as long as I have had my blog, my ethos has been “when in doubt, leave it out!” This included the use of Benzoyl Peroxide as a topical ingredient for treating acne.
I’ll admit, when I first started my blog I was vehemently anti-BP because I was all about being 100% natural! As my business (and myself!) have matured over the years I’ve done more research and experimentation and my initial opinion on the use of Benzoyl Peroxide has changed quite significantly. I now consider Benzoyl Peroxide to be a really important part of managing adult acne – especially if you have skin that is prone to excess oil production and congestion – I wanted to write a post to explain my change of heart.
Here, I look at the “problems” with using Benzoyl Peroxide for acne and how you can overcome those hurdles and use this acne treatment as part of your skin care routine.
The problems with Benzoyl Peroxide for acne:
Forms free radicals
Benzoyl Peroxide is effective at treating acne by forming free radicals that destroy acne-causing bacteria. Unfortunately, those free radicals will also inflict oxidative damage to healthy skin cells too.
Benzoyl Peroxide can come in different strengths, 5% is strong but there are more gentle formulas out there which are better if you are new to Benzoyl Peroxide. Alternatively, if you can’t get a lower strength one then just use a tiny amount mixed with your moisturiser to start with!
Damages healthy skin
The majority of people who first try Benzoyl Peroxide already have a very compromised skin barrier from using lots of harsh “acne fighting” products. This is not good and one of the reasons BP can make the skin raw, red and irritated.
It’s NOT a spot treatment
Many people think of Benzoyl Peroxide as a “spot treatment” when in fact is a “spot preventative”. A spot starts to form up to 100 days before it appears as a big red pimple! If you only apply BP to active spots then you are FAR FAR FAR too late! The damage has been done and there’s not a huge amount you can do to make that spot disappear quickly.
More is not more…
When it comes to acne, people always think MORE is MORE! This is rarely true and ESPECIALLY not true when it comes to BP. The more you apply, the more likely it is you will damage your skin barrier and make inflammation worse.
It destroys your bedding
It will ruin clothing/bed sheets/ pillow cases etc. Please please please get some cheap pillow cases and use for the first 3 months! I could have cried when I saw my beautiful linen pillow cases were ruined…
How to make Benzoyl Peroxide work for you:
Without a doubt, Benzoyl Peroxide is highly effective at treating acne, but in order to keep skin HEALTHY, you need to counterbalance any oxidative stress BP can cause. This means that using a bar of soap and pure BP as your skin routine is not going to work. You need to add lots of antioxidants to your routine if using BP. Some popular antioxidants to use with Benzoyl Peroxide include:
- Hyaluronic Acid
- Flavonoids and polyphenols (found in ALL plant ingredients!)
Opt for a more gentle formula to get you started. I like the Exposed Skin Care Acne Treatment Serum, it’s 3.5% BP but also contains Aloe Vera to hydrate and protect the skin. There are others available that are 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide like the Acne.org one and Touch which are available in the US. If you can’t get these then head to your local chemist and pick up a tube and just mix a small amount with your moisturiser for the first 2-4 weeks to help adjust to it.
Focus on skin health
A strong skin barrier is essential for clear, healthy skin so before you start using Benzoyl Peroxide, ensure your skin care routine is working to heal your skin rather than destroy it!
Prevent, don’t “treat”
Stop thinking of Benzoyl Peroxide as a spot treatment and think of it as a preventative measure. The best time to break the cycle of acne is to target spots before they are even visible to the eye! This means applying a tiny amount to an antioxidant rice serum or moisturiser and applying it to your whole face (taking care to avoid the thin skin around your eyes. Benzoyl Peroxide works at destroying acne-causing bacteria in the pore so your best chances of beating acne is to fight that bacteria whilst it is still manageable, not when infection has taken over and caused a big red spot!
Go little or leave it
You really need such a tiny amount of Benzoyl Peroxide for it to make a difference! I find mixing 1/2 a pea size with my serum or moisturiser is more than enough. Buffering it down with a serum or moisturiser is also a great trick if you struggle with sensitive skin.
Get some back up pillow cases…
During the early months of my experiment, I found I got best results from using a tiny amount of Benzoyl Peroxide mixed with a moisturiser both day and night. This meant my pillow cases quickly got ruined so I stocked up on some cheaper cases to sleep on instead. After about 3 months I was able to just use Benzoyl Peroxide in the morning with the same, consistent results and added in a retinol serum at night, therefore I could go back to using my normal pillowcases!
Benzoyl Peroxide FAQs
Below are some questions clients often ask about using Benzoyl Peroxide for acne:
I have fungal acne (malassezia), is Benzoyl Peroxide OK for me to use?
Yes it’s totally OK to use! In fact, Benzoyl Peroxide can be a really effective treatment for fungal acne.
What ingredients can you not mix with Benzoyl Peroxide?
Ingredients that you should avoid applying at the same time as Benzoyl Peroxide are Retinol and vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) as Benzoyl Peroxide will make them less effective. If you do use a Retinol or vitamin C based cream then you should apply Benzoyl Peroxide in the morning and your Retinol/vitamin C product at night.
Can Benzoyl Peroxide help with acne scars and post-inflammatory erythema (PIE)?
Whilst there is no solid evidence to prove this, it is thought that Benzoyl Peroxide can help speed up the shedding of dead skin cells and make acne makes fade quicker. For personal experience, I did feel that post acne marks faded quicker whilst I was using Benzoyl Peroxide.
Does Benzoyl Peroxide make acne worse before it gets better?
If you are using Benzoyl Peroxide properly it shouldn’t make your acne worse. Remember though, spots take up to 100 days to form so if you develop a spot a couple of days after starting Benzoyl Peroxide, then that spot was already there!
I have sensitive skin, can I use Benzoyl Peroxide?
During my experiment, I applied Benzoyl Peroxide both morning and night and suffered with ZERO flakiness or dryness. However, if you have super sensitive skin or worried your skin barrier might be weakened, I would start by applying a tiny amount of Benzoyl Peroxide mixed with a moisturiser just once a day (evening).
Remember that acne healing isn’t a race! The faster you try and make results happen, the more likely you are going to be left disappointed. If you follow the rules above and don’t over-do it then you should see great improvement with your acne after 3 months. However, most people start to see positive results within 4-6 weeks.
What is your experience with using Benzoyl Peroxide for acne? Let me know if the comments below!