Benzoyl Peroxide for Acne: Your Guide to the Skin-Care Ingredient

The ingredient’s ability to squash acne-causing bacteria in its tracks is especially important because it means that, in some cases, it can be used to tame acne in place of antibiotics. And we all know what happens when antibiotics are used for too long: resistance. Using benzoyl peroxide, either in place of or in combination with antibiotics, helps to mitigate the issue.

“The benefit of using [benzoyl peroxide] is that you don’t have to rely on an antibiotic to keep the bacteria load on the face down, and this helps reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance,” Dr. Jerdan explains.

What types of acne does benzoyl peroxide treat?

“Although it can work for all types of acne, it can be especially helpful for the red, inflamed bumps,” Dr. Garshick explains. Dr. Krant concurs, saying that while it can help with acne in all of its many forms, benzoyl peroxide is “more obviously effective with comedonal (black and whiteheads) and pustular (small red bumps with white tips) [acne].”

In some cases, however, benzoyl peroxide can also help with cystic acne, which is the deepest, and most painful, type.

What is the best way to use benzoyl peroxide to treat acne?

You don’t need a prescription for benzoyl peroxide. Like we said, take a stroll down the drugstore skin-care aisle and you’ll spot it everywhere. The percentage of the ingredient in over-the-counter products ranges from 2.5 to 10 percent, however, it’s not necessarily the percentage you should be focused on.

Interestingly, both Dr. Krant and Dr. Garshick maintain that benzoyl peroxide is just as effective in treating acne at 2.5 percent and 5 percent as it is at 10 percent. The difference, both dermatologists say, is that the higher percentages run the risk of irritating or drying out the skin too much. While everyone’s acne is different, in general, Dr. Jerdan advises patients to stick within the 3 to 5 percent range.

In addition to this wide range of active-ingredient percentages, benzoyl peroxide also comes in a wide range of different product types. You’ll find it in facial cleansers, scrubs, masks, spot treatments, and other types of leave-on creams. With so many options, how are you supposed to choose the right formulation and product type?

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Paula’s Choice Clear Daily Skin Clearing Treatment

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Kathryn Dempsey, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Alabama, suggests the following guidelines. For rinse-off products, such as a cleanser or scrub, start with 4 percent and increase, as tolerated, up to 10 percent. On the lower end of the spectrum, we love PanOxyl Acne Creamy Wash and Paula’s Choice Daily Skin Clearing Treatment.

For spot treatments, leave-on creams, and face masks, Dr. Dempsey suggests starting with 2.5 percent and working your way up to 5 percent. Try Neutrogena’s On-the-Spot Acne Treatment or Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Daily Leave-On Mask, both at 2.5 percent, or Glossier’s Zit Stick, which is formulated with 5 percent.

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Neutrogena On-the-Spot Acne Treatment

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Again, though, everyone’s skin is different, and if you are experiencing painful, stubborn acne, it’s always wise to consult a board-certified dermatologist who can help you put together a tailored regimen.

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