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Benzoyl Peroxide for Acne: What You Need to Know

Kristin Hall

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 9/17/2020

When you’re after something to annihilate zits, there’s no shortage of solutions. Online and at the drugstore, you’re met with what can seem like too many acne products. And if you’ve struggled with acne for any length of time, you know you can nearly go broke trying them all out. 

Living with acne is hard. People who haven’t dealt with acne themselves don’t see the embarrassment and self-image issues that can come with it. 

While the stocked store shelves can be overwhelming, the good news is: there is likely an acne treatment on the market that will work for you. Benzoyl peroxide is one available acne skin care treatment. 

Let’s take a closer look at how it works. 

Some Background on Acne in Women 

Adult female acne is relatively common, but it doesn’t feel that way when you’re the one struggling with breakouts. Like the acne teenagers experience, adult acne is often influenced by hormones, and in women may fluctuate with your menstrual cycle.

On your skin, acne occurs when pores blocked with dead skin cells restrict the release of sebum, your skin’s natural moisturizer and defense shield. This oil builds up under the skin’s surface, and can interact with bacteria to cause inflammation, pain and a large blemish. 

Repeat this several times over, and you have a breakout. 

Certain things can increase your risk of suffering from adult acne. Hormonal imbalances, smoking, stress, endocrine diseases and certain medications are just a few.

The best treatment course for your acne is dependent on the cause and severity of it. A certified healthcare professional can help you determine what’s most likely to banish your blemishes for good. 

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What is Benzoyl Peroxide and How Does It Work? 

Benzoyl peroxide is a popular over-the-counter acne treatment method, largely because it can be found over the counter at your local drug stores and online. It can be found in cleansers, gels, lotions and creams, and has been in use for decades.

It is intended to work by reducing inflammation and dead skin cells, fighting the bacteria that causes acne and preventing blocked pores. It is typically prescribed for mild to moderate acne, and is often used in conjunction with other medications.

A note on side effects: From a user standpoint, benzoyl peroxide works by simply drying out your skin. In fact, that’s the main side effect to be aware of when considering benzoyl peroxide as an acne treatment method. It can cause peeling, itching, redness and dryness. 

Generally, these effects subside after your skin gets accustomed to the medication. Benzoyl peroxide can also bleach your clothing, pillowcase and washcloths — so don’t use your fanciest linens while using it. 

And it can make your skin extra sensitive to sunlight, so always wear sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.

The Science of Benzoyl Peroxide Effectiveness 

There are numerous studies indicating benzoyl peroxide’s effectiveness and safety. A relatively recent analysis from Japan compared existing research around the world, and found overall, the medication could reduce inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne lesions by up to 41 percent after eight to 12 weeks of treatment. 

Some research indicates benzoyl peroxide could be more effective in women than men. The medication was shown to reduce more acne lesions in women without any major differences in tolerance.

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Final Thoughts on Benzoyl Peroxide 

Benzoyl peroxide has a low barrier to entry — it’s easy to find and generally inexpensive. With the most common risks being dry skin and bleached clothing, you may find those risks worth the small price tag. 

And considering the research demonstrating its effectiveness in the treatment of acne, that choice is a reasonable one. 

However, because it’s largely used to treat mild to moderate acne, you may find the results less than spectacular if your acne is more on the severe side. 

Also, you could find the side effects like skin irritation to be intolerable. 

While benzoyl peroxide is a safe acne medication, it’s not for everyone. And when you’re ready to explore other solutions, a healthcare provider can help identify options that may be more suited to your acne struggles. 

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.