Tuesday, May 17, 2022

How to Use It, Benefits and More

  • Benzoyl peroxide is an established medication that effectively treats mild-to-moderate acne 
  • This medication kills bacteria and clears pores of oil and acne-causing debris
  • Benzoyl peroxide can be found in multiple topical acne treatments including cleansers
  • This cleanser may not be suitable for dry or sensitive skin as it can cause dryness and irritation

Benzoyl peroxide is a powerful ingredient that is a staple among acne-fighting medications. It is available over the counter (OTC) or by prescription, and can be found in gels, creams, moisturizers and foams. Benzoyl peroxide cleansers are another effective option that can both treat active acne and prevent future breakouts from developing.

What Is Benzoyl Peroxide Cleanser?

Benzoyl peroxide cleansers are formulated to treat acne, and can be used on their own but are usually used in combination with other acne medications for best results. While it does have a modest effect on noninflammatory acne, this cleanser is most effective against pustules, papules, cysts and nodules, which are representative of inflammatory acne.

Benzoyl peroxide cleansers are antibacterial; they can effectively treat inflammatory acne by killing Cutibacterium acnes (formerly Propionibacterium acnes), the bacteria that encourages inflammation and prompts acne lesions to form. 

This cleanser also has a strong keratolytic effect to soften and unclog blocked pores, prevent the buildup of dead skin cells and shrink inflamed lesions.

As an anti-inflammatory, benzoyl peroxide cleansers can soothe the redness, swelling and irritation that often accompanies breakouts. 

Benzoyl peroxide cleansers are available in foam or cream formulas, and can be found under numerous brand names. They are effective in decreasing inflammatory lesions despite being on the skin for a limited amount of time: In one study, a cream-based cleanser was proven to provide significant results in improving acne.

OTC cleansers are typically available in strengths of 2.5% to 10%; however stronger is not necessarily better. One study demonstrated that 2.5% benzoyl peroxide was equally effective at reducing acne lesions as 5%, and 10%, and was associated with fewer side effects. 

As such, it is highly recommended to begin with a low-strength formula to see how your skin reacts and to minimize side effects – benzoyl peroxide is known to dry the skin and may cause irritation.

Benzoyl peroxide body wash

Acne can develop in other areas of the body, such as the back and chest, for the same reason as facial acne – oil, dead skin cells and debris become trapped within pores which triggers inflammation. A body wash is ideal for treating large areas of the skin and especially for hard-to-reach places.

Benzoyl peroxide body washes offer the same benefits as cleansers but are usually formulated at 10% – the maximum strength available. This is because the skin on the body is thicker compared to facial skin and can better tolerate a stronger formula. With that being said, there are a wide range of options available, including formulas designed for sensitive skin. 

Benefits of Benzoyl Peroxide Cleansers

Benzoyl peroxide cleansers versus other acne treatments with the same active ingredient offers a strong advantage: as a wash-off product, it offers a less intense treatment than leave-on formulas, which results in less irritation.  

Benzoyl peroxide cleansers can have some effect on comedonal noninflammatory acne such as blackheads and whiteheads but it is most effective against inflammatory acne due to its strong antibacterial quality. 

The act of cleansing also clears pores to allow better penetration of other skin care products and acne medications for greater results.

Benzoyl peroxide cleansers treat active acne and also prevent future breakouts in the following ways:

  • Clears excess oil and debris from pores
  • Kills acne-causing bacteria
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Reduces skin cell buildup
  • Shrinks blemishes

Choosing a benzoyl peroxide cleanser

To counteract the drying effect of benzoyl peroxide, it is important to replenish lost moisture to maintain the integrity of your skin. You can do so by choosing a cleanser that has healing ingredients.

Look for products that contain hyaluronic acid or ceramides to boost moisture or aloe vera and vitamin E which both hydrate and soothe irritation.  

How to Use a Benzoyl Peroxide Cleanser

Benzoyl peroxide cleansers are most effective for oily skin due to its astringent quality; however it can also be used on normal skin. 

This cleanser can be used up to twice a day; how often you use it will depend on your skin’s response to the active ingredients as well as the level of dryness or irritation that may result. 

To reduce these unwanted effects, you may choose to limit your use to once per day until your skin becomes accustomed to the cleanser.

Before applying the cleanser to your face, it is strongly recommended to perform a spot-test to  determine if you are allergic to it. 

To apply a cleanser:

  1. Wet your face and apply a small amount of cleanser to the affected areas, avoiding the eye area 
  2. Work the cleanser into a lather and gently message for 10–20 seconds
  3. Rinse thoroughly with warm water; pat dry
  4. Wash your hands well to remove any traces of the product
  5. Follow with a nourishing moisturizer to restore hydration

For those with combination skin, you can apply the cleanser to the oily areas of your face and avoid the drier areas. 

Who Should Avoid Using Benzoyl Peroxide Cleansers?

Benzoyl peroxide is not recommended for dry or sensitive skin as it will likely exacerbate these conditions. Additionally, this cleanser may be too harsh for those with eczema or rosacea.

Side Effects of Benzoyl Peroxide Cleansers

Benzoyl peroxide is an exfoliative agent, clearing the skin by removing dead skin cells and oils not only at the surface level but deep within pores. This effectively treats acne symptoms but can also result in several side effects including:

  • Dry skin
  • Redness and irritation
  • Peeling and flaking 
  • Itching, stinging and burning    

In very rare instances severe allergic reactions can occur – which underscores the importance of performing a spot-test before use.

Alternatives to Benzoyl Peroxide Cleansers

There are a multitude of OTC acne cleansers available to treat acne-prone oily skin, and they offer the same benefits as benzoyl peroxide.

Azelaic acid cleanser

Azelaic acid cleanser has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties to clear pores of bacteria, oil and debris, reduce inflammation and boost skin cell turnover. 

Glycolic acid cleanser

Glycolic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) that sloughs away dead skin cells and encourages skin cell turnover; it also promotes moisture retention which speeds up healing and maintains skin health.  

Salicylic acid cleanser

Salicylic acid is very effective against acne in multiple ways; it clears excess oil and dead skin cells from deep within pores, soothes inflammation, reduces the presence of acne-causing bacteria and prevents future breakouts.


Benzoyl peroxide is an established treatment for acne and proven to effectively treat mild-to-moderate inflammatory acne because of its ability to kill bacteria. It’s also effective against comedonal or noninflammatory acne, but to a lesser degree.

Due to its drying effects, benzoyl peroxide cleansers are most appropriate for those with oily skin. It can be used once or twice a day, but this will depend on how your skin reacts. To reduce the risk of irritation, you may opt for just once a day.

If benzoyl peroxide cleanser is not right for you, there are many other effective OTC options available such as azelaic, salicylic and glycolic acid.


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  • What is the Role of Benzoyl Peroxide Cleansers in Acne Management?: Do they Decrease Propionibacterium acnes Counts? Do they Reduce Acne Lesions?. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2008;1(4):48-51. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3016935/
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  • Waller JM, Dreher F, Behnam S, Ford C, Lee C, Tiet T, Weinstein GD, Maibach HI. ‘Keratolytic’ properties of benzoyl peroxide and retinoic acid resemble salicylic acid in man. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2006;19(5):283-9. doi:10.1159/000093984

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