Benzoyl Peroxide: Friend Or Foe?

benzoyl peroxide friend foe

If you’re suffering from acne, chances are someone has recommended you use Benzoyl Peroxide (BP). They mentioned how good it is at treating acne, but a quick search online unearths so many potential side effects to scare you away from it for life. Is Benzoyl Peroxide really that bad?

Benzoyl Peroxide: what is it and what does it do?

Benzoyl peroxide is a peroxide (an unstable bond of two oxygen atoms that can generate free radicals). Although its mechanism of action is not completely understood, it is thought to work by generating free radicals. These free radicals kill Propionibacterium acnes, the bacteria that causes acne, by interacting with their cell walls. Benzoyl Peroxide also has a peeling action that keeps the pores clean, preventing them from getting clogged. This helps avoid breakouts. The best thing about it, though, is that bacteria don’t develop a resistance to it.

Does Benzoyl Peroxide makes skin age faster?

Free radicals are one of the main causes of premature aging. Benzoyl Peroxide can generate them. So, we should stay away from it, right? Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Not all free radicals are created equal. There are several types, the worst being hydroxyl radicals. These cause lasting damage, but, luckily BP doesn’t generate them. Instead, it produces phenyl radicals.

According to Paula Begoun: “Phenyl radicals are not as damaging as hydroxyl radicals, and since the reaction leading to damage occurs quickly [BP can deplete 50% of vitamin E naturally found in your skin within 30 minutes], the damage is brief and fleeting. This is no more harmful than the free radical damage that occurs to your skin from simply being surrounded by oxygen, and such a reaction is easily countered by products containing antioxidants.”


Does Benzoyl Peroxide has any other side effects?

Yes, it does. BP, especially when used in high concentrations, can cause irritations, allergies, and dryness. Luckily, studies have shown that low, 2.5% concentrations of Benzoyl Peroxide have the same benefits as higher doses, but with fewer side effects.

How to use Benzoyl Peroxide

While I don’t recommend anyone try Benzoyl Peroxide as a first treatment, for many people it is the only one that works. This is especially true for people whose acne has become resistant to other treatments. In that case, it’s best to use a small concentration of BP, and apply it only on spots rather than the whole face.

Can you use Benzoyl Peroxide with Salicylic Acid?

Salicylic Acid (SA) is another great anti-acne ingredient. Thanks to its ability to penetrate the pores, it can exfoliate them from within, removing all the gunk that causes breakouts. While BP works even better when used with SA, this combination is often too harsh for many people, causing their skin to become dry and irritated, and flake. If you want to give it a go, try using SA in the morning and BP at night, or use them on alternate days.

Best products with Benzoyl Peroxide

My favourite products with Benzoyl Peroxide are Paula’s Choice Clear Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment with 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide (which is also infused with soothing agents), Proactive & Proactiv+ Pore Targeting Treatment, and Epidue Gel. They all contain only 2.5% concentrations of BP.

The Bottom Line

BP is a very effective anti-acne ingredient, but, because of its side effects, it should be used only in small doses and on affected areas, and never as a first treatment.

Have you ever used Benzoyl Peroxide?

Know Your Ingredients: Superoxide Dismutase


What it is
Superoxide Dismutase is an enzyme naturally found in the body and in many green plants. It depletes with age.

What it does
Superoxide Dismutase is a powerful antioxidants that can fight free radicals, therefore preventing signs of aging, such as fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots.
It also helps protect skin from UV rays.
In addition, Superoxide Dismutase has anti-inflammatory properties.

Side effects
Superoxide Dismutase is generally considered to be safe.

(Source: Journal of Investigative Dermatology, April 2002)