is benzoyl peroxide the best treatment for acne

“Got acne? You need to try benzoyl peroxide. It’s just the thing to make it disappear fast. It did wonders for me.”

“Are you crazy?! Don’t listen to her. Everyone knows benzoyl peroxide is dangerous. It’s irritating as hell and gives you wrinkles, too.”

Who’s right? Well… both. Huh?

Benzoyl peroxide is a powerful weapon against acne. And like all powerful weapons, it has its drawbacks. It’s up to you to decide if the tradeoff is worth it.

Hopefully, this’ll help you decide if benzoyl peroxide is a friend or foe for YOUR skin:

Benzoyl Peroxide: What Is It And What Does It Do?

Benzoyl peroxide is a peroxide. Duh! (in case you’re wondering, a peroxide is an unstable bond of two oxygen atoms that can generate free radicals).

We know benzoyl peroxide kills P.Acnes (the bacteria that causes acne), but have no clue how. Scientists think it works by generating free radicals. These free radicals attack the cell walls of P.Acnes until it dies.

The good part? P.Acnes doesn’t grow resistant to benzoyl peroxide so you don’t have to worry about it becoming useless anytime soon.

There’s more. Benzoyl peroxide has a peeling action, too. This helps keep the pores clean from gunk and prevent breakouts.

Related: How To Treat Adult Acne

Looking for an effective acne routine that doesn’t break the bank? Download your FREE “The Ordinary Anti-Acne Skincare Routine” cheat sheet to get started:

Does Benzoyl Peroxide Make Your Skin Age Faster?

Remember when I mentioned that benzoyl peroxide generates free radicals? Free radicals are nasty little molecules that wreak havoc on proteins like collagen and elastin and even destroy your cell’s DNA. The result? Wrinkles.

That’s the short story. The long story is a bit more complicated.

Not all free radicals are created equal. The type you want to avoid like the plague are hydroxyl radicals. They’re the most damaging for your skin. Luckily, benzoyl peroxide doesn’t generate hydroxyl radicals. It generates 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.”

Pay attention to that last part: you can neutralise those free radicals with antioxidants. Benzoyl peroxide isn’t a sure sentence to deep wrinkles.

Related: What Are The Best Antioxidant Serums?

Does Benzoyl Peroxide Has any Side Effects?

Yep. In high concentrations, benzoyl peroxide can irritate skin, dry it out or give you an allergy. Luckily, studies show 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

Benzoyl peroxide isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be. But, it still has a few side effects, so I don’t recommend it as your first treatment against acne.

Try something gentler like salicylic acid or tea tree oil first and, if that doesn’t work, move onto benzoyl peroxide.

One more thing: phenyl radicals may not be as dangerous as hydroxyl radicals but still, you do want to limit their production. In other words, use benzoyl peroxide only on your pimples, not your whole face.

Related: Benzoyl Peroxide VS Salicylic Acid: Which One Should You Choose?

Can You Use Benzoyl Peroxide With Salicylic Acid?

I get this question all the time. Both benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are effective ingredients for oily, acne-prone skin.

You know all about benzoyl peroxide by now, so let’s focus on salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is an exfoliant that gets inside your pores, exfoliating them from within. It also helps keep oil production under control.

Studies show that  benzoyl peroxide works even better when used with salicylic acid. But, this combo is too harsh for some people. It can irritate your skin and make it flake.

If you want to use both, I recommend you use salicylic acid in the morning and stick to benzoyl peroxide at night. Or you can use them on alternate day.

Related: Why Salicylic Acid Is Key To Keep Oily Skin Spot-Free

What Are The Best Products With Benzoyl Peroxide?

  • La Roche Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Action Acne Treatment ($36.95): Dermstore and Feel Unique
  • Paula’s Choice Clear Daily Skin Clearing Treatment With 5% benzoyl peroxide ($18.00): Dermstore and Paula’s Choice
  • Proactiv Emergency Blemish Relief ($20.00): available at Sephora and Ulta

The Bottom Line

Benzoyl peroxide is an effective acne treatment but doesn’t come without drawbacks. Use it carefully!