How to Use Benzoyl Peroxide to Get Rid of Acne
Even if you only get the occasional pimple, the chances are pretty good that you have, at least once or twice, headed into your local drugstore to check out the available acne treatments on offer. And although you will find a lot of different options many of them have one ingredient in common; benzoyl peroxide.
What is Benzoyl Peroxide?
Benzoyl peroxide is one of several members of the peroxide family. Believe it or not it was first used in North America to bleach flour. As it has similar bleaching properties to the other peroxides but is non toxic it seemed like a great way to turn murky brown flour (its natural state) into the bright, white flour you are probably used to seeing today.
The substance is also used in the plastics industry, is added to some hair dyes and is a common ingredient in OTC teeth whitening systems. However, the main use of benzoyl peroxide these days is as treatment for acne.
How Does Benzoyl Peroxide Get Rid of Acne?
Benzoyl Peroxide acts on existing pimples in several different ways:
- It boasts an anti inflammatory effect to reduce swelling and redness
- It has antibacterial properties to reduce the number of surface bacteria on the skin
- It can penetrate into the pores to begin killing the bacteria that is causing an acne pimple
- It help to dry out pimples and shrink pores
- It can help prevent acne scarring as a pimple heals, thanks to its bleaching ability
How is Benzoyl Peroxide Used to Treat Acne?
Most acne preparations and treatments that contain benzoyl peroxide come in one of three commons forms:
- Benzoyl Peroxide Cream
- Benzoyl Peroxide Gel, or
- Benzoyl Peroxide Face Wash
These products also usually come in several different strengths, most commonly 2.5%, 5% and 10% concentrations. You do not need a prescription to obtain benzoyl peroxide in any strength.
So to use benzoyl peroxide to help clear your skin and get rid of acne all you need to do is head to the drugstore, pick up a tube and then slap it on right? Well not quite.
Choosing the Right Benzoyl Peroxide Strength Your Skin Type
Benzoyl peroxide is powerful stuff. It is also a substance that can have a different effect in different skin types. This means that you do have to find the right product – or rather the right strength or your unique skin type. Here are some tips for doing just that:
Too Strong vs. Too Weak
Obviously you want to choose a benzoyl peroxide product that will not damage your skin but you also want one that will actually work, otherwise why would you be spending the cash in the first place?
- At first, benzoyl peroxide is likely to cause some slight redness, dryness or peeling on anyone’s skin. These mild symptoms do not indicate an unusual reaction.
- On the other hand, your skin should adapt fairly quickly to the treatment. Therefore if these symptoms persist beyond the first few days of use it’s a sign that the product is too strong for your skin and you should look for something with a lower concentration of benzoyl peroxide.
- If you are concerned that a treatment may be too strong for your skin – if you know that it is prone to sensitivity – then start off low, with a 2% treatment. If that proves effective – and it may on very mild acne – stick to that product. If it is not helping to get rid off acne move up to a 5% and see how your skin tolerates that.
Beware of Additives
So far we have discussed products that are either 2,5 or 10% benzoyl peroxide based. That means of course that 90% or more of the product is made up of something else. And this can cause problems of its own, as some of the ingredients used to ‘fill up’ a product to color it, fragrance it or make it ‘more comfortable’ to use are actually comedogenic – pore clogging – and may cause more acne problems than the benzoyl peroxide treats.
For example, mainly less expensive OTC acne treatments contain at least one of the following in addition to benzoyl peroxide:
- Isopropyl Palmitate
- Isopropyl Myristate
These ingredients are normally included to help make a cream smoother (benzoyl peroxide itself is coarse and lumpy) but they also all score rather high on the scale of comedogenic ingredients so really have no place being in an acne treatment at all.
Other products, even some of the more expensive ones, mix their active ingredients with fatty oils and fatty acids, substances that will also clog pores and make it much harder for benzoyl peroxide to do what it is suppose to do, ie: penetrate pores. These ingredients can include:
- Acetylated Lanolin Alcohol
- Benzoic Acid
- Cetearyl Alcohol
- Isocetyl Stearate
- Ethoxylated Lanolin
Almost all OTC acne products do carry a listing of their ingredients on their packaging. They can be hard to find (sometimes they are tucked inside and you can’t see them until you have bought the product) but you should seek one out that clearly lists all of the ingredients used and ensure that the pore clogging substances we have just mentioned are not on that list.
The Best Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatments
OK, so now you know which products to avoid which are the ones you should opt for. Well, we are not going to get brand specific here but here are some basic pointers:
- Many skincare experts feel that a gel is a better choice than a cream or paste. Gel tends to wear better on the skin and it can penetrate pores more quickly and efficiently.
- A benzoyl peroxide face wash is often the best choice for those suffering from adult onset acne and those whose skin is subject to hyper-pigmentation.
- If you have very sensitive skin a low percentage benzoyl peroxide treatment should be your first choice and it should contain as few extra artificial ingredients as possible.
How To Use Benzoyl Peroxide Effectively
Yes, there really are right and wrong ways to do this:
Start Slowly – Yes you really want to get rid of those acne pimples but you should begin using benzoyl peroxide treatments slowly, to allow your skin to adapt to them. Start off by using a product every other day building up to once daily if necessary.
Don’t Over treat – Over treatment will not be good for anyone’s skin. This often occurs when people spot treat a particularly stubborn pimple. In an attempt to make it go away faster they apply more than is recommended. But in this case that won’t help and all you’ll get is more flaking and dryness.
Moisturize Carefully – In order to be able to do its job properly benzoyl peroxide needs to penetrate the pores. Many moisturizers form a barrier that prevents that, so these acne treatments should be applied before they are.
Beware of Hyperpigmentation – As we mentioned before, benzoyl peroxide is a bleach, albeit one of the milder ones. That means that if you spot treat excessively you may run the risk of bleaching your skin causing unsightly blotchy patches. This especially applies to those with darker skin tones.
Protect Yourself From the Sun – Benzoyl peroxide can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so it’s very important that you are wearing an SPF moisturizer – even under makeup – whenever you go out.
Be Consistent – A benzoyl peroxide wash is a great way to help keep new acne at bay. So even if your gel has helped your clear up existing acne pimples and your skin looks pretty clear the underlying cause of your acne is unlikely to have been solved. Regular use of a ‘medicated wash’ can help prevent new pimples for some though.
If It Hurts Too Much, Stop – Benzoyl peroxide is not for everyone. For some it does lead to terrible raw, red patches (burns basically) painful stinging and even swelling. If after a few days of use your skin is still reacting badly stop the treatment and explore other methods to get rid of acne.
A Final Note
When used properly benzoyl peroxide can be a great tool to have in your arsenal in your fight against acne. Often though it cannot get the job done alone and is better incorporated into a skincare routine that also includes gentler acne fighters such as oil free toners.
Now we’d like to hear from you. Have you used benzoyl peroxide treatments in the past? Have they worked for you? Have you had any problems with them? Please share your experiences and opinions, it’ll be a great learning opportunity for us all.
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