How To Treat Acne with Benzoyl Peroxide

Whether you've just started using benzoyl peroxide, or you're considering trying this acne treatment, you probably have questions. Learn how to treat acne with benzoyl peroxide and learn how to get the best results from your treatment.

What Is Benzoyl Peroxide?

Woman Applying Hand Cream
FreshSplash / Getty Images

Benzoyl peroxide is a topical medication used to treat acne breakouts. It's found in many different forms, from cleansers, lotions, creams, gels, and toner-like solutions.

In fact, if you've tried blemish-fighting skin care products at point, you've likely already used this ingredient. It's a very common ingredient in over-the-counter acne products.

But benzoyl peroxide is not just an OTC treatment. It's also available in stronger prescription strengths, and is an active ingredient in many combination prescription acne treatments, like:

Benzoyl peroxide is an antimicrobial, which means it helps reduce the amount of acne-causing bacteria on the skin. Less bacteria leads to less breakouts. Benzoyl peroxide also helps keep the pores clear from blockages. It's the most effective over-the-counter acne treatment available.

What Are the Possible Side Effects?

Benzoyl peroxide, like many acne medications, can cause dryness and peeling. Dry skin is the most common side effect.

The best way to combat this is to start off slowly, allowing your skin a chance to get used to the medication. Try using it every other day for a week or two. Using a good moisturizer will help too.

Benzoyl peroxide can also make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so it's important that you wear sunscreen every day.

How to Address Peeling and Flaking?

Even if you start off carefully and slowly, you can expect your skin to get dry. Very dry. And possibly rough, peely, and flaky too. These are all normal side effects.

You can manage this dryness, though. First, try using a moisturizer as often as you need, but at a minimum twice a day. If your skin is super dry and peeling, try applying the moisturizer first, under your benzoyl peroxide lotion or gel. This will act as a sort of buffer between the medication and your skin.

Most people find their skin gets used to the benzoyl peroxide over time and the dry, peeling skin fades away. It can take several weeks, though, as your skin adjusts to the medication.

Can You Be Allergic to Benzoyl Peroxide?

Some people just can't handle benzoyl peroxide, especially if your skin is super sensitive. And, yes, some people are truly allergic to this medication. But there are differences between a benzoyl peroxide allergy and normal side effects. 

Benzoyl peroxide can cause some fairly intense dryness, peeling, and flaking. You also may notice redness, burning, and itching right after applying the medication. These are normal reactions.

If you're getting swelling, severe redness, blisters, or incredibly irritated skin, you may actually have an allergy. In any case, stop using it and call your healthcare provider right away.

Is Benzoyl Peroxide in Proactiv?

Yes, the active ingredient in Proactiv is benzoyl peroxide. Proactiv broke ground as the first acne treatment kit (meaning a three-step program rather than just one product) on the market. Some Proactiv products also contain ingredients like glycolic or salicylic acid.

But Proactiv isn't the only acne treatment regimen that contains benzoyl peroxide. Many other brands have followed in Proactiv's wake, so you have plenty of other choices if you're looking for an all-inclusive acne skin care kit.

Many of these acne treatment products are less expensive than Proactiv, so you'll save some money. But you don't need an all-inclusive kit. You can buy benzoyl peroxide cleansers and lotions separately and use them together, basically creating your own acne treatment regimen.

How Long Will It Take to See Results?

Patience is a virtue, and this adage definitely applies to treating acne. Benzoyl peroxide, like all treatments, takes time to work. You may need to wait eight to 10 weeks, sometimes a bit more before seeing a noticeable improvement in your skin.

As tempting as it may be, don't slather on more medication, or apply more often than directed. You'll increase your chances of annoying side effects and it won't clear up acne any faster.

During this time you'll still get new breakouts, so don't fret. Over the course of several weeks, breakouts will slowly become fewer and farther between.

If you've used an OTC benzoyl peroxide product for more than 12 weeks and you haven't had any improvement, it's time to see a healthcare provider for a prescription medication (or to change your current prescription treatment).

What Can I Expect from My Benzoyl Peroxide Treatment?

So you're all jazzed up and ready to start using benzoyl peroxide. That's great! But did you know that lots of people stop using benzoyl peroxide before it ever has a chance to work? Knowing what to expect from your treatment can help you get the best results possible.

Tips for Using Benzoyl Peroxide

Once you get started with benzoyl peroxide, the biggest tip to remember: be consistent. Consistency is your best friend when treating acne. Skipping days will set your treatment back. You'll see the fastest improvement with regular, consistent use.

Another biggie—keep benzoyl peroxide away from your towels and pillowcases. Benzoyl peroxide will stain anything it comes in contact with. White linens and wearing old shirts to bed will help prevent or minimize benzoyl peroxide stains (or at least keep you from being too distressed when staining does happen).

A Word From Verywell

Benzoyl peroxide is an effective treatment for acne. OTC benzoyl peroxide are appropriate for mild acne. Prescription benzoyl peroxide medications work better for moderate acne.

But benzoyl peroxide isn't the only acne treatment option available. If you're having trouble with acne, and need help getting it under control, don't wait to see a healthcare provider. Making that call is the first step toward clearer skin.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you use benzoyl peroxide when pregnant?

    Yes, benzoyl peroxide is thought to be safe when used in limited amounts during pregnancy. It might be a good idea to speak to your healthcare provider before using it to make sure it's OK for you.

  • What's the difference between benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid?

    Acne products often contain either benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, or sometimes both. Benzoyl peroxide reduces acne-causing bacteria, while salicylic acid helps dissolve dead skin cells to clear out your pores. You may have better results with one or the other depending on your skin and type of acne.

  • How does benzoyl peroxide work?

    Benzoyl peroxide works as a topical medication. Once absorbed into the skin, benzoyl peroxide is converted into benzoic acid. This benzoic acid interacts with cystine (an amino acid) to release oxygen, which kills harmful bacteria. This process increases epithelial cell (skin cell) production, which promotes peeling and heals comedones.

  • When should you stop using benzoyl peroxide?

    If your acne is clearing with benzoyl peroxide, you should keep using it. Discontinuing use may cause the acne to come back. If you're not having good results after 12 weeks, or if you have an allergic reaction, check in with your healthcare provider.

Was this page helpful?
12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Matin T, Goodman MB. Benzoyl Peroxide. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing. Available from:

  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Food and Drug Administration Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER). Topical Acne Drug Products for Overthe-Counter Human Use — Revision of Labeling and Classification of Benzoyl Peroxide as Safe and Effective Small Entity Compliance Guide.

  3. Burkhart CG, Burkhart CN. Antibacterial properties of benzoyl peroxide in aerobic and anaerobic conditionsInt J Dermatol. 2006;45(11):1373‐1374. doi:10.1111/j.1365-4632.2006.02877.x

  4. Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2016;74(5):945-73.e33. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2015.12.037

  5. Masini F, Ricci F, Fossati B, et al. Combination therapy with retinaldehyde (0.1%) glycolic acid (6%) and efectiose (0.1%) in mild to moderate acne vulgaris during the period of sun exposure--efficacy and skin tolerabilityEur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2014;18(16):2283‐2286.

  6. Chularojanamontri L, Tuchinda P, Kulthanan K, Pongparit K. Moisturizers for Acne: What are their Constituents?J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014;7(5):36‐44.

  7. Kim C, Craiglow BG, Watsky KL, Antaya RJ. Allergic Contact Dermatitis to Benzoyl Peroxide Resembling ImpetigoPediatr Dermatol. 2015;32(4):e161‐e162. doi:10.1111/pde.12585

  8. Burkhart CG, Burkhart CN. Treatment of acne vulgaris without antibiotics: tertiary amine-benzoyl peroxide combination vs. benzoyl peroxide alone (Proactiv Solution)Int J Dermatol. 2007;46(1):89‐93. doi:10.1111/j.1365-4632.2007.03081.x

  9. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Is any acne treatment safe to use during pregnancy?

  10. Decker A, Graber EM. Over-the-counter acne treatments: A reviewJ Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2012;5(5):32-40.

  11. Matin T, Goodman MB. Benzoyl peroxide. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing.

  12. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Benzoyl peroxide.

Additional Reading