Benzoyl Peroxide Allergy Symptoms

Could you have a benzoyl peroxide allergy? Sometimes, it can be hard to tell. Benzoyl peroxide can make your skin dry and red and cause it to itch and flake. But the side effects are similar, even if you're not allergic to it.

Knowing how to differentiate between true benzoyl peroxide allergy symptoms and typical side effects can help you protect your skin and keep your acne treatment plan on track.

This article will explain how benzoyl peroxide works and how to tell the difference between normal side effects and an allergic reaction. Learn how to manage the side effects and how to find alternative treatments if you need them.

How Benzoyl Peroxide Works

Benzoyl peroxide is the active ingredient in many over-the-counter acne treatment medications. The topical treatment is good at treating mild to moderate acne.

Benzoyl peroxide works by attacking bacteria and unclogging pores. It works by sending oxygen into the pore. And if there's one thing that bacteria doesn't like, it's oxygen.

Benzoyl peroxide comes in several forms, with the most common being a lotion that takes time for the skin to absorb. It also comes in cleansers, gels, and toners. The choices mean there are many ways you can make benzoyl peroxide a part of your skin care routine.

It works well, but the downside is that it can irritate the skin, even when used properly.

Allergy Symptoms

New users may fear they're allergic to benzoyl peroxide. Most of the time, they're experiencing benzoyl peroxide's normal side effects.

Benzoyl peroxide can cause dryness, redness, and peeling. So be prepared to take a closer look to find out if you've crossed the line from normal side effects to a true allergic reaction.

Symptoms of a severe benzoyl peroxide allergy include hives, itching, breathing difficulty, feeling like you are going to pass out, or swelling affecting the mouth or face. If you are experiencing any life-threatening symptoms, seek emergent care immediately.


If you have any mild symptoms of possible allergy-like itch or small hives, stop using benzoyl peroxide and call your physician for advice. These symptoms probably will continue to worsen until you stop using benzoyl peroxide.

Normal Side Effects

Typical benzoyl peroxide side effects are less severe. And they usually aren't anything to worry about.

Normal side effects of benzoyl peroxide are:

  • Dry skin
  • Minor to moderate peeling and flaking
  • Minor to moderate redness, itching, stinging, or burning, especially right after application

Expect to see and feel the worst side effects during the first few weeks of use. The redness, peeling, and flaking should subside as your skin builds up a tolerance to the medication.

Tips for Managing Normal Side Effects

Normal side effects don't have to make you stop using benzoyl peroxide. A few tweaks in your routine can help reduce the side effects considerably:

  • Use moisturizer daily. Benzoyl peroxide often causes dryness. A moisturizer will help counteract it.
  • Start off slowly. If you're using benzoyl peroxide for the first time, use a low concentration (2.0% or less). Use it every other day—not daily—for a week or two. This routine will give your skin a break between applications.
  • Scale back if you need to. Your skin may benefit from a longer break than a single day. In this case, use benzoyl peroxide every second or third day. A little experimentation will help you find the right routine for your skin.
How to Treat Dry Skin Caused by Benzoyl Peroxide
 Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Benzoyl Peroxide-Free Acne Treatment Medications

If you are truly allergic to benzoyl peroxide, you're not out of luck when it comes to treating your acne. Many other acne treatment options can help clear your skin. And they're available by prescription and over the counter.

Salicylic acid is one such option, as are glycolic acid and sulfur—all available over the counter. Differin gel, once sold only by prescription, can also be purchased right from store shelves.

Prescription medications offer even more options. Topical retinoids, antibiotics (both topical and oral), and oral medications like Amnesteem (isotretinoin) and birth control pills (for women only) may be a good choice for you.

Summary

Benzoyl peroxide works by attacking bacteria and unclogging pores. Benzoyl peroxide is effective, but it can take its toll on the skin.

Some people fear they are allergic to it when in fact they are probably just using too much. With a little trial and error, you can manage the side effects. Or, if you wish, you can turn to a treatment that contains no benzoyl peroxide.

A Word From Verywell

In the end, you may be allergic to benzoyl peroxide. Or your skin may just be super sensitive to it. If you are having side effects, you can compare benzoyl peroxide concentration levels in different products and choose the lowest one to get started.

Err on the side of caution if you're worried that you have a true benzoyl peroxide allergy: Stop using the medication and call your dermatologist.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I know if I’m allergic to benzoyl peroxide?

    Before you begin using benzoyl peroxide on your face or body, apply a tiny amount to a small patch of acne for three consecutive days. You may then use it on larger sections of skin if there are no signs of an allergy, such as severe redness, itching, burning, blistering, swelling, or hives.

  • Can I use benzoyl peroxide if I have sensitive skin?

    You could, but be sure to use a low concentration—about 2.0% or less. You can also use a water-based version of the medication and wash it off (instead of leaving it on and waiting for the skin to absorb it).

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3 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. Tan AU, Schlosser BJ, Paller AS. A review of diagnosis and treatment of acne in adult female patients. International Journal of Women’s Dermatology. 2018;4(2):56-71. doi:10.1016/j.ijwd.2017.10.006

  2. University of Michigan Health. Benzoyl peroxide and hydrocortisone topical.

  3. Veraldi S, Brena M, Barbareschi M. Allergic contact dermatitis caused by topical antiacne drugs. Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology. 2015;8(4):377-81. doi:10.1586/17512433.2015.1046839

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