Benzoyl Peroxide Allergy Symptoms

Could you have a benzoyl peroxide allergy? It can sometimes be hard to tell. Benzoyl peroxide can make your skin dry and red, and cause it to itch, flake, and peel even if you are not allergic to it.

Knowing how to differentiate between a true benzoyl peroxide allergy symptoms versus typical side effects will help you save your skin, and keep your acne treatment on track.

Allergy Symptoms

True benzoyl peroxide allergies are not quite as common as you might imagine. Some people think they are allergic to benzoyl peroxide but, in all actuality, they are experiencing normal side effects of benzoyl peroxide treatment.

Benzoyl peroxide does cause dryness, redness, and peeling to some degree. How do you know when you've crossed the line from normal side effects to a true allergic reaction?

Symptoms of a true benzoyl peroxide allergy are:

  • Severe redness, burning or itching of the skin
  • Serious skin irritation, peeling or cracking
  • Scabbing, blistering, oozing or crusting of the skin
  • Swelling of the skin, lips, eyes, or tongue
  • Rash or hives

These symptoms will continue to worsen until you stop using benzoyl peroxide. If you have any of these problems, stop using your benzoyl peroxide treatment immediately and call your physician for advice.

Normal Side Effects

Typical benzoyl peroxide side effects are less severe than an allergy, and 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 immediately after application

You typically get the worst side effects during the first few weeks after starting a benzoyl peroxide product or medication. As your skin builds up a tolerance to the medication, you'll notice the worst of the redness, peeling, and flaking diminish.

Tips for Managing Normal Side Effects

If you're not truly allergic to benzoyl peroxide but are just having a bad time with the side effects, you don't have to give up your treatment altogether. A few tweaks in your routine can help you diminish benzoyl peroxide side effects considerably, all while letting the medication do its job.

  • Use moisturizer daily. Benzoyl peroxide often causes dryness to some degree, for the entire time you're using the medication. Applying a moisturizer daily will go a long way in controlling normal side effects (but won't help at all if you are allergic to benzoyl peroxide).
  • Start off slowly. If this is your first time using benzoyl peroxide, start off using a low concentration (2% or less) and use it every other day for a week or two. This will allow your skin to get used to the product.
  • Scale back if you need to. Skin feeling extra dry and tender? It's OK to stop using your benzoyl peroxide medication for a few days to give your skin a break. When you start back up again, do so slowly.
How to Treat Dry Skin Caused by Benzoyl Peroxide
 Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Knowing what to expect from your benzoyl peroxide treatment can put your mind at ease, and help you determine what is normal and what is not.

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. There are many benzoyl peroxide-free acne treatment options to help clear your skin, both over-the-counter and prescription.

Salicylic acid is a common OTC acne-fighting ingredient, as is glycolic acid and sulfur. Differin gel was once a prescription-only medication now available OTC.

If you need a prescription medication to get your acne under control you have even more options. Topical retinoids, antibiotics (both topical and oral), and oral medications like Amnesteem (isotretinoin) and birth control pills (for women only) may also be an option for you.

A Word From Verywell

Not sure if what you're experiencing is a normal side effect or a true benzoyl peroxide allergy? It's always safest to err on the side of caution—stop using your medication and give your dermatologist a call.

If it turns out you are truly allergic to benzoyl peroxide, or if your skin is just super sensitive and can't handle it, be extra careful when choosing and using any over-the-counter acne treatment or skincare product. Benzoyl peroxide is an incredibly common ingredient in OTC products.

Also, make sure to let your dermatologist know if your skin can't tolerate benzoyl peroxide. It's included in many combination acne medications.

Always read those ingredient lists carefully before using any new product. If you need help choosing the right acne treatment product for you, make an appointment with a dermatologist.

Frequently Asked Questions

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

    Do a patch test before you begin using benzoyl peroxide for large areas of your face or body. Apply a small amount to a small patch of acne for three consecutive days. You can then use it on larger sections of your 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 may be able to use low concentrations of benzoyl peroxide, around 2.5% to 5%. You can also use a water-based version of the medication and wash it off instead of leaving it on to prevent irritation.

  • Is it normal for benzoyl peroxide to irritate skin?

    It's common for skin to become red and irritated immediately after you apply benzoyl peroxide. The inflammation should fade within an hour for most people who experience it. Lowering the concentration of benzoyl peroxide you use may help reduce these side effects.

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

  2. University of Michigan Health. Benzoyl peroxide and hydrocortisone topical. Updated February 11, 2019.

  3. 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

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