6 Ways to Treat Dry Skin Caused by Benzoyl Peroxide

You've been using benzoyl peroxide for just a few weeks. Now your skin is dry, red, and peeling. It looks awful and feels even worse. Sadly, you're discovering firsthand one of the biggest drawbacks of benzoyl peroxide use. Whether it's in over-the-counter acne products or prescription acne medications, benzoyl peroxide can make your skin dry.

Nearly everybody who uses it will experience some amount of dryness, flaking, and peeling. But you don't have to ditch your benzoyl peroxide treatment. Instead, there are a few steps you can take to limit dryness and soothe chapped skin while keeping your acne treatment on track.

How to Treat Dry Skin Caused by Benzoyl Peroxide
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Start Using a Moisturizer

Find a good moisturizer and start using it every day. An oil-free brand will help soothe dry skin without aggravating acne. But don't be afraid to use a thicker, more emollient cream if a light lotion isn't cutting it.

For chapped or peeling skin, the best choice is a hypo-allergenic, fragrance-free moisturizer which is less likely to irritate your already tender skin.

When using a topical benzoyl peroxide, always apply your moisturizer first, let in soak in, and then apply the benzoyl peroxide next. This helps to buffer the medication and compensates for some of its drying effects.

With benzoyl peroxide cleansers or washes, apply moisturizer immediately after cleansing while skin is still slightly damp. This can help seal in moisture.

Avoid Products That Dry the Skin

If you use oil-absorbing cleansers, medicated treatment pads, or astringent toners in addition to your benzoyl peroxide medications, throw them out unless your dermatologist tells you otherwise These types of products will further exacerbate the dryness. 

Instead, try switching to a gentle, non-medicated cleanser like Dove, Cetaphil, Purpose, or the basic Neutrogena bar. If your skin is ultra chapped and even gentle cleansers sting or burn, skip them altogether and use plain water to cleanse your skin.

And stop using all other OTC acne treatments, and skincare products meant for oily skin types, for now. Once your skin isn't feeling quite so dry, you can slowly reintroduce them into your skincare routine, if necessary.

Start Benzoyl Peroxide Slowly

If you haven't yet started using your benzoyl peroxide, or you just started using it within the last few days, you may be able to head off most of the dryness and peeling before it ever starts. 

Studies suggest that you should start by applying the benzoyl peroxide every other day. Slowly increase over the course of three to four weeks until you are up to a daily dose. Avoid overuse. Instead, maintain consistency and avoid gaps in treatment.

Avoid Scrubbing

No one likes the flaking, peeling skin that benzoyl peroxide often causes. But that gritty, abrasive scrub isn't such a great way to remove it. It can cause more irritation and leave your skin feeling raw.

If flaking skin is driving you nuts, you can use a soft washcloth with warm water and very gently buff it away. Don't rub too hard, though. And, of course, apply a gentle moisturizing cream immediately after.

Switch to a Gentler Formulation

Over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide products come in different strengths, from 2.5% to 10%. If you're using a high percentage product and your skin is protesting, switch to a product with a lower amount of benzoyl peroxide. (You can find the amount listed on the product label.)

Lower percentage benzoyl peroxide products won't be as drying, but will still allow you to keep your acne treatments on track. As your skin gets used to benzoyl peroxide, you can bump up to a higher percentage if need be.

More is not always better. Studies have shown that benzoyl peroxide concentrations above 2.5% do not inherently increase the effectiveness of a product and may only end up causing irritation.

If you're using a prescription medication, you can ask your dermatologist if it comes in a lower strength. If not, they can give you some ideas to tame the dryness. And you can always try scaling back.

Scale Back When Needed

Your skin may need a bit of a break from benzoyl peroxide, especially if it's becoming so dry that it's uncomfortable. Don't stop using it altogether, though. 

Instead, try cutting back on benzoyl peroxide use to once every other day, or even just a couple times per week, until your skin is feeling better. Then slowly start using it more often until you're back up to the recommended dose.

A Word From Verywell

Dryness and peeling are usually at their worst during the first few weeks of benzoyl peroxide use and lessen over time. But do talk to your dermatologist if your skin is extremely irritated, red, swollen, or cracking.

Your skin may be too sensitive to tolerate this medication, or you may have a benzoyl peroxide allergy. If either of these is the case for you, obviously a different acne treatment is in order. You'll probably always have a bit of dryness while using benzoyl peroxide, but following these steps will help keep your dry skin manageable.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How does benzoyl peroxide treat acne?

    Primarily by killing the bacterium, Propionibacterium acnes, that infects hair follicles, playing a significant role in breakouts. Note it is not an antibiotic, so it often is a preferred treatment because it does not induce antibiotic resistance. Benzoyl peroxide also can calm mild inflammation and directly help clear up comedones (blackheads and whiteheads).

  • Why does benzoyl peroxide make skin so dry?

    Because it dries up excess sebum (oil) on the skin. While this is an effective way to treat acne, which develops in part when excess oil combines with dead skin cells and clogs follicles, it also can irritate skin, leaving it dry and even flaky.

  • What can I substitute for benzoyl peroxide that won't dry out my skin?

    Nearly all acne medications work in part by getting rid of excess oil, so it's likely you'll face some degree of dryness no matter what you use. If you've found you can't tolerate benzoyl peroxide, which is not uncommon, see your dermatologist.

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5 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.
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