Tips for Dry Skin Caused by Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatments

Woman using face cleanser
Benzoyl Peroxide for Acne. Flashpop / Getty Images

You've been using benzoyl peroxide for just a few weeks. Now your skin is super dry, red and peeling. It looks awful and feels even worse!

You're finding out first-hand 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.

1. Start Using Moisturizer ASAP

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

With benzoyl peroxide lotions, creams, or gels (basically any leave-on BPO medication) try this trick: apply your moisturizer first, let in soak in, then apply benzoyl peroxide over the top. This helps buffer the medication a bit and may help reduce side effects.

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

2. Ditch Drying Skin Care Products

Using oil-absorbing cleansers, medicated treatment pads, or astringent toners in addition to your benzoyl peroxide medications? Take them out of your ​skin care routine (unless your dermatologist told you specifically to use them, of course.) These types of products will just exacerbate dryness. 

Instead, try switching to a gentle, non-medicated cleanser cleanser like Dove, the basic Neutrogena bar, Cetaphil, or Purpose. 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 skin care products meant for oily skin types, for now. Once your skin isn't feeling quite so dry, you can slowly reintroduce them into your skin care routine, if necessary.

3. Don't Scrub

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.

4. Start Off 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. 

Begin with using your benzoyl peroxide medication just every other day, or 3 times a week. Slowly increase usage over the course of several weeks until you're able to use it every day. This lets your skin adjust to the medication while keeping excessive dryness in check.

5. Switch to a Lower Percentage

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 under active ingredients on the back of your product.)

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.

If you're using a prescription medication, you can ask your dermatologist if it comes in a lower strength. If not, she can give you some ideas to tame the dryness. And you can always try Tip #6.

6. Scale Back Use for a Time

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.

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View Article Sources
  • Baldwin HE.  "Pharmacologic Treatment Options in Mild, Moderate, and Severe Acne Vulgaris." Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery. 2015 Sep;34(5S):S82-S85.
  • Mohammad TF, Burkart CG.  "Acne therapeutics: a closer look at benzoyl peroxide."  Skinmed. 2015 Mar-Apr;13(2):94-6.