6 Ways to Treat Dry Skin Caused by Benzoyl Peroxide

You've been treating acne with benzoyl peroxide for a few weeks. Now your skin is dry, red, and peeling. It looks awful and feels worse.

That's a huge drawback of benzoyl peroxide. Over-the-counter (OTC) acne products and prescription drugs with benzoyl peroxide can really dry your skin.

Nearly everyone who uses it has some amount of dryness, flaking, and peeling. But you don't have to ditch the treatment.

This article will show you 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. Use it every day. An oil-free brand can 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. It's least likely to irritate your already tender skin.

When using topical benzoyl peroxide, moisturize first. Let in soak in, then apply the benzoyl peroxide. This helps buffer the medication and compensates for its drying effects.

With benzoyl peroxide cleansers or washes, first cleanse, then apply moisturizer while your skin is still damp. This helps seal in moisture.

Avoid Products That Dry the Skin

Unless your dermatologist says to use them, avoid:

  • Oil-absorbing cleansers
  • Medicated treatment pads
  • Astringent toners

These products can make the dryness worse. Instead, try a gentle, non-medicated cleanser like:

  • Dove
  • Cetaphil
  • Purpose
  • The basic Neutrogena bar

If your skin is so chapped that even gentle cleansers sting or burn, skip them. Just use plain water to clean your skin.

Stop using all other OTC acne treatments and products for oily skin types. Once your skin isn't so dry, you can slowly reintroduce them, if necessary.

Recap

Benzoyl peroxide can make your skin get dry and peel. To counter that, use a good moisturizer. Avoid products that further dry your skin like astringent toners. Opt instead for gentle cleaners like Dove or Cetaphil. Or just rinse your face with water. Stop using other acne treatments, too.

Start Benzoyl Peroxide Slowly

If you haven't started using benzoyl peroxide, or you've just used it for a few days, you may be able to head off dryness and peeling before it starts. 

Studies suggest applying the benzoyl peroxide every other day to start. Slowly increase it over the next three to four weeks until you're using it daily.

Avoid overuse. Instead, be consistent and avoid gaps in treatment.

Avoid Scrubbing

Don't try to scrub away the peeling skin with a gritty, abrasive scrub. It can cause more irritation and make your skin raw.

If flaking skin is driving you nuts, use a soft washcloth and warm water to gently buff it away. Don't rub too hard, though. Apply a gentle moisturizer right afterward.

Switch to a Gentler Formulation

OTC benzoyl peroxide products come in strengths ranging from 2.5% to 10%. If your skin is unhappy with a high-percentage product, switch to one with less benzoyl peroxide. The amounts are listed on the label.

Lower-percentage products won't be as drying but will still help with your acne. As your skin gets used to it, you can bump up to a higher percentage.

More isn't always better. Studies suggest benzoyl peroxide concentrations above 2.5% aren't necessarily more effective. And they're more likely to cause irritation.

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

Recap

Start using benzoyl peroxide every other day. Then work up to more frequent use as your skin adjusts.

Don't try to scrub off the dry skin. Buff it off with a soft wash cloth and moisturize.

Scale Back When Needed

Your skin may need a break from benzoyl peroxide at times. This includes when it's so dry that it's uncomfortable. Don't stop using it altogether, though.

Instead, try cutting back to every other day or a couple times per week. Once your skin feels better, slowly use more until you're back up to the recommended dose.

Summary

Benzoyl peroxide skin dry, red, and flaky. A good moisturize can help. Choose gentle cleansers instead of drying products and other acne treatments.

When starting, use benzoyl peroxide on alternate days. Use it more often as your skin adjusts. Scrubbing off dry skin can cause irritation. Rub it with a soft wash cloth, then moisturize.

If your skin needs a break, scale back usage. Then work back up to the usual dose.

A Word From Verywell

Dryness and peeling are usually worst during the first few weeks of benzoyl peroxide use. It'll get better over time. But talk to your dermatologist if your skin is:

  • Extremely irritated
  • Red
  • Swollen
  • Cracking

Your skin may be too sensitive for this medication. Or you could have a benzoyl peroxide allergy. In either case, you need different acne treatments.

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?

    It mainly works by killing Propionibacterium acnes bacteria. It infects hair follicles and contributes to breakouts. Benzoyl peroxide isn't an antibiotic, so it doesn't cause antibiotic resistance.

    Benzoyl peroxide also calms mild inflammation and helps clear up blackheads and whiteheads.

  • Why does benzoyl peroxide make skin so dry?

    It's so drying because it dries up excess sebum (oil) on the skin. Acne is caused in part by excess oil and dead skin cells that clog follicles.

    Benzoyl peroxide also can leave skin dry and 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. You'll likely you'll face some degree of dryness no matter what you use. If you can't tolerate benzoyl peroxide, which isn't 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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  2. Sevimli Dikicier B. Topical treatment of acne vulgaris: efficiency, side effects, and adherence rateJ Int Med Res. 2019;47(7):2987–2992. doi:10.1177/0300060519847367

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  4. Kircik LH. The role of benzoyl peroxide in the new treatment paradigm for acneJ Drugs Dermatol. 2013;12(6):s73-s76.

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