What to Expect From Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Medication

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Benzoyl peroxide is the active ingredient in many over-the-counter (OTC) acne treatments. Whether you have just started treatment or have been using benzoyl peroxide for a while, a week-by-week guide of what to expect can be helpful.

The results of using benzoyl peroxide vary from person to person. Talk to your healthcare provider if you're not sure about the products in your skincare routine. You want to make sure you're using the right strength and you're applying it correctly.

This article explains what your skin should look and feel like each week while you are treating acne with benzoyl peroxide.

Benzoyl Peroxide Treatment Timeline

Verywell / Ellen Lindner

Week 1

The first thing you will notice is that benzoyl peroxide leaves your skin very dry. You can ease some of the dryness and flaking by using an oil-free moisturizer every day. Even if you don't normally moisturize, you'll want to start while you're using benzoyl peroxide.

It's normal for benzoyl peroxide treatments to burn or sting a little bit when you apply it. Your skin may also get red and a little itchy. This does not necessarily mean you're allergic to benzoyl peroxide—it's a common side effect, especially when you first start using it.

Don't expect to see any results yet. New pimples at this stage are completely normal. Benzoyl peroxide is a slow worker. Give it more time to start improving your skin.

Your skin will be less likely to peel and feel dry if you apply the medication every other day for the first week. Work your way up to twice daily—morning and night—over several weeks.

Weeks 2 to 3

You're probably going to be red and very dry at this stage. Your skin might be peeling and flaking, too. As annoying as peeling and flaking skin can be, it's normal when you're doing benzoyl peroxide treatment.

These side effects will go away over time, but you may always have some dry skin as long as you're using benzoyl peroxide.

To help with the dryness and flaking, apply the moisturizer before you put on the acne medication. If you're using a benzoyl peroxide cleanser, apply the moisturizer immediately after washing your face while your skin is still damp.

Don't worry if you are still getting new pimples at this stage—it's still early on in your treatment.

If the side effects are making you uncomfortable, you can skip a day occasionally to give your skin a break. Just don't give up the treatment altogether.

Weeks 4 to 6

By now, you've gotten through the worst of the side effects of using benzoyl peroxide. Your skin is probably still dry and a little flaky, but it's getting better. As you keep using benzoyl peroxide, your skin will build up a tolerance to it and your side effects will improve.

As for those pimples, you may still be getting new breakouts. If you take a close look at your skin, you may notice that those pimples are not quite as big and inflamed as the ones you used to get. They're healing more quickly, too.

If you are not seeing any change, don't worry. You still have a few more weeks of treatment left.

Weeks 8 to 10

At this stage, the treatment should be finally starting to pay off. By now, you should be noticing an improvement in your skin. You'll probably still get some new pimples here and there, but they will be smaller and less noticeable. They'll also be less frequent.

Your skin may not be completely clear yet, but don't worry. The longer you use benzoyl peroxide, the better your acne will get. The results of the treatment build up over time.

Now that those pimples are starting to clear, you will notice brownish or purplish spots where they used to be. Don't panic—those spots are normal and are part of your skin's natural healing process.

The brownish spots are called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Depending on the severity of your acne, it may take several weeks or months for the darker spots to go away.

The most important thing you can do now is to stay consistent with your treatment. Try not to skip days.

Weeks 12 and Beyond

By now, your skin should be much clearer than when you started treating it with benzoyl peroxide. While it's not realistic to expect to never get another pimple in your life, your acne should be under control now. You should be feeling more confident about your skin and comfortable with the benzoyl peroxide treatment.

If the results are not what you expected, re-evaluate the treatment approach. That said, don't reach for another over-the-counter (OTC) medication. Instead, see a dermatologist to explore prescription options for treating acne.

If benzoyl peroxide didn't clear up your acne, you're not alone. Most people have to try a few different options before finding one that works. Knowing that this one didn't work gets you one step closer to finding a treatment that will.

If the results are what you wanted, keep using benzoyl peroxide. The medication won't cure acne but if stop using it, your acne would come back. The responsibility of sticking to a skincare regimen is worth the reward of clear skin.

When to Call Your Provider

If you’ve been following your benzoyl peroxide treatment plan and experiencing a lot of skin irritation, you’re nearing the end and have not seen any results, or your acne is getting worse, talk to your provider. You might need to see a dermatologist for prescription acne treatment.


Benzoyl peroxide is an acne treatment you can buy without a prescription. When you first start using it, your skin may sting a little. It may also turn red, flake, and feel dry. These side effects are normal and may last several weeks. If they are bothering you, try skipping a day of treatment. If you can't deal with the side effects, talk to your provider about other options.

Around eight to 10 weeks after you start using benzoyl peroxide to treat acne, your skin should be much clearer (though you'll still get a pimple or two now and then). If the treatment did not work as well as you wanted, see a dermatologist. A prescription acne treatment might work better.

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. Yang Z, Zhang Y, Lazic Mosler E, et al. Topical benzoyl peroxide for acne. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2020;3(3):CD011154. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD011154.pub2. 

  2. Amar L, Kircik LH. Treatment of moderate acne vulgaris in Fitzpatrick Skin Type V or VI: Efficacy and tolerability of fixed combination clindamycin phosphate 1.2%/benzoyl peroxide 3.75% gel. J Drugs Dermatol. 2018;17(10):1107-1112.

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. 9 things to do when acne won’t clear.

Additional Reading

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.