What to Expect From Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Medication

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Benzoyl peroxide is the active ingredient in many over-the-counter acne treatments. Whether you have just started treatment or have been using benzoyl peroxide for a while, it may help to have a week-by-week guide of what to expect.

Clearly, the results can vary from person to person. Call your dermatologist if you're unsure about any over-the-counter product you may be using, including the appropriate strength and application.

Benzoyl Peroxide Treatment Timeline

Ellen Lindner / Verywell

Week 1

The first thing you will notice is that benzoyl peroxide will leave your skin dry, really dry. You can stave off some of the inevitable dryness and flaking by using a good oil-free moisturizer every day. Even if you don't normally use a moisturizer, you'll want to start now.

It's normal for benzoyl peroxide to burn or sting just a little bit when you apply it. Your skin may also get red and a little itchy. This doesn't necessarily mean you're allergic to benzoyl peroxide. It's just typical benzoyl peroxide side effects, especially during the initial stages of treatment.

Don't expect any results yet. New pimples at this stage are completely normal. Benzoyl peroxide is a slow worker. Give it more time before expecting improvement.

You'll be less likely to experience peeling and dryness if you apply the medication every other day for the first week. Work your way up to applying it twice daily, morning and night, over the course of several weeks.

Weeks 2 to 3

Those side effects have probably started in earnest by now. You're going to be red, you'll be super dry, and you'll probably be peeling and flaking too. As annoying as this is, it's normal.

The good news is, you're probably in the worst of it. While these side effects will start to recede over time, there may always be some dryness.

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

Don't despair if you are still getting new pimples. You're still in the early stages.

If the side effects are making you really uncomfortable, it's OK to skip a day every now and then. Just don't give up altogether.

Weeks 4 to 6

By now, thankfully, the worst of the side effects will have passed. Sure, you're still dry and a little flaky, but it's getting better. As you continue to use the benzoyl peroxide, your skin builds up a tolerance to the medication and side effects diminish.

As for those pimples, you may still be getting new breakouts. But, if you take a really close look at your skin, you may notice those pimples aren't quite as big and inflamed, and they're healing more quickly, too. If you aren't noticing any change at all yet, don't worry. It's still early.

Weeks 8 to 10

It's finally starting to pay off. By now, you should be noticing an improvement in your skin. While you'll probably be getting some new pimples here and there, they will be smaller, less noticeable, and fewer and farther between.

Your skin may not be completely clear yet, and that's OK. The longer you use the benzoyl peroxide, the better your acne will get. The results with this medication are cumulative.

But now that those pimples are starting to clear, you will notice brownish or purplish spots where the pimples used to be. Take a deep breath; those spots are normal and part of your skin's natural healing process.

As the pimples to clear, you will notice brownish spots in their place. Called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, the discoloration is perfectly normal and will spontaneously clear once the underlying cause—in this case, acne—is resolved. Depending on the severity of your acne, this may take several months or weeks.

The most important thing you can do now is to remain consistent with your treatment. Try not to skip days, consistency is key.

Weeks 12 and Beyond

At this point, your skin should be relatively clear. It's not realistic to think you'll never get another pimple, but in general, your acne is under control and you feel good about your skin and your benzoyl peroxide treatment.

If the results are not what you expected, you will need to re-evaluate your treatment approach. Don't reach for another over-the-counter medication. Instead, see a dermatologist to explore your prescription options.

Don't consider this a failure. Most people have to try a few different options before finding the one that works. You're one step closer to finding the best treatment for you.

If the results are good, don't stop using benzoyl peroxide. The topical drug doesn't cure acne. If you were to stop now, your acne will come back. While this may feel like a bit of a pain sometimes, having clear skin is worth it.

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  1. Bikowski J. A review of the safety and efficacy of benzoyl peroxide (5.3%) emollient foam in the management of truncal acne vulgarisJ Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2010;3(11):26–29.

  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.

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