What to Expect From Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Medication

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

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 healthcare provider if you're not sure about any product you're using. It's important to be 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 will leave your skin dry, really dry. You can stave off some of the dryness and flaking by using a good oil-free moisturizer every day. Even if you don't normally use one, 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 a typical side effect, especially during the early 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.

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 a period of several weeks.

Weeks 2 to 3

You're probably going to be red and super dry. 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 go away over time, there may always be some dryness.

To help with 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 worry 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. The side effects ease up.

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. 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 and less noticeable. They'll also be less frequent.

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 build up over time.

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. They 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 remain consistent with your treatment. Try not to skip days. Consistency is key.

Weeks 12 and Beyond

At this point, your skin should be much clearer than when you started. It's not realistic to think you'll never get another pimple. But 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 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 would come back. While this may feel like a bit of a pain, having clear skin is worth it.

Summary

Benzoyl peroxide is an acne treatment you can buy without a prescription. When you first start using it, your skin may sting. It may also turn red, flake, and feel dry. These side effects may last several weeks. If they get too bad, try skipping a day. Or you could talk to a healthcare provider about a different treatment.

Around eight to 10 weeks after you start using the product, your skin should be much clearer. You'll still have the odd spot or two. If the treatment didn't work as well as you wanted, it's a good idea to visit a dermatologist. A prescription treatment might work better.

Was this page helpful?
2 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.

Additional Reading