Acne Treatment Alternatives If You Have a Benzoyl Peroxide Allergy

Benzoyl peroxide is a common ingredient in topical acne treatments. It's the most effective acne treatment you can get over the counter, so you'll find it in a huge variety of acne products, from cleansers to lotions.

But what if you can't use benzoyl peroxide because your skin is just too sensitive to it, or because you're allergic to it? Not to worry. There are plenty of other benzoyl peroxide-free treatments that you can use to help clear your acne.

Dermatologist and patient choosing a skin care product
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Benzoyl Peroxide Allergy and Sensitivity

Some people are extra sensitive to benzoyl peroxide. If you have sensitive skin or a history of eczema, you're more likely to have a bad reaction to benzoyl peroxide. It can cause a rash called contact dermatitis that causes redness, swelling, and oozing blisters. You should stop using the medication if you develop this reaction.

Allergic Reaction

True benzoyl peroxide allergies are very rare. For people who are allergic, benzoyl peroxide can cause itching, swelling of lips, tongue, or throat, hives, and trouble breathing. An allergic reaction can be a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.

Side Effects

The side effects of benzoyl peroxide are different from an allergy or contact dermatitis.

Benzoyl peroxide side effects include dryness, slight redness, itching, flaking skin, and minor peeling. These side effects are actually quite normal and typically don't mean that you have to stop using the medication.

Not sure if what you're experiencing is normal or something to be worried about? If you're concerned you should make a call to your physician.

Read Ingredient Lists Carefully

If you can't use benzoyl peroxide, you'll be glad to know you have other options. When choosing an over-the-counter acne product, take a careful look at the ingredient listings. Typically, benzoyl peroxide will be listed as the active ingredient, but it is sometimes included further down the ingredient list, so be sure to read the entire list. Occasionally, benzoyl peroxide is listed as "BPO".

If you're buying a three- or four-step kit, make sure you check the ingredients on every product in that kit before putting it on your skin. Benzoyl peroxide may not be included in the cleanser, but it may be the active ingredient in the coordinating treatment lotion, for example.

Benzoyl Peroxide-Free Acne Treatment Options

When considering alternatives to benzoyl peroxide, you will want ingredients that have proven track records of successfully improving acne. Specifically, you're looking for over-the-counter acne treatment products that contain these ingredients:

These ingredients will give you the best results you can get with an OTC product, without using benzoyl peroxide.

Of course, you can always hit the dermatology office for an effective benzoyl peroxide-free acne treatment. In fact, this is the preferable option if your acne is moderate to severe because OTC products won't help that type of acne.

Just let your dermatologist know that you can't tolerate benzoyl peroxide, and let them do the rest.

Some prescription options that are benzoyl-peroxide free include:

For women, oral contraceptives and hormone regulators like Aldactone (spironolactone) may also be options.

Be aware that some prescription medications contain benzoyl peroxide, even though the names don't give it away. Duac (clindamycin and benzoyl peroxide), Acanya (clindamycin and benzoyl peroxide), Epiudo, and Epiduo Forte are examples.

A Word From Verywell

Even though you can't use benzoyl peroxide, you can still get effective acne treatment products. No matter what acne treatment you use, though, you can expect some side effects.

It will take three to four months to see really good results from your treatment. Ask your dermatologist what to expect in terms of benefits and side effects.

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. Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2016;74(5):945-73.e33. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2015.12.037

  2. Sevimli dikicier B. Topical treatment of acne vulgaris: efficiency, side effects, and adherence rate. J Int Med Res. 2019;47(7):2987-2992. doi:10.1177/0300060519847367

  3. Tan AU, Schlosser BJ, Paller AS. A review of diagnosis and treatment of acne in adult female patients. Int J Womens Dermatol. 2018;4(2):56-71. doi:10.1016/j.ijwd.2017.10.006

Additional Reading

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