Tips for Using Benzoyl Peroxide

Do you have a love/hate relationship with your benzoyl peroxide acne treatment? You're not alone in your feelings. Benzoyl peroxide is so popular because it works. It's the most effective over-the-counter acne treatment there is, and it's also found in plenty of prescription acne medications.

But it can be a pain to use. It makes your skin super dry and flaky. It can burn. And that's not even mentioning all the ruined towels, washcloths, and clothes thanks to its remarkable bleaching capabilities.

The end results are often worth the aggravation, though. So if you stick with it clearer skin can be in your future. These tips for using benzoyl peroxide will make sticking with this acne treatment easier and more effective for you, too.


Use a Moisturizer Every Day

Illustrated adult man touching his face to apply benzoyl peroxide. Text on image reads: How to treat dry skin caused by benzoyl peroxide: Avoid drying skin care products; start using a moisturizer, scale back benzoyl peroxide use, avoid overuse of benzoyl peroxide, don't scrub, switch to a gentler formulation

Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

There's no two ways about it, benzoyl peroxide will dry your skin. It's the most common side effects of benzoyl peroxide use. If you have super oily skin, you might actually welcome this drying—no more oily shine! But most people find benzoyl peroxide too drying to the point of being uncomfortable. It can also make your skin burn, flake, and peel.

The best way to counteract this is to use a noncomedogenic moisturizer every day. If you're just beginning with your benzoyl peroxide treatment, start using moisturizer now, even before you notice any uncomfortable dryness. You may be able to stave off the worst of it. 

If you've already succumbed to benzoyl peroxide-induced dryness and flakiness, slather on moisturizer as often as necessary. Definitely use it immediately after cleansing, just before applying your benzoyl peroxide treatment, and right before bed.

Choosing a moisturizer that is oil-free and noncomedogenic will help prevent new blocked pores, and one that is fragrance-free and made for sensitive skin will be more soothing to already irritated skin.


Keep It Away From Fabrics and Hair

One of the weirder effects of benzoyl peroxide is its ability to discolor everything it touches. Benzoyl peroxide acts like bleach. Many people learn this the hard way, only after ruining a nice towel or favorite shirt.

There are things you can do to prevent benzoyl peroxide from staining. Thoroughly rinse off benzoyl peroxide cleansers. Let benzoyl peroxide creams and lotions dry completely before dressing, or lying on your pillow at night. And always wash your hands well after using any benzoyl peroxide treatment.

If you have dark hair, you'll also want to keep benzoyl peroxide away from your hairline. Regular exposure can bleach your hair too.


Always Wear Sunscreen

Benzoyl peroxide can cause photosensitivity. During use, you will be more prone to sunburn and sun damage. Too much sun time and you may find yourself with a nasty burn. And yes, you'll want to stay out of tanning beds as well.

Choose a sunscreen that's oil-free with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 every day. You'll protect yourself from skin cancer and premature aging. Today's sunscreens don't have much in common with the thick, smelly lotions of the past. Plenty of light, nongreasy sunscreens are available.

Don't like the thought of applying a separate sunscreen? Many moisturizers have SPF too. You can moisturize and get your sun protection in just one step.


Don't Use Multiple Acne Medications

Everyone wants their skin to clear up quickly, but layering on several different treatment products won't speed the process. It can cause severe redness, drying, peeling and flaking. Don't use benzoyl peroxide with other acne medications unless your healthcare provider has recommended you do so.

In some cases, when applied at the same time, benzoyl peroxide essentially de-activates Retin-A (tretinoin). Whenever you're in doubt, ask your dermatologist first.

A Word From Verywell

Benzoyl peroxide is an effective acne treatment. If you know what to expect and use it carefully you can avoid much of the aggravation that comes with this medication.

It is a slow worker, though, so don't expect much in the way of clearing for a few months (three or four is pretty typical). If you run into any problems, or you have any questions or concerns, a call to a dermatologist is the next step.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is benzoyl peroxide?

    Benzoyl peroxide is a topical medication to treat acne. It can be found in both over-the-counter and prescription medication in concentrations of 2.5%, 5%, and 10%.

  • How does benzoyl peroxide work?

    Benzoyl peroxide is bactericidal, meaning it kills bacteria. It works against Cutibacterium acnes (C. acnes) on the skin and in the hair follicles. When these bacteria multiply inside a follicle, it can lead to an acne pimple.

4 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. Kawashima M, Nagare T, Doi M. Clinical efficacy and safety of benzoyl peroxide for acne vulgaris: Comparison between Japanese and Western patientsJ Dermatol. 2017;44(11):1212–1218. doi:10.1111/1346-8138.13996

  2. Bagatin E, Freitas THP, Rivitti-Machado MC, et al. Adult female acne: a guide to clinical practiceAn Bras Dermatol. 2019;94(1):62–75. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20198203

  3. Torok HM, Pillai R. Safety and efficacy of micronized tretinoin gel (0.05%) in treating adolescent acneJ Drugs Dermatol. 2011;10(6):647-652.

  4. Taraneh M, Goodman M. Benzoyl peroxide. StatPearls.

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