Benzoyl Peroxide Side Effects

Most people with acne have a love-hate relationship with benzoyl peroxide—love the results but hate the side effects. The good news is, benzoyl peroxide is one of the most effective acne treatments available, especially for mild to moderate acne. It's definitely the hardest working over-the-counter acne treatment. It's an ingredient in many prescription acne medications, like Acanya, Epiduo, and Onexton.

Teenage girl cleaning her face in the mirror
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But, just like any medication, benzoyl peroxide can cause side effects. Most of them aren't too bothersome and aren't bad enough to get people to stop using their benzoyl peroxide medications. Knowing what to expect before you start treatment is always helpful. Here are the most common side effects of benzoyl peroxide acne treatments.

Dry Skin

Nearly every acne treatment causes some amount of dryness, but benzoyl peroxide tends to dry out the skin. Almost everyone using it will experience some dryness. The higher the percentage of the benzoyl peroxide you're using, the more likely you are to develop dry skin.

You can minimize dry skin by using an oil-free moisturizer several times a day. In most cases, it's OK to put your moisturizer on right over the top of your benzoyl peroxide medications (ask your dermatologist to be sure, though.) Expect to have some amount of dryness during the entire time you're using benzoyl peroxide.

Peeling and Flaking

Another side effect you'll probably notice: peeling, flaking skin. This condition is usually worse during the first few weeks of treatment, and slowly improves as your skin gets used to the medication. Although you can't completely prevent pimples from occurring, you can take measures to lessen your chances of developing them.

Don't use too much, too quickly. If you jump right in with a several-times-a-day application, you're going to get the worst of it. Starting slowly with a once a day or every other day application will cut down on the amount of dry, peeling skin you'll get. Gradually build up to a two or three times daily application, or as directed.

Redness and Irritation

Another thing benzoyl peroxide can do to your skin is make it red, sometimes really red, especially right after you use it. It's alarming to look at yourself in the mirror and find your face has become the shade of a ripe tomato, but try not to be too concerned. For most people, the redness appears immediately after use and fades within a few minutes to an hour (although it can last longer).

If your skin is very irritated, start with a lower concentration of benzoyl peroxide first, and move up if needed. There is no reason to use a 10% benzoyl peroxide if a 2.5% will do. Using higher percentages increases your chance of irritation.

Burning, Stinging, and Itching

Yikes! Benzoyl peroxide sure can sting and burn when you apply it. In most cases, this is normal and again dissipates after just a few minutes. 

You might even get some itchiness in the areas where you've applied your benzoyl peroxide medications. This irritation can happen either immediately after application, and sometimes a few minutes to hours afterward. As long as it's mild, itching isn't a big deal.

When to Talk to Your Dermatologist 

Usually, side effects from benzoyl peroxide aren't too serious. If your skin is extremely irritated, red, swollen, or cracking—or if the side effects are just too bothersome for you—speak to your dermatologist.

Some people can't tolerate benzoyl peroxide, no matter how carefully they use it. If this is the case for you, don't worry. Plenty of benzoyl peroxide-free treatment options will work better for you.

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