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Ingredient Spotlight: Benzoyl Peroxide

If you’ve ever seen a commercial or advertisement for acne products, you’ve likely heard of benzoyl peroxide. The ingredient is usually contained in formulations that alleviate breakouts and acne. For many years, benzoyl peroxide remained — and still does, for the most part — the most frequently chosen and most effective topical antibacterial compound used to treat acne.

What is benzoyl peroxide? 

A medication and chemical that was first produced in 1905, benzoyl peroxide was first used as a medication in the U.S. in the 1930s. It’s listed on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines and in addition to treating acne, can be used as a bleaching agent, hair dye and teeth whitener.

How does benzoyl peroxide work?

As an antiseptic, this powerful substance destroys the bacteria that reside on the skin and inside pores and pimples. It’s also an oxidizer, meaning it injects air into pores, which loosens oil, dirt and bacteria. Benzoyl peroxide acts as an anti-inflammatory and can reduce the swelling, pain and redness created by acne and pimples.

A wide range of products are formulated with benzoyl peroxide, including cleansers, gels, creams, spot treatments and facial wipes. These medications are available both over the counter and by prescription and come in varying strengths, ranging from 2.5% solutions to more potent 10% blends.

An interesting thing to note about the ingredient is that it works best when used regularly — daily usage may be more effective than once in a while use when the skin is heavily irritated or broken out.

What are the risks and side effects of benzoyl peroxide?

Though allergies to the medication are rare, some people tend to be more sensitive to the solution than others, and it’s always recommended to test the substance first. Use a tiny amount on a small area of skin and wait a few hours. If there is no irritation, begin using any benzoyl peroxide treatment every other day for the first week or two. Only when the skin has fully adjusted should daily treatment become part of a more effective skincare routine.

Benzoyl peroxide can cause the skin to become red, itchy or flaky, as it increases cell turnover and drys out the complexion as it pulls oils from the skin. The skin tends to adjust to the ingredient after several uses, but if severe itching, redness, burning or swelling occurs, it’s best to consult with a dermatologist or other medical professional.

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