6 Ways To Prevent Irritation From Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is a topical acne treatment used to combat inflammatory acne. Unfortunately, it does have a few side effects such as skin dryness and redness. Even though irritation is common when beginning this acne treatment, it can be prevented with just a few steps.

To prevent irritation from benzoyl peroxide, you need to ensure you have a gentle skincare routine in place to combat dryness and redness. 

Here are 6 ways you can prevent irritation from benzoyl peroxide:

1. Use a cleanser with gentle surfactants.

While you may get excited every time you purchase a new cleanser to try, make sure you’re looking at the actual ingredients in the cleanser.

Is the cleanser made with fragrance? Essential oils? Harsh surfactants?

These are all big no-no’s when it comes to cleansers.

In particular, surfactants are skin cleansing agents that remove proteins on the surface of the skin.

Harsh surfactants include ingredients like sodium laureth sulfate, ammonium lauryl sulfate, and sodium coco sulfate, among others. These strip the skin of its natural oils and can lead to a damaged skin barrier.

Surfactants that you should look for that are much gentler to use on the skin include cocamidopropyl betaine, sodium lauryl sulfoacetate, and sodium cocoyl isethionate.

2. Incorporate a rich moisturizer in your routine to prevent irritation.

This step is incredibly important. You should include a moisturizer that has a list of powerhouse ingredients that will support your skin barrier by preventing dehydration and transepidermal water loss.

Look for humectants like hyaluronic acid. This is an exceptional ingredient that is great in supporting your skin barrier.

It retains water, decreases transepidermal water loss, increases collagen, and slows down the aging process. I wrote a detailed blog post that you can find here on how to effectively use hyaluronic acid to support the skin barrier. 

Moisturizers should also include emollients like shea butter. It softens the skin cells and aids in preventing dry and dehydrated skin.

Squalane is another phenomenal emollient that can be used to soften skin cells. It closely resembles natural sebum in humans and can be a great addition to your moisturizing routine.

For an added tip, avoid emollients like lanolin which can cause contact dermatitis in many patients.

I have compiled a list of ingredients you should look for in a moisturizer that you can find here.

3. Change the order in which you apply benzoyl peroxide. 

Tube of benzoyl peroxide acne gel treatment

Benzoyl Peroxide most often comes in the form of a cream or gel.

The instructions usually direct that you should use benzoyl peroxide 1 – 2 times per day, or as directed by your physician.

Benzoyl Peroxide should be used once per day to avoid serious dryness or until your skin gets used to this ingredient. It should be used at night.

More specifically, in order to reduce the amount of irritation caused by benzoyl peroxide, you should use it after your moisturizer.

The moisturizer will create a small barrier that properly protects the skin and preps it for treatment. It does not decrease the effectiveness of benzoyl peroxide, it only reduces the side effects of benzoyl peroxide.

4. Reduce the number of active ingredients used in your routine. 

Active ingredients include skincare ingredients that affect the cell turnover rate.

This turnover rate refers to the rate at which dead skin cells are shed. An active ingredient usually speeds up the cell turnover process, or sometimes it interferes with this process by making it easier to shed dead skin cells.

Active ingredients include, but are not limited to, glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandelic acid, azelaic acid, salicylic acid, and retinol and their derivatives (such as adapalene and tretinoin).

Each of these active ingredients has a purpose in skincare. They all work to unglue dead skin cells and increase cell turnover. Some of these acids increase hydration and affect collagen levels in the skin.

Salicylic acid and azelaic acid are great for blackheads and pigmentation.

Retinols are star ingredients for combating acne and redness.

However, with these great benefits comes great side effects. These most often include irritation, redness, dryness, and skin flaking.

With the addition of benzoyl peroxide to your routine, you want to lessen the use of these active ingredients to reduce irritation on your skin.

After your skin becomes used to using benzoyl peroxide, you can slowly add these active ingredients back into your routine or try new active ingredients if you haven’t already. 

5. Use benzoyl peroxide less frequently.

The most obvious way to reduce irritation from benzoyl peroxide involves decreasing your frequency of use of this ingredient.

Instead of using it every night, you can use benzoyl peroxide 2 times per week, and slowly work your way up to using it every night, if you feel like that’s what your skin needs.

This slow introduction of benzoyl peroxide will still affect the acne-causing Propionibacterium acnes bacteria, but will reduce irritation in the skin as it makes less frequent contact with the skin.

6. Change the contact time of the benzoyl peroxide.

If you have tried all of the above, and you still find yourself being irritated by benzoyl peroxide, then your best bet is to change the product formulation that you are using.

Instead of using a leave-on treatment like a gel or cream, try using a benzoyl peroxide wash like Panoxyl once per day, at night.

This would allow the benzoyl peroxide to temporarily make contact with the skin, deposit the treatment into the surface of the skin, and then the excess can be washed off which significantly reduces irritation. 

Still have questions? Check out my informative blog post on the Top 11 Questions Asked About Benzoyl Peroxide for more information about this acne-fighting ingredient. 


Kawashima M, Nagare T, Doi M. Clinical efficacy and safety of benzoyl peroxide for acne vulgaris: Comparison between Japanese and Western patients. J Dermatol. 2017 Nov;44(11):1212-1218. doi: 10.1111/1346-8138.13996. Epub 2017 Aug 9. PMID: 28791735; PMCID: PMC5697687.


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