Benzoyl peroxide is a powerful acne medication that can be extremely effective in treating breakouts. However, it can also cause some serious damage to the skin if it’s not used correctly.
While acne treatments should be a staple in your skin care routine if you are suffering from breakouts, they can wreak havoc on your skin if used incorrectly.
Benzoyl peroxide can have harsh side effects on the skin such as redness and dryness. In order to prevent benzoyl peroxide from damaging the skin barrier, you must ensure that you use a good quality moisturizer, apply sparingly, and add it to the correct step in your routine for optimal results.
How Does Benzoyl Peroxide Affect The Skin?
Benzoyl peroxide is an over-the-counter acne treatment that directly targets acne-causing bacteria. This bacteria is known as Cutibacterium acnes. It has an antimicrobial effect. It also unclogs pores to reduce the chance of a breakout.
You can use benzoyl peroxide in the form of a cream, gel, or cleanser.
It’s available in different strengths ranging from two and five percent. Benzoyl peroxide is one of the most common ingredients in acne treatments because it works so well to target acne-causing bacteria.
However, benzoyl peroxide can also be very harsh on the skin. It’s a strong oxidizing agent. This means that it can cause irritation, redness, and dryness. In some cases, it can even lead to skin peeling.
Damage To The Skin Barrier
Benzoyl peroxide can damage the skin barrier if used incorrectly.
The skin barrier is a thin layer of lipids that protects the skin from environmental aggressors like pollution and bacteria.
It is made up of a sturdy structure that contains a network of proteins to keep water in the skin.
By doing this, it maintains hydration levels in the skin which prevent excessive dryness and flaking, which can lead to inflammation and breakouts.
When the skin barrier is damaged, it can lead to inflammation, dryness, and a loss of moisture.
Benzoyl peroxide can also cause photosensitivity. This means that the skin becomes more sensitive to sunlight and is more likely to experience sun damage. It’s important to use sunscreen when using benzoyl peroxide treatments and to avoid prolonged sun exposure.
How To Use Benzoyl Peroxide Correctly
To prevent benzoyl peroxide from damaging your skin, it’s important to use it correctly.
Start With a Low Concentration
First, start with a lower concentration and see how your skin reacts.
If you notice any moderate irritation, redness, or dryness, discontinue use or switch to an even lower concentration.
The concentrations available over-the-counter include 10% (not recommended – very drying), 5%, 4% and 2.5%. I suggest starting with a 4% or 2.5% concentration of benzoyl peroxide and see how your skin reacts.
Use The Treatment Sparingly
If you choose to use benzoyl peroxide in the form of a cream or gel, these are known as “leave-on” treatments.
These can be exceptionally drying if overused. Begin with applying this treatment once per day at nighttime, for two nights per week. This should be done after you have already applied your moisturizer.
It is important to keep in mind that initially, your skin may be a bit red and inflamed as a side effect of benzoyl peroxide use. Ensure to use a small, thin layer of this treatment sparingly.
After 2 weeks, increase your usage to once per day at nighttime, for three nights per week.
You can often see significant changes in the health of your skin after a few weeks of just using the benzoyl peroxide three nights per week.
If your skin tolerates benzoyl peroxide well (This means that there is no irritation, flaking, or redness after a few weeks of use), then you can increase your usage to daily use.
Use Benzoyl Peroxide In a Wash-Off Form
Another way to use benzoyl peroxide efficiently that reduces the chances of moderate side effects involves using a face wash that contains this treatment.
In this way, the benzoyl peroxide will not be left on the skin for more than one to two minutes at a time.
This is more than enough contact time for benzoyl peroxide to effectively kill acne-causing bacteria.
In addition, it reduces the chance of redness and irritation as it is washed off.
You can use a benzoyl peroxide wash once per day at nighttime. Ensure to hold off on using any other acne treatments to avoid excess dryness and irritation.
If you do not want to use a face wash or do not have access to good face washes with benzoyl peroxide, you can use a leave-on treatment in the form of short-contact therapy.
This involves applying a thin layer of benzoyl peroxide on your skin at nighttime on clean skin.
Then, after 10 minutes, you can wash the benzoyl peroxide cream or gel off of the skin and follow with your regular skin care routine.
This will minimize the amount of time the treatment is on your skin. In this way, it reduces the chance of irritation while still giving you the benefits of attacking the acne-causing bacteria.
Use a Good Quality Moisturizer
This is an incredibly important aspect of using benzoyl peroxide properly. You must incorporate a good quality moisturizer in your routine to keep your skin barrier moisturized and hydrated to protect it from the drying effects of benzoyl peroxide. To read about what ingredients should go in your moisturizer, see this post here.