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Benzoyl Peroxide

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Updated May 16, 2014

Watch the video: How Benzoyl Peroxide Treats Acne

Benzoyl peroxide is one of the most frequently used acne treatment medications. It is the active ingredient in countless over-the-counter products, such as Clearasil and ProActiv, and is found in many prescription acne medications as well. One of the first proven treatments for acne, it has been used for decades and is still one of the most popular and successful treatments for acne.

Benzoyl peroxide is generally an inexpensive treatment, and the generic products work just like the name brands do. Benzoyl peroxide is often the first treatment choice for those suffering from mild to moderate acne.

How It Works

Propionibacteria acnes, or P. acnes, are the bacteria responsible for acne breakouts. They cannot live in an aerobic (oxygen-rich) environment. Benzoyl peroxide works by introducing oxygen into the pore, thereby killing P. acnes. When the bacteria population is reduced, the number of breakouts on the skin is reduced as well.

Another factor that makes this treatment so effective is its ability to help rid the follicle of excess dead skin cells. Clearing the pore of cellular debris will lessen the chance of pore blockages, or comedones. So, benzoyl peroxide helps prevent breakouts before they start.

Even after acne clears up, you'll probably still have to use your treatments. If you don't, those pesky bacteria can increase and make acne come back. So, think of benzoyl peroxide as a long-term treatment. (This isn't unique to benzoyl peroxide. The vast majority of acne treatments are used long-term, with the exception of isotretinoin (Accutane).)

Common Usage Directions

Benzoyl peroxide makes an effective treatment for mild to moderate acne. Start with a lotion or gel in a 2.5% strength. Higher percentages are available but may irritate the skin. Start with a lower strength to allow your skin to become acclimated to the treatment. Move up to a higher strength if results are not seen after several weeks.

Most common treatment methods call for a thin layer of benzoyl peroxide lotion to be applied over a thoroughly cleansed and dried skin. It can be used once or twice daily. Apply thoroughly over all areas affected by acne. Do not use just as a spot treatment. Benzoyl peroxide must be applied to all affected areas of the skin, as it works to stop pimples before they erupt.

Benzoyl peroxide may bleach hair, towels, and clothing. Take great care during and after application to avoid letting it come in contact with any of these materials. You may want to wear an old shirt if the medication is applied to the back or body. Let the lotion dry thoroughly after your nightly skin care treatments before getting into bed at night, to avoid bleaching your pillowcase.

Possible Side Effects

The most common side effects are dryness and flaking. They are generally mild and can be reduced by using an oil-free moisturizing lotion daily. Other side effects include excessive dryness and flaking, redness, and burning.

You can reduce the chances of experiencing side effects by following all directions on the product package, or those given to you by your dermatologist. If unwanted side effects occur, you may want to scale back use to every other day, or use a treatment in a lower strength.

Rarely, severe redness and peeling, extreme burning, itching, swelling and/or rash occur. Should this happen, discontinue use at once and contact your dermatologist.

Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Treating Acne with Benzoyl Peroxide

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