Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist - Written by Arpita Singh (Beauty Expert) on 18th Sep 2020
No BS Guide to Benzoyl Peroxide
Is acne a matter of big concern for you?
If yes, you would be well know how hard it is to manage life and acne at the same time. To many, (particularly, the ones who have never encountered acne in their real lives), it is something close to having a bunch of pimples on the face.
But you know, sometimes acne is way more than that. Much more!
Yes, it may not be a life-threatening condition. However, acne can potentially damage your skin, interrupt with its structure and functioning. To bear the condition, you may have to struggle for days (sometimes, even months).
To top it, the acne appearing on your face can affect your self-esteem. In some instances, your confidence can stoop low, and you may even think twice before stepping out.
The physical discomfort you face along with the mental pangs can make acne one of your worst enemies. Just to relax you here, 85% of people suffer mild to moderate acne during adolescence (You are not alone!). The good news is most of them overcome it with age, and only a few develop a long term persistent acne or severe acne.
But to come out safely with no scars, you need to take care of your skin during your breakout phase. Also, you can prevent future breakouts to a great extent by religiously following a healthy skincare routine.
Building a skincare routine for acne-prone skin can sometimes be overwhelming. But based on studies and research, the one ingredient that tops the list is Benzoyl Peroxide.
Benzoyl peroxide is available in many forms, from OTC to prescription benzoyl peroxide with antibiotics. It is crucial to choose the right formulation based on your acne type and severity. (Wondering how can you?)
You do not have to worry as we have pulled out a 101 guide on benzoyl peroxide to make your life easy!
What is benzoyl peroxide?
Benzoyl Peroxide is a chemical compound; each molecule contains two benzoyl groups connected by a peroxide bridge. It is a strong oxidizing agent and forms an essential industrial chemical. It is commonly abbreviated as BPO.
BPO is a clinically proven ingredient, widely used as an effective treatment for acne, and prevents it from further entering the terrain of your skin.
Benzoyl peroxide (BPO) is keratolytic and causes a free radical reaction to break the keratin, unblocking the drainage of sebum to the outside.
It acts as an exfoliant, helping the pores to flush out the excess skin debris and oils. (However, more research is required to give a definite theory behind the exfoliating action of BPO).
Why Benzoyl Peroxide is No 1 Choice for Acne Treatment?
BPO is not new in the acne world and is used for ages. It is one of the most researched ingredients with tons of clinical trials proving its safety and efficacy in treating acne in humans. (Wondering how it works?)
It literally suffocates C. Acnes (the primary acne-causing bacteria) to death with excess oxygen. (It is ironic that how these bacteria cannot survive in an oxygen-rich environment)
Benzoyl peroxide is a potent oxidizing agent that releases oxygen when it comes into contact with skin, killing C. Acnes. BPO depending upon its molecular size acts on the surface or from inside pores.
The average size of a human pore is 50 micron, and the traditional BPO particles are larger than the pores themselves. These act on the surface and reduce inflammation by reducing the growth of acne-causing bacteria.
Traditional BPO sits on the surface, so it may cause irritation and may not be effective in clearing up pores and killing C.acnes sitting deep inside pores to prevent future breakouts.
But, the Curoxyl BPO particles (next-generation BPO molecules) are less than 10 microns, and therefore, are easily able to penetrate to the deep ends of the pores.
The results of a particle size analysis show that the Curoxyl BPO particles are approximately 45x smaller than the traditionally milled BPO particles.
The micronized nature of the Curoxyl BPO particles is the principal factor behind their quick absorption into the pores. The Curoxyl particles pull the peroxide compound deeper into the pores and create an aerobic environment inside, killing the C. Acne (those playing hide & seek in your pores!).
It is also lyophilic, thus dissolves the dead skin cells and flushes out debris from pores, ensuring acne-free skin in the future.
Benefits of Benzoyl Peroxide
- Ease out inflammation
- Reduces all inflammatory acne such as pustules, papules, cysts, and nodules
- Prevents future breakout
- Unclog pores and smoothen skin texture
- Prevents acne scars and dark spots
Some skincare experts opine that Benzoyl Peroxide (BPO) can shed dead skin cells and make the dark spots or acne scars seem less prominent (Yet, it requires more amount of research to prove the above claims.
BPO can play an active role in sweeping out the dead skin cells and excess oils from the pores. However, this may not be the best treatment available for the blackheads and whiteheads.
Minimalist Expert’s Advice
Do not try to cure whiteheads and blackheads with only benzoyl peroxide as that will simply not work. It is not potent enough to unclog pores entirely, and you need an exfoliator such as Glycolic acid or Salicylic acid for the same.
Minimalist Benzoyl peroxide formulation combines 5% Glycolic acid to do this job, and thus Minimalist 2% Benzoyl Peroxide and 5% Glycolic acid serum is suitable for all both inflammatory acne and non-inflammatory acne (Whiteheads and blackheads)
We have mentioned 2-3 ingredients, and you might be feeling lost, so here is a quick summary for you.
2% Benzoyl peroxide can be effective in reducing the mild to moderate inflammatory acne. To prevent future breakouts, look for BPO particles with small molecule size that can penetrate deep into pores.
For inflammatory acne only and a combination of inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne, look for BPO formulations with Salicylic Acid or Glycolic acid. Alternatively, you can use them separately as well in your routine.
For only non-inflammatory acne, 2% salicylic acid face serum works best, but it can be drying for people with extremely dry skin. They can alternatively look for Glycolic acid less potent than salicylic acid for this purpose but hydrates skin and gently removes dead cells without drying.
Benefits of Minimalist Benzoyl Peroxide Serum over others
Yes! Studies suggest that it is harmless to use vitamin C and Hyaluronic acid without adverse effects on the skin. Both Minimalist 20% Vitamin C and 2% Hyaluronic Acid are formulated at pH between 4.5 to 5.5, thus are best suited for using together without canceling each other's effect.
Both of these ingredients can either be used separately, one after the other, or combined in a single formulation containing both of these ingredients at suitable concentrations.
However, there are fewer formulations that add sufficient concentrations of both.
How to use benzoyl peroxide?
Now, when this acne eraser has found a place on your shelf, it is essential to know how to use it properly to reap maximum benefits.
It is recommended that you use BPO once a day (preferably PM as at night, your skin is more relaxed and not loaded with heavy makeup). After cleaning and hydrating, apply 2-3 drops of Benzoyl Peroxide serum gently without irritating your acne. Allow 1-2 minutes for absorption before following up with other serums or your moisturizer.
For maximum benefit, follow a skincare routine. We have built one for you - Minimalist’s skincare routine for oily acne-prone skin.
You can also use BPO serum for treating acne on your back or other parts of the body. The face is more sensitive than the body so that you can go for higher concentrations for your body.
It is vital to wear sunscreen whenever you step out. BPO doesn't cause sun sensitivity, but exposure to the strong sun rays can worsen your acne or acne scars.
Minimalist BPO serum also contains a chemical exfoliator (Glycolic acid), so you must apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen while using it.
BFFs of Benzoyl Peroxide
Topical retinoid and BPO beat up antibiotics as the first line of therapy for most patients with inflammatory acne. However, using them at once can be too drying for some. Use one in the morning (BPO, no stronger than 2%), and the other at night (lower concentration 2% retinoid), or when used together, do not skip your hydration and moisturizer.
Salicylic acid and BPO together can help you fight both inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne. However, applying both the products on the same area of skin can be drying for some with dry skin.
For dry skin, it is best to use Salicylic acid for overall acne treatment, and BPO specifically for the spots and infected area. Make sure you use one in the morning and the other at night.
Glycolic acid and BPO can also help you fight both types of acne without drying your skin. Although this combo is less potent than above, it does not cause any dryness so best suited for all skin types
Does not go along
Skin products cause dryness (or flaking), such as cosmetics, soaps, or harsh cleansers. Use a mild SLS free cleanser while using BPO serum.
Skin products containing a large amount of alcohol, such as astringents, shaving creams, or after-shave lotions.
Hair products that induce irritation, such as permanents, or hair removal products.
Any other strong topical acne medicine containing a peeling active ingredient.
If your doctor advises you to take the above products in combination with BPO, you can. (As he/she would take care of the side effects and other health concerns.)
Side Effects of Benzoyl Peroxide Serum
OTC Benzoyl Peroxide, with a 2% concentration, is considered safe to use topically for all skin types. However, it may cause slight dryness or redness in some rare cases.
If you are using BPO for the first time, do a short patch test to confirm that you are not allergic to it. To check, put a dime-sized amount on one or two affected areas for three days. If things work fine, you are all set to proceed with the treatment. If you develop an allergic reaction, quit using the product, and get medical help right away.
If you have hypersensitive skin, you should seek absolute guidance from a dermatologist before using any product containing BPO as an active ingredient as your skin type is more prone to the side effects, such as irritation and rashes.
If you have a sunburn or any skin complication such as eczema, BPO might not be the right choice.
Purging, or Breakouts Associated With BPO
Purging is a non-medical term, generally used to describe the breakouts that occur after starting a new skincare treatment, or a product containing active ingredients.
Benzoyl Peroxide is an exfoliant and can trigger an initial breakout or purge as it increases cell turnover. This means BPO helps you shed dead skin cells more effectively in the long run so that they don't build up and clog the pores. In the shorter term, this accelerated shedding (or exfoliation) of dead skin cells may trigger more breakouts.
The spots that may have broken out anyway on your skin just erupt prematurely in the process of skin purging. It usually lasts for the first 2-3 weeks or less.
How long does it take benzoyl peroxide to clear acne?
Or, how long would you have to wait for the results to show?
You need to be patient during the course of your treatment. BPO is an effective medicine, still not a magical potion out of some fairytale. So, it takes a considerable amount of time to show its full effects.
The minimal effects (or, the first signs of improvement) may be seen at the end of 3- 4 weeks of use. Maximum benefits can take 8 - 12 weeks to appear (only if you have consistently followed your skincare routine regularly).
If you don't find any positive effects on your skin (at the end of 12 weeks), move up to a higher concentration BPO. Or, the best option is to consult a dermatologist, who will guide you accordingly with a full-length prescription.
You should not pour on a greater quantity of BPO, or use it more than the given directions. Doing so doesn't guarantee a faster recovery. On the other hand, it may increase your chances of getting more side effects.
We understand that acne can be irksome. But stick to your routine for the sake of your good.
Who should use benzoyl peroxide?
Acne is common among teenagers, though it affects people of all ages. Typically, it has been observed that people lying in the age group 11 to 30 years experience acne outbreaks at some point.
Most adults and children over 12 years of age can use benzoyl peroxide. It is available for unisex consumption. For children below 12 years of age, use and dosage can only be determined by a dermatologist.
BPO should be used by a pregnant woman only if needed, (and that too, under medical supervision).
Caution should be exercised when BPO is administered to a nursing woman. A word of advice from a medical professional is compulsory.
Benzoyl Peroxide in Other Forms
Benzoyl peroxide (BPO) comes in the form of many acne treatment products. Some are available as OTC medications, while some (certain creams, foams, and lotions) need a prescription.
You must select the right one, keeping your skincare concern and preference in mind. To know more, read our detailed article on different forms of Benzoyl Peroxide.
Here is a quick summary
- Benzoyl Peroxide Cream or Lotion - Less potent than serum as absorption is less but suitable for people with dry skin as it hydrates skin. (Alternatively, they can add hydration step along with serum for max benefits)
- Benzoyl Peroxide in Soap - To target acne in other parts of the body. Not suitable for face due to higher pH. Also, it is unlikely to be very effective due to the short contact period with the skin.
- Benzoyl Peroxide Cleanser or Face Wash - Good for face, especially for people with hypersensitive skin who cannot bear BPO serum. However, it will be much less effective than serum due to minimal contact time with skin.
- Benzoyl Peroxide based shaving cream - It is for men with sensitive skin. It can help reduce and prevent acne associated with shaving. It lifts hair follicles for a close and safe shave.
There is no doubt about the efficacy of a Benzoyl Peroxide serum in treating acne if it is formulated right.
Follow a healthy skincare routine patiently for 3-4 months and let these ingredients do their job. They might be slow, but the results are proven.
Do not prick your acne or use physical exfoliation, such as scrubs, to worsen the situation. It is also wise to stay away from makeup for a while (let your skin breathe the fresh air!)
Forget not to apply your face shield (Sunscreen) while stepping out.