Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Arpita Singh(Beauty Expert)  on 17th Sep 2020

Gel, Cream, Lotion, Mask, Or Liquid Wash - Which Topical Form Of Benzoyl Peroxide Should You Choose? 

Topical Form Of Benzoyl Peroxide

Acne is similar to that nerd cousin of yours who, unfortunately, stays in the same city as you do. You detest its appearance, but it does barge into your life uninvited, and you seem to have no control over it.

Acne brings the same annoyance, and more than anything, tons of discomfort in tow.

Hormonal changes can be the culprit. Or, that could be your genes.

Weather conditions may also play a role by triggering breakouts.

No matter the cause, you don’t want acne to spoil your beauty.

Changes (external or internal) may increase sebum production, causing the dead skin cells to accumulate in the pores. Their build-up clogs the pores and provides an anaerobic medium for the bacteria to multiply. This leads to the sore bumps flaring up on your skin. 

Who is going to save you from acne? 

You can sure ask benzoyl peroxide for help

Benzoyl peroxide is one of the most effective OTC fighting ingredients in the puzzling sphere of acne management. The American Academy of Pediatrics verifies the same.

Benzoyl peroxide is a chemical compound, commonly abbreviated as BPO. Its primary function is to penetrate deep into the pores and initiate an oxygen-rich medium. It kills the C.acne (bacteria associated with acne), as they cannot survive in an aerobic environment. BPO also breaks the keratin bonds and flushes the skin debris and sebum out of the pores.

It mainly cures acne’s inflammatory forms including the pustules, papules, cysts, and nodules, and prevent their future breakouts. It works by making the skin dry, which eventually peels away.

BPO considerably reduces the inflammation of all types of acne. But it may not be the best treatment possible for blackheads and whiteheads. That said, dark spots and acne marks may become less prominent on the regular application of BPO. 

Precautionary Measures

Things to keep in mind before using a BPO product 

1) Check the product package, and ensure whether your products need to be shaken before use. Act accordingly.

2) Do a patch test, and know if you are allergic to the BPO product. Apply a pea-size over one or two acne spots. If no allergic reactions develop, you can get on the ride with BPO.

3) Avoid getting the medication into your eyes or inside the mouth or nose, or any broken skin area. In case it does get into one of these areas, wash it with plenty of (cold) water.

4) BPO is a powerful oxidizing agent and may bleach your hair or fabrics. Please avoid contact with hair, clothing, or other furnishings while using it.

5) Pregnant women and breastfeeding women, a word of caution! Take the BPO product only under the supervision of a medical expert.

6) If you have a sensitive skin type, consider talking to a dermatologist first.

7) Apply sunscreen over the treated areas, and wear protective clothing whenever you step outside.

8) Dr. Rajiv Sekhri, MD, based in Noida, warns against physical exfoliants to treat acne. "Don't scrub. Don't use any physical tools. The pimples may break and spread the infection. It will leave more scars. And further breakouts may erupt," says Dr. Sekhri. "Chemical exfoliation is the best option in such a case."

9) Take into account your skin type and the part of the body where you wish to apply the medication while choosing the right topical BPO for yourself. The concentration of the BPO product is an essential factor. Pay close attention to it.

10) Astringents, cosmetics that induce dryness, such as soaps, exfoliants, hair removal products, etc. should not be used alongside BPO.

Many topical products contain BPO as an active ingredient. Let us take a quick look at each of them. 

1) Body Wash/Face Wash 

It is used as an effective treatment for (mild to moderate) acne occurring on the face or on different parts of the body, including chest, back, shoulders, and buttocks.

It also fights against cystic acne, one of the most critical forms of inflammatory acne.

Your face has got rather sensitive skin, so apply a face wash in a standard concentration range. If you are starting new with the BPO products, get on with a minimum of 2.5%. Over time, as you grow more tolerant, slowly increase the strength (and, if needed), move your way up to 5%.

The body has a tougher skin structure. Still, if you are a fresher with the BPO products, start with a 4% strength. And in time, you can try on the higher concentrations as well. The maximum that you can find in the OTC Benzoyl peroxide body washes is a strong 10%.

The washes penetrate deeper into the skin and remove the clogs formed in the pores. They are used as a good substitute for soaps in the daily skincare routine (they being milder than soaps). They are pH balanced to obtain the maximum results. 

How to use

  • Shake the product well before use.
  • Wet the affected area (face, or any other part of the body).
  • Apply an even layer on the concerned part, and gently massage it.
  • Rinse thoroughly, and pat it dry.
  • Back it up with a moisturizer (an oil-free one). 
  • Use it once daily. If there are no extreme side effects, you can increase the frequency of applications (2-3 times daily). Do consult a dermatologist before proceeding with it.

Minimalist Tip:

Have oily or acne-prone skin? Use the wash in the morning and at night.

Have dry and sensitive skin? Stick to the wash once in the evening, daily. 

2) Facial Cleanser/Face Mask 

Some OTC facial cleansers, available in the market, are medically formulated to work as face masks. They are suitable for dry and sensitive skin types.

But note that a cleanser is different from a wash. It works on the skin's surface, cleaning away the dirt, makeup, residue, and excess oils. Plus, it is more hydrating and gives your skin all the moisture it needs. 

● If you wish to use the product as a cleanser, steps to follow : 

1) Wet your face.

2) Gently rub the cleanser into the affected area for 10 -20 seconds.

3) Apply it in small circles, and cover the entire face.

4) Rinse thoroughly, and pat it dry.

5) It is recommended to use the cleanser at night (before bedtime), daily. Also, if you feel comfortable with BPO, you can apply it more than once during a day. 

Jill Carlen, Spa Director based in Ritz-Carlton, Toronto quotes:

So, if you have acne-prone skin, you can use the cleanser in the morning (maybe, right after you wake up) and at night.

● If you want to apply the product as a face mask, the steps are quite similar to that of a cleanser.

The only exceptions include:

- Don't rub it into your skin. Instead, smoothen an even layer on your face, and allow it to dry for a maximum of 5 minutes. You can go for less, as per your convenience. 

Good to know.

Don't go beyond a period of five minutes. As it can lead to severe irritation, redness, and skin burns

- You may use warm water to rinse off the mask, especially if you have dry skin.

- You can apply these masks two or three times a week. Don't use them more often, and stick to the guidelines mentioned on the product’s packaging. 

3) Gel

How would you differentiate between a gel and a cream? Well, a gel appears transparent and has a lighter structure. Also, it provides better hydration to the skin. Most of the gels are oil-free.

A benzoyl peroxide gel is primarily used in the form of spot treatments (applied directly over the affected area), and come in a wide concentration range, from 2.5% to 10%.

Again, the ones using the BPO gel for the first time, start with the lowest 2.5%. And, if needed, then gradually work your way up to higher concentrations.

Several studies show that a 2.5% BPO active product does the same job as a 10%. Only, it causes less irritation and dryness.

However, consumers greatly vary in their opinions. For some, the maximum strength worked. But for the others, it brought out recurring episodes of grumpy side effects. Some reported that when they applied the 10% BPO gel on the entire face, they suffered from severe redness and puffy eyes.

A good number of acne medications containing a 10% BPO concentration need a definite prescription to be bought. For the face, it is advised to use concentrations that are less than 4%.

BPO gels treat acne, zits, spots, and blemishes on the surface of the skin. Use a pint-sized amount of the gel, and apply it directly over the bump. 

Dr. Farzana Najmuddin, a dermatologist, trichologist, and hair transplant surgeon, quotes:

BPO gel is the most preferred form for treating moderate to severe acne. It is stable in nature. The active ingredient is slowly released into the skin, leading to lesser irritation on the end of the patients.

Quick absorption of gel into the skin makes it an attractive choice. 

● How to use:

  • Gently wash the affected area using a mild cleanser. Then, pat it dry. 
  • Apply a coin-size amount of the gel to all the areas required. Rub in gently.
  • Some products may need rinsing off after leaving it for a brief time, (which can range between 3 to 15 minutes). A few can function as leave-on-treatments.

    Just follow the instructions mentioned on the product’s packaging. Or, you may consult a dermatologist for further suggestions. 
  • You can use it once or twice daily, in your morning and night skincare routines. 
  • Always end your skincare regime by putting on a hydrating (non-oil) moisturizer. 

● Try out the Minimalist's Miracle Duo - Benzoyl Peroxide 2% + Glycolic acid 5%

Key features:

  • The BPO particles used (being 45 times smaller than the traditional BPO ones) can easily penetrate the pores, killing the C. acnes. 
  • Glycolic acid, an efficient chemical exfoliant, clears away the layers of dead skin cells, giving you a radiant and evenly-toned complexion. 

4) Cream/Lotion

A cream usually has a thicker consistency (oil and water present in a 50:50 ratio) and is suitable for excessively dry, cracked skin. Whereas, a lotion (mix of water and droplets of oil) can be used by those with normal to slightly dry skin. 

● How to use

  • Steps to follow are quite similar to that of a gel. 
  • You can either leave the product on for hours or wash it off after applying it for a brief period. It all depends on the guidelines stated by the manufacturer. So, read them carefully. Or, as usual, you can visit a skincare health specialist for further information.
  • Also, the cream/lotion and moisturizer have the same functions. Hence, use your moisturizer wisely and, only, if needed.
  • You can use the product 1-3 times daily as part of your morning and night skincare routines.

Shaving Creams

You can also use these to relieve acne symptoms.

To apply, wet the affected area to be shaved. Put a small amount of product over the site, and gently spread the cream in circular motions. Then, shave. You may seek the advice of a dermatologist before giving it a try. 

5) Cleansing Pad, Cleansing Bar or Soap 

They are used to treat the frequent breakouts occurring on the body (chest, back, and other areas).

They give promising results when applied once or twice a day (once in the morning and once at night.) 

● How to use

  • Wet the affected skin.
  • Work up a lather for about 10-20 seconds, and rinse thoroughly.
  • Do not scrub the skin.
  • You can use the product 1-3 times daily as part of your morning and night skincare routines.

6) Medicated Pad/Sponge

They help in fighting mild to moderate acne. They also alleviate the irritation and burning sensations around the pimples and other forms of acne. These should be used once or twice a day (in the morning and at night).

● How to use

  • Wash the affected skin using a mild cleanser. Then, pat it dry.
  • Wipe the pad onto the skin and apply the medication gently.

Side effects

• Most common side effects include:

  • Dryness, redness, and excessive peeling.
  • Wipe the pad Slight itching or a burning sensation at the site of application.
    onto the skin and apply the medication gently.

These subside soon - mostly in a week or two. If they don't, consult a skincare specialist.

• Uncommon/rare side effects include:

  • Swelling and itching (especially in the face, tongue, or throat), unbearable irritation.
  • Severe dizziness and breathing difficulties.

These might occur due to allergic reactions from the use of BPO. Report to the local health facility immediately.

The Bottom Line

One of the most widely used OTC medications to fight acne, Benzoyl Peroxide, is affordable and readily available.

However, it works on pure science and no magic. That’s why it takes time to produce results. Minimal signs of improvement can be seen at the end of 3-4 weeks of use.

To reap maximum benefits out of your BPO products, you need to stick to it for 8-12 weeks consistently. If you still find no results, see a doctor right away.

You should always follow the recommended dosage. Applying it more often, or in greater quantity, can further exacerbate your acne issues.

Be patient, and use your skincare products regularly.

Above all, eat well and be confident of the skin you're in.