Benzoyl Peroxide – The Secret Answer to Your Acne Woes

When it comes to tackling those pimples, there are few ingredients that dermatologists recommend quite often. One among them is Benzoyl Peroxide. So let's get to know more about this clear skin ingredient in detail below.

What is Benzoyl Peroxide and How Does it Work?

Benzoyl Peroxide is a popular ingredient for fighting acne. It is available in over-the-counter (OTC) gels, toners, and cleansers and comes in various concentrations (usually 2.5, 5 and 10 percent) for treating mild to moderate breakouts. Synthesized in the lab, benzoyl peroxide has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and oxidizing characteristics.

The most significant plus factor of benzoyl peroxide is that it is antibacterial and can help in combating the p.acnes bacteria that are responsible for causing acne. The p.acnes bacteria lie deep within the pores and thrive on cell debris, oil and dead skin tissues causing acne and breakouts.

Benzoyl peroxide penetrates deep into the skin and treats acne from the root. Benzoyl peroxide accomplishes this job by delivering oxygen supply to the pores and thereby creating an environment where the bacteria find it very difficult to survive. Benzoyl peroxide is a combination of two oxygen atoms that create free radicals.

These free radicals eliminate the p.acnes bacteria by destroying the cell walls. In other words, when topically applied, benzoyl peroxide dissolves to release oxygen, thereby killing bacteria.[1]

Besides the antibacterial effect, benzoyl peroxide also has anti-inflammatory properties and can help in treating blemishes, especially the redness and soreness that accompanies such blemishes.

Hence, those suffering from huge inflamed pimples will find benzoyl peroxide to be the best bet. The best part is that benzoyl peroxide performs its job without causing bacterial resistance. Certain sources also claim that benzoyl peroxide can reduce any bacterial resistance resulting from antibiotic therapy, however, there is no proof of the same.

Benzoyl Peroxide is not a novel drug. It’s first known use was in the 20th century where two researchers used this solution in their research on potatoes and in that process found out that benzoyl peroxide may also be beneficial in treating burns and specific forms of leg ulcers.

It's first known use in acne treatment was somewhere in the 1920s when a scientist working at Revlon Corporation used benzoyl peroxide for acne treatment. Since then, the range of applications of benzoyl peroxide has expanded widely, and it is now used in the treatment of various other conditions apart from acne, like athlete's foot and seborrheic dermatitis.[2], [3]

Benefits of Benzoyl Peroxide [4]

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Photographer: Scott Webb | Source: Unsplash

Helps with Inflammatory Acne:

Acne can be of two types viz. non-inflammatory acne and inflammatory acne. Most of the people have non-inflammatory acne wherein the pores are blocked with oil and may result in bacteria to build up. Non-inflammatory acne may result in blackheads or whiteheads.

Inflammatory acne, on the other hand, is one in which the clogged pores get infected with the bacteria and as a result get transformed into pustules (pimples consisting of pus), papules (pimples sans pus), or cysts (these are inflammatory nodules).

Benzoyl Peroxide is excellent for the inflammatory type of acne that is characterized by red bumps, pustules, papules, and cyst.

Benzoyl Peroxide For Cystic Acne: [5]

Cystic acne is a form of inflammatory acne where the infection goes deep inside the skin, leading to huge red bumps and painful breakouts. When a cyst breaks the infection can spread, leading to more breakouts.

Cystic acne may last for many years and can affect large areas of the skin. While the exact cause of cystic acne is not known, it is believed that certain hormones namely androgens play a role. During teenage, there is a rise in the levels of androgens leading to changes in the skin. These changes result in clogging of the pores leading to acne.

This explains the reason as to why many adolescents suffer from cystic acne. In addition to hormones, additional factors like certain types of medications and skin products, humid weather conditions, etc. can also result in cystic acne. It is also more common among men than women. Such type of acne can affect the face, upper arms, shoulders, back, and chest as well.

Another essential thing to be noted is that cystic acne can often lead to permanent marks on the skin, small deep holes or broader holes.

Benzoyl Peroxide is a good option for cystic acne. It minimizes the levels of bacteria that cause acne, reduces inflammation and can even help in re-opening the blocked pores. It is advisable, however, to start with a low concentration of Benzoyl peroxide to minimize dryness of the skin.

Helps with Acne Scars: [6]

Benzoyl peroxide also helps to treat severe lesions like acne scars. The best way to prevent acne scars is to treat the acne lesions as soon as they begin appearing. Using over-the-counter treatments containing benzoyl peroxide is a great way to accomplish this job.

Benzoyl peroxide washes that are available OTC at a strength of four percent or above help to decrease bacterial growth effectively and treat acne scars. Theoretically, benzoyl peroxide can also shed the dead skin cells and thereby make the acne scars less prominent. However, there is insufficient research to prove the same.

How To Use Benzoyl Peroxide?

Benzoyl peroxide can be found in many acne treatment products (creams, lotions, face washes, foams, body washes, soap, gels, etc.) and hence one must choose the right one that suits his/her needs. For instance, if one targets the face, then it is appropriate to use a wash explicitly formulated for the face rather than the entire body. One can even go in for a gel-based formulation.

Another most important aspect is choosing the right concentration. This depends on each individual’s skin type and how much concentration a person’s skin can tolerate. While certain individuals can tolerate a concentration as high as 10%, others may be comfortable with much lower concentrations. Many gels based formulations tend to come with higher concentrations in the form of spot-treatments and hence are applied only to the affected area of the skin.

The third aspect is: In which area does one apply the formulation? Certain areas like the face are quite sensitive where it is better to use lower concentrations, while areas like the upper trunk of the body are more resilient, meaning it can tolerate higher concentrations.

The last and most crucial aspect to be noted is that benzoyl peroxide has bleaching properties. (You can find benzoyl peroxide in certain hair bleaching and teeth whitening agents as well!!)[7] Hence, it can bleach fabrics like garments, towels, etc. when it comes into contact with them. It can also stain the hair. Thus, one has to exercise precaution when applying the same. For instance, it is better to avoid benzoyl peroxide before a workout as the sweat may transfer the particles onto the hair.

Benzoyl peroxide may also be unsuitable for certain sensitive skin conditions and sunburnt skin. Hence, it is advisable to talk to a dermatologist before using benzoyl peroxide for acne.


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