An important step in treating acne is making sure you’re using products with the right formulations that feature effective acne-fighting ingredients. If you’re paying money for these skincare products (whether they’re pricey or drugstore finds), well, they better be working for you.
One product you really want to make sure is doing its part in getting rid of breakouts? Your face wash. You use it every day, so it gets a lot of face time, so to speak. If you’re using something that isn’t doing much, then you’re not doing your skin a favor. And when it comes to acne, there is one ingredient in face washes that is a powerful and effective acne fighter: benzoyl peroxide.
According to Corey Hartman, MD, FAAD, founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology, benzoyl peroxide is an antiseptic that kills bacteria and prevents it from multiplying. “It is mostly used topically to treat and prevent acne, as it is quite effective at killing the p. acnes bacteria found on the skin,” he explains. “Benzoyl peroxide is one of the most effective OTC treatments for acne and is commonly found in face washes. As it reduces acne bacteria found on the skin, there is less opportunity for that bacteria to turn into active acne. It also helps clear out pores and get rid of dead skin cells.”
So how does it get rid of the bacteria exactly? Dermatological nurse and celebrity aesthetician Natalie Aguilar says that benzoyl peroxide, when applied topically, releases oxygen on the skin that helps destroy the acne-causing bacteria. “It has 10 hydrogen molecules, four oxygen molecules, and 14 carbon molecules, and this chemical compound is able to reduce the amount of acne-causing bacteria beneath the surface of the skin and can cause the skin to dry and shed dead skin cells and excess sebum,” she says.
After hearing all of those benefits, it’s pretty obvious that acne-prone and oily skin can benefit from benzoyl peroxide face washes. But if you have the occasional breakout, you can also add it to your routine to keep those p. acnes at a minimum, suggests board-certified dermatologist Joyce Imahiyerobo-Ip, MD, FAAD, owner of Vibrant Dermatology and SkinBar MD.
In particular, the ingredient is best for inflammatory acne. “Benzoyl peroxide is also an anti-inflammatory and helps to unclog pores by promoting exfoliation,” Aguilar says. “Benzoyl peroxide helps with inflammation, making it an ideal treatment for inflammatory acne, which is characterized by raised, red bumps that may or may not contain pus. Although whiteheads and blackheads are still considered forms of acne, they are not inflamed, and using BP may be too harsh of a treatment.”
And while we’re on the topic of its harsh and powerful effects, some skin types should stay away from the ingredient, as it can cause dryness and irritation, even in lower doses. “Those with sensitive skin should steer clear from benzoyl peroxide. It is notoriously irritating,” adds Imahiyerobo-Ip. “Even in those with more resilient skin, it can cause redness and peeling.”
When using a benzoyl peroxide face wash for the first time, make sure to do a patch test to ensure you’re not allergic to the product. Hartman also suggests that newbies start off with a wash that uses 5% benzoyl peroxide or less. “You don’t need more in face wash to be effective. A cream face wash is a great choice, as is a foaming face wash since they will be gentler to the skin,” he explains. “Start off by using it three to four times a week as part of your nighttime skincare routine. If you can tolerate that, you can increase up to daily use. Since benzoyl peroxide is drying, make sure you use a moisturizer as part of your evening routine too.” In addition to moisturizing, Aguilar stresses the importance of keeping up with sunscreen application, as benzoyl peroxide can make your skin more sensitive.
Also, make sure you don’t leave the face wash on for too long to prevent any irritation—follow the directions, Imahiyerobo-Ip advises. If you’re using the product consistently, you’ll also want to avoid using other potentially irritating ingredients and over-exfoliating your skin.
One surprising fact that you might not know about benzoyl peroxide is that it has bleaching qualities. “It has the potential to bleach clothes or fabrics that come in touch with benzoyl peroxide,” Hartman says. “If you use benzoyl peroxide at night, you lessen the risk of it ruining your clothes—just use a white pillowcase to avoid bleaching the color out of your sheets.”
Take a look at some benzoyl peroxide face washes below.
“This is a great cleanser for someone who wants to treat active acne while also preventing future acne from popping up. It doesn’t leave the skin feeling stripped or dry,” Hartman says.
Both Hartman and Imahiyerobo-Ip recommend this one, especially for those with sensitive skin. “The foam is gentle on the skin. It treats acne, and it also adds moisture to the skin with the addition of hyaluronic acid and ceramides,” Hartman adds.
“My favorite benzoyl peroxide facial wash is PCA BPO 5% Cleanser, which contains 5% benzoyl peroxide,” Aguilar says. “It can be used two times a day and contains a blend of botanical extracts that calm and soothe acneic skin. Gluconolactone is a calming, moisturizing ingredient featured in the cleanser that promotes a clear complexion. Ingredients including phytic acid, cucumber extract, grape-seed extract, arnica-flower extract, aloe extract, and wheat-germ extract make this cleanser that much better because it’s full of beautiful calming and healing extracts.”
“I like the duality of this treatment—you can either use it as a daily cleanser with benzoyl peroxide or use it once a week as a clarifying mask for an extra boost,” Hartman says. “The kaolin clay is a nice touch in the mask to help absorb excess oil, which is common for people with acne-prone skin.”
Imahiyerobo-Ip says this cleanser is ideal for body acne since it contains 10% benzoyl peroxide.
This medical-grade formula works to unclog pores, kill acne-causing bacteria, and prevent future breakouts.
Glytone’s cleanser delivers a gradual and controlled release of benzoyl peroxide to reduce any irritation.
With 10% benzoyl peroxide, this face wash works well on normal, oily, and combination skin types. It also contains mineral oil and menthol to hydrate and calm the skin.
Not only does this gel face wash contain 10% benzoyl peroxide, but it also has a blend of medical-grade actives to restore a healthy-looking appearance and aloe vera to soothe the skin.
Amazon brand Solimo’s benzoyl peroxide face cleanser is highly rated with over 8000 ratings and 4.5 out of five stars. One reviewer wrote, “After washing my face three separate times in two days my face was feeling better, looking better, and overall healing. I was finally clearing up until I started slacking on my morning and evening washes. As soon as I started washing my face again regularly I cleared up. Highly recommend it, nice on the wallet and great for acne!”
This acne treatment can be used two times a day to fight existing breakouts and prevent future ones while also controlling oil. It leaves an invisible matte finish and calms any redness.
Imahiyerobo-Ip recommends this treatment for cystic acne and comedonal acne. “This formulation contains lipo hydroxy acid that exfoliates the skin,” she adds.
Not only does this spot treatment prevent any future blemishes from appearing, but it also targets hormonal flare-ups and redness.
Neutrogena’s spot gel can quickly reduce the size and redness of acne thanks to 10% benzoyl peroxide.
This clearing lotion contains 5% benzoyl peroxide and is a little bit gentler than the more concentrated formulas, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t as effective. It’s designed to clear existing breakouts, clear excess oil and dead skin cells, and prevent future breakouts.
PCA Skin’s acne cream contains liquid benzoyl peroxide to kill any inflammation, lactic acid to exfoliate and replenish moisture, and tea tree oil to promote a clear complexion.
Apply this acne treatment in the morning and watch it reduce redness and breakouts quickly. Since it has 2.5% benzoyl peroxide, it’s safe enough to use daily on your full face.