Benzoyl peroxide is one of the most widely-used skincare ingredients for the treatment and management of acne. This organic acid can be found in a wide range of topical acne treatments, including acne gels, cleansers, lotions, spot treatments, and more. Benzoyl peroxide is FDA-approved for the treatment of acne and has been a mainstay in acne products since the 1930s. 1,2 This ingredient works by minimizing a type of acne-causing bacteria known as P. acnes. When used as part of a consistent acne routine, benzoyl peroxide can help visibly clear acne and help prevent new acne breakouts from forming. Benzoyl peroxide also helps promote the shedding of dead skin cells that can lead to clogged pores (and acne breakouts).
Important Things to Know About Benzoyl Peroxide in Skincare
What does benzoyl peroxide do?
Benzoyl peroxide is primarily used to treat acne. It can be found in a variety of over-the-counter acne-fighting treatments, such as cleansers, lotions, and spot treatments. Benzoyl peroxide works to reduce both the severity and frequency of acne breakouts. This ingredient is often used in acne cleansers, which are an important first step in any acne skincare regimen.
Who should use benzoyl peroxide?
This skincare ingredient can be helpful for many people with acne-prone skin. However, there are some instances where your dermatologist may not recommend benzoyl peroxide. For instance, it may not be suitable for people with very sensitive skin or existing skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis.
Is benzoyl peroxide safe?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed benzoyl peroxide to be both safe and effective for the treatment of acne.1 However, there are a few considerations to keep in mind when using benzoyl peroxide. This ingredient is only meant for topical application, so it’s important to avoid getting benzoyl peroxide in your eyes, nose, mouth, or areas of broken skin. If this occurs, rinse the area thoroughly with water. Additionally, benzoyl peroxide may bleach hair or fabrics, so it’s best to be careful when applying it around the hairline and when using it around your towels and bedding.
Is benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid better for acne?
Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are two of the most popular active ingredients when it comes to managing acne. Both of these ingredients can be effective for minimizing acne and helping to prevent new acne when used as part of a daily skincare routine. However, because these ingredients work differently, we can’t say that one is “better” than the other. Everyone’s skin is unique and, therefore, the best acne ingredients will vary based on each person’s skin type, age, lifestyle, and personal preferences.
Because benzoyl peroxide helps reduce acne-causing bacteria, it can be especially useful for treating active breakouts. On the other hand, salicylic acid (a beta-hydroxy acid) helps prevent pores from becoming clogged by promoting the skin’s natural exfoliation process. This makes salicylic acid an ideal ingredient for gentle exfoliation. Dermatologists commonly recommend both of these ingredients to help improve acne, so it may be best to try these ingredients for yourself to see what works for your skin.
Is benzoyl peroxide stronger than salicylic acid?
Neither of these acne-fighting ingredients is necessarily “stronger” than the other. Their strength depends on what concentration is used in a specific product. If either benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid is an active ingredient in a skincare formula, you should be able to find the concentration listed on the product’s label.
While we’re on the subject, it’s a common misconception that using “stronger” products with a higher concentration of active ingredients will clear acne more quickly. In reality, over-drying your skin with acne products can cause skin irritation and potentially cause your skin to produce more oil. We recommend looking for benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid products that are gentle, fragrance-free, and formulated with beneficial ingredients that help support a healthy, hydrated skin barrier (such as our three essential ceramides).
Can benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid be used together?
Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are both effective acne treatment options. In general, it’s recommended to use one acne active at a time, unless directed otherwise by your dermatologist. This is because using multiple acne treatments at once may increase the likelihood of dryness or visible signs of skin irritation (such as redness, itching, peeling, or flaking).
If your acne is particularly stubborn or severe, your dermatologist may recommend combining multiple ingredients (such as benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and retinol) in a strategic way. Your dermatologist can also offer advice on how to address other acne-related concerns, such as using a retinol serum to help minimize the appearance of post-acne marks.
Is it okay to use benzoyl peroxide products every day?
Some—but not all—benzoyl peroxide products are formulated for daily use. How often you should apply this ingredient depends on the specific product you’re using and your skin’s needs. Always read the instructions carefully and apply as directed on the label.
When using benzoyl peroxide for the first time, a product with a low concentration is generally recommended. Lower concentrations are typically well-tolerated and pose less risk of irritation without compromising effectiveness. Higher concentrations of benzoyl peroxide are sometimes recommended for treating acne on the body, where skin is thicker (and therefore may be less sensitive). If redness or irritation occurs, you can also try applying the product less often and working your way up to the recommended usage (such as once every other day).
Do dermatologists recommend benzoyl peroxide?
Dermatologists regularly recommend benzoyl peroxide as a treatment option for acne. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) includes benzoyl peroxide among its list of effective acne treatments for moderate to severe acne.3 The type of benzoyl peroxide product your dermatologist recommends will depend on the severity of your acne and the type of acne you have. For some people, prescription benzoyl peroxide may be required for acne that is persistent or severe. Your dermatologist can assess your acne and recommend the best benzoyl peroxide products and treatment plan for your skin’s unique needs.
When using benzoyl peroxide for acne, dermatologists may recommend using a moisturizer or other skincare products formulated with beneficial ingredients. This might include ingredients such as ceramides, along with niacinamide for soothing benefits. The key for clear skin is using a gentle yet effective anti-acne treatment and an appropriate skincare regimen—and using them consistently.
What’s the highest concentration of benzoyl peroxide available without a prescription?
Over-the-counter products with benzoyl peroxide are available in concentrations up to 10%. Many acne body washes, for example, feature 10% benzoyl peroxide to help treat acne on the body. For concentrations above 10%, a dermatologist will need to assess your skin and provide prescription options, if needed, to complement their personalized acne treatment plan.
Which CeraVe products are formulated with benzoyl peroxide?
You can find benzoyl peroxide in two of our acne cleansers: CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser (4%) and CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Wash (10%). Our Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser with 4% benzoyl peroxide offers a gentle, cream-based cleanser option that leaves your skin feeling soft and comfortable, without dryness or flaking. CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Wash also offers a gentle yet effective option, but with the maximum OTC strength (10% benzoyl peroxide). This face and body wash with 10% benzoyl peroxide and three essential ceramides is formulated to help clear acne blemishes without disrupting the skin’s protective barrier. With two different acne cleanser options, you can find the ideal benzoyl peroxide product for your skin’s needs.
Should I use an acne cleanser with 4% or 10% benzoyl peroxide?
Both CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser (4%) and CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Wash (10%) are helpful options for getting acne breakouts under control. These cleansers are developed with dermatologists to cleanse your skin, minimize acne, and allow your skin to heal—without disrupting the skin barrier. When deciding between our 4% and 10% benzoyl peroxide acne cleansers, the right concentration is often a matter of personal preference.
If you’re just trying benzoyl peroxide for the first time, you might want to begin with our Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser with 4% benzoyl peroxide. On the other hand, our Acne Foaming Cream Wash with 10% benzoyl peroxide offers the maximum OTC strength, which can make it helpful for anyone with ongoing breakouts on the face or body. When in doubt, a board-certified dermatologist can help guide you in finding the right concentration of benzoyl peroxide for your acne routine.
Is sun protection necessary when using benzoyl peroxide?
Daily sunscreen use is an essential part of every skincare regimen. In addition to applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen every day, 365 days a year, it’s important to reapply it at least every two hours while you're spending extended periods of time in the sun. It’s also essential to practice additional sun protective measures, such as wearing protective clothing (like hats and sunglasses) and seeking shade during peak hours.
When using benzoyl peroxide for acne, it’s best to be especially careful about sun protection. According to the Mayo Clinic, benzoyl peroxide may increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, meaning your skin may burn more easily.4 Always remember to apply sunscreen after using any benzoyl peroxide acne treatments, at least 15 minutes before going outside. If irritation or sensitivity develops, it’s best to stop use and consult a doctor or board-certified dermatologist.
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- Matin T, Goodman MB. “Benzoyl Peroxide.” [Updated 2022 Oct 10]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-.
- Decker A, Graber EM. “Over-the-counter Acne Treatments: A Review.” J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2012 May;5(5):32-40. PMID: 22808307; PMCID: PMC3366450.
- “Acne: Diagnosis and Treatment.” American Academy of Dermatology Association, 2023.
- “Benzoyl Peroxide (Topical Route).” Mayo Clinic, 7 Feb. 2023.
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