What Is Topical Benzoyl Peroxide?

Amanda Livingstone

Benzoyl peroxide is an antibacterial compound used in many medical and commercial applications. The compound is usually the main ingredient in various acne medications which are available in the form of creams, lotions and cleansers. When used as directed, benzoyl peroxide in topical form will help to reduce acne and associated skin issues.

Topical benzoyl peroxide can be used to treat acne.
Topical benzoyl peroxide can be used to treat acne.

Acne occurs as a result of blocked skin pores from overactive sebaceous glands. In most cases of acne, oil becomes trapped on the hair follicle within the pore, which causes excessive growth of the P.acnes bacteria. The excessive bacteria growth within the blocked pore will result in inflammation which eventually causes whiteheads, pustules and even cysts to form. Topical benzoyl peroxide controls acne by encouraging skin peeling, drying of the skin and reduction of P.acnes. Those with overly oily skin and hyperpigmentation may benefit from the drying, peeling and bleaching effects of benzoyl peroxide.

Topical treatment is applied directly to skin.
Topical treatment is applied directly to skin.

Common topical benzoyl peroxide dosages for acne range from 2.5% to 10% concentration. Generally mild forms of acne respond to concentrations of 2.5%, while 5% to 10% are commonly used for moderate to severe forms of acne. Benzoyl peroxide is sometimes combined with other antibacterial compounds such as clindamycin to form a potent medication for more severe cases of acne.

Continued use of benzoyl peroxide in moderate to high concentrations may cause adverse reactions to develop. Commonly reported side effects of the compound include dryness, irritation and dermatitis. Usually, reducing the application and dosage amounts of topical benzoyl peroxide will lessen the degree of skin discomfort. In addition to trying less frequent application and using a lower strength formula, some find relief by using an oil-free moisturizer on the affected areas.

Care should be taken when handling topical benzoyl peroxide near fabric and clothing. Benzoyl peroxide has a bleaching effect that will cause discolorations to anything it comes into contact with. Soiled fabrics can be preserved if the benzoyl peroxide is immediately rinsed off. Fabric bleaching can be avoided by letting the peroxide compound dry before contact with fabric occurs.

Other precautions should be taken while using benzoyl peroxide, such as applying oil-free sunscreen and not using other acne medications. In some people, benzoyl peroxide may cause photosensitivity, which increases the likelihood of sunburn to the treated areas. When using benzoyl peroxide, people should avoid using other topical acne medications such as salicylic acid and tretinoin. Combining topical medications with benzoyl peroxide can overly irritate and dry-out the skin causing an overproduction of oil.

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