Benzoyl peroxide for acne (Acnecide, Brevoxyl, PanOxyl)

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Apply the preparation once or twice each day. Use it on all of the area where your spots occur - not just on each spot.

Skin redness or peeling will probably occur during the first few days of treatment. This should soon pass.

Try not to get any of the preparation on your hair or clothing, as it can cause bleaching.

Type of medicineA rub-on (topical) skin preparation for acne
Used forMild or moderate acne
Also calledAcnecide®; Brevoxyl®; PanOxyl®
Available asCream, gel, and liquid wash

Acne is the common cause of spots. Most people with acne are aged between 12 and 25, but some older and younger people are affected too. Small sebaceous glands lie just under your skin surface and make an oil (sebum) that keeps your skin supple and smooth. Tiny pores on your skin allow the sebum to come on to the surface of your skin. In acne, some of these pores become blocked, causing small pimples, blackheads and whiteheads.

Benzoyl peroxide has three actions - it kills germs (bacteria), it reduces inflammation and it helps to unplug blocked pores. You can buy benzoyl peroxide without a prescription at a pharmacy. It comes in different brand names and strengths - there is a 2.5%, 4%, 5% and 10% strength.

Benzoyl peroxide is also available in combination preparations used for acne. It can be combined with an antibiotic called clindamycin (brand name Duac® Once Daily), or with another medicine used for acne, called adapalene (brand name Epiduo®). Both of these preparations need to be prescribed by a doctor, and should be used as directed by the doctor.

To make sure that this is the right treatment for you, before you start using benzoyl peroxide it is important that your doctor or pharmacist knows:

  • If you are taking any medicines, or using any other skin preparations. This includes any which are available to buy without a prescription, such as herbal and complementary medicines.
  • If you have ever had an allergic reaction to a skin product.
  • Before you start the treatment, read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from inside the pack. It will give you more information about benzoyl peroxide and will provide you with a full list of the side-effects which you could experience from using it.
  • It is recommended that you use benzoyl peroxide once or twice each day. When you first start using it, you will be recommended to use a 4% or 5% strength preparation. This will help keep any skin irritation to a minimum. If you find it does irritate then try the 2.5% strength once the irritation has settled. These strength preparations often work as well as the higher 10% strength preparations and cause less skin irritation. If necessary, you can increase the strength of the preparation as you go on, but do this gradually. A general point is that you should apply benzoyl peroxide to all of the area where your spots occur and not just to each spot.
  • Creams and gels should be applied about 15 minutes or so after washing the area with soap and water and gently drying with a towel. At first you may want to wash the preparation off after a few hours, but gradually try to increase the length of time you leave it on the skin. When your skin is used to the preparation, aim to put it on twice a day and leave it on.
  • If you are using a 'wash', wet your skin and then pour some of the liquid wash on to your hands and use it to wash the affected areas. Leave it on for a minute or so before you rinse it off. Then dry the area gently with a towel.
  • As you apply benzoyl peroxide, try to avoid getting it on the sensitive areas of your skin in or around your nostrils, your eyes and your mouth. Do not apply it to any areas of skin which are irritated or sore.
  • It is recommended that you use a mild soap and lukewarm water to wash with. You cannot clean off blackheads. The black tip of a blackhead is actually a skin pigment and cannot be removed by cleaning or scrubbing.
  • If your skin becomes very dry, it may help to use a moisturising cream (preferably a fragrance-free and water-based cream). Do not use ointments or oil-rich creams, as these could clog your pores again.
  • Try not to get any benzoyl peroxide on your hair or clothing, as it can cause bleaching.
  • Benzoyl peroxide can cause some people's skin to become more sensitive to sunlight than normal. Avoid strong sunlight, or use a sun cream with a high sun protection factor until you know how your skin reacts. Do not use sunbeds.
  • Continue with the treatment for at least six weeks before deciding if it is working for you or not. The most common reason for treatment failure is giving up too soon, thinking that the treatment is not working. If, however, your skin has not improved after two months then make an appointment to speak with your doctor who will advise you about other suitable preparations to try.
  • Once your spots have cleared, acne commonly flares up again if you stop treatment altogether, so it is common to carry on with a maintenance treatment. You may find that one application every other day with a low-strength preparation is sufficient for this.

Along with their useful effects, most medicines can cause unwanted side-effects although not everyone experiences them. The table below contains some of the most common ones associated with preparations containing benzoyl peroxide. You will find a full list in the manufacturer's information leaflet supplied with your medicine. The unwanted effects often improve as your body adjusts to the new medicine, but speak with your doctor or pharmacist if any of the following continue or become troublesome.

Very common benzoyl peroxide side-effects (these affect more than 1 in 10 people)
What can I do if I experience this?
Redness, skin peelingThis can occur when starting treatment, but usually passes after a day or so. Until your skin recovers, reduce the frequency of application or the time you leave the preparation on your skin 
Common benzoyl peroxide side-effects (these affect less than 1 in 10 people)What can I do if I experience this?
Dry skin, itching and irritation (burning or stinging)If troublesome, reduce the number of times you
use the preparation, or stop using it altogether for a few days. When your skin has recovered, start using it again, but less frequently

If you experience any other symptoms which you think may be due to the preparation, speak with your doctor or pharmacist for further advice.

  • Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.
  • Store in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light.

If you buy any medicines, always check with a pharmacist that they are safe to use with your other medicines.

This preparation is for use on the skin only. If you suspect that someone has swallowed some of it by accident, contact the accident and emergency department of your local hospital for advice.

If you are having an operation or dental treatment, tell the person carrying out the treatment which medicines you are using.

This medicine is for you. Never give it to other people even if their condition appears to be the same as yours.

Do not keep out-of-date or unwanted medicines. Take them to your local pharmacy which will dispose of them for you.

If you have any questions about this medicine ask your pharmacist.

Further reading & references

  • British National Formulary; 69th Edition (Mar 2015) British Medical Association and Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, London

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Original Author:
Helen Allen
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Hannah Gronow
Document ID:
3390 (v24)
Last Checked:
Next Review:
The Information Standard - certified member

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