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Benzoyl peroxide for acne


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.

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About benzoyl peroxide

Type of medicine

A rub-on (topical) skin preparation for acne

Used for

Mild or moderate acne

Also called

Combination brands: Duac® (benzoyl peroxide with clindamycin); Epiduo® (benzoyl peroxide with adapalene)

Available as

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 5% benzoyl peroxide gel or liquid wash (Acnecide®) without a prescription at a pharmacy.

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.

Before using benzoyl peroxide

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 pregnant or breastfeeding, although benzoyl peroxide is not known to be harmful in pregnancy.

  • If you are taking any medicines, or using any other skin preparations. This includes any which are available to buy without a prescription, as well as herbal and complementary medicines.

  • If you have ever had an allergic reaction to a skin product.

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How to use benzoyl peroxide

  • 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 products once or twice each day. If you have sensitive skin or you experience excessive skin redness or peeling, just use the product once each day at night time.

  • You should apply benzoyl peroxide to the whole of the area where your spots occur and not just to each spot.

  • Benzoyl peroxide 5% gel 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.

  • Do not use excessive amounts of gel. Applying too much gel will not be any more effective but is likely to cause more side effects.

  • If you are using benzoyl peroxide 5% '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.

Getting the most from your treatment

  • 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.

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Can benzoyl peroxide cause problems?

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 peeling

This can occur when starting treatment, but usually passes after a few days. 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 fewer 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

Important: rarely, benzoyl peroxide may cause blistering of the skin or facial swelling. If this happens, stop using the product and see your doctor or a pharmacist for advice.

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

How to store benzoyl peroxide

  • Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.

  • Store in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light.

Important information about all medicines

Important information about all medicines

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.

Report side effects to a medicine or vaccine

If you experience side effects, you can report them online through the Yellow Card website.

Further reading and references

Article history

The information on this page is written and peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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