Saturday, October 3, 2015

Benzoyl Peroxide: Use it or lose it?

In one of the many skin care books in my library, the author states he is “appalled to see so-called beauty experts claiming that salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide don’t work against acne.” I may be one of the “so-called beauty experts” this author is speaking of. It’s not that I think benzoyl peroxide (BP) doesn’t work, but I do think it is less beneficial compared to the other types of treatments and products that I support. I’m sure BP does work against acne and for clearing up skin in some cases. But how it does this is what I am opposed to.

In over three decades of working on peoples’ skin I have found alternate ways to improve problem skin that aren’t irritating or caustic. Those alternate ways are what I believe are the most beneficial in the long run for my clients and anyone interested in clearing up problem skin. My way is about a whole body approach, not simply putting a drying product or an antibiotic treatment on a blemish to help dry it up.

My point in sharing what I know is to inform you of alternatives to the prevalent (and in my opinion many times ineffective) treatments readily available for problem and acne skin. Your own personal experience is going to be the proof in the pudding. Try benzoyl peroxide and see if you like its effect. If not, you will find alternative treatments for problem skin throughout this blog, along with my two books: Timeless Skin and Skin Care A to Z.

Benzoyl peroxide products are relatively inexpensive, and they are very easy to find. Sold over the counter (OTC), they usually come in three strengths: 2.5%, 5%, and 10%. Although the lower 2.5% strength is available, from the OTC products I researched, most have the higher percentages of benzoyl peroxide in them. It is also available by prescription, but you can bet that in prescription form the benzoyl peroxide is strong enough to blast a pimple out of the water—so watch out! Because benzoyl peroxide is also a known irritant, I don’t recommend using it in these higher strengths. If you’re going to use BP, go for the lower 2.5% versions.

What is benzoyl peroxide and what does it do? Other than being a bleaching agent for certain foods, it is defined as a drying agent in cosmetics, toxic if inhaled, as well as a possible skin irritant. Benzoyl peroxide is said to have antimicrobial qualities and helps to loosen debris lodged in the pores. It releases oxygen into the infected area, which helps prevent bacteria proliferation.

Some people see good results when first using BP, but after a while their skin becomes dry and flaky, and because they have been treating the symptom only (the breakout) and not looking at what the cause might be, their skin problems continue.

Why should I use benzoyl peroxide?

I don’t necessarily think you should use BP products. In my experience and in the tales told by my clients, all it really does is dry out the area and the surrounding skin. This sometimes leads to irritation and generally doesn’t help to clear the blemish. It may appear to be clearing the problem because the skin feels drier and tighter after using BP. The infection may seem to go away, but long-term, BP isn’t as effective as you may initially think it is. The best way to know if it will work for you is to try it and see. Something that works for me or my clients may not work for you or vice versa. Nothing is absolute, in life or in the skin care world. And skin is as individual as personalities are, so experiment for yourself if you are unsure of the results you are reading about.

A note of caution: Those of you with darker skin tones, especially black skin, need to use BP with caution. The higher concentrations (5% and 10%) can cause an increase in inflammation due to the peroxide’s irritation, which may and probably will cause hyperpigmentation—dark spots.

Where do I find benzoyl peroxide? BP products are everywhere acne or problem skin medications are sold over the counter. Benzoyl peroxide can also be prescribed by your dermatologist.
My dermatologist recom- mends that I use Benza-Clin® for my occasional breakouts. Can I continue to use this product along with my regular skin care products or is it really necessary?

I’m not going to tell this client to stop using something a doctor prescribed for her skin. Benza-Clin is a prescription benzoyl peroxide product and, although it generally has a 5% BP content,  may still be very drying. For occasional breakouts or any breakout, I recommend using geranium or an alternate essential oil like lavender. They are antibacterial (like BP), but they won’t dry out the surface skin like BP can and will. I think, however, she should try her skin care products with the medication and see how it goes.

As you are learning, drying out the skin does little or nothing to get rid of infected blemishes. If this reader feels she needs to use the prescription medication and she can use it without adverse (drying) reactions, then that is her prerogative. If not, there are definitely alternatives that don’t dry out the skin but help with the infection and the breakout as a whole.

As a general rule, I do not like benzoyl peroxide or the types of products this ingredient comes in. If BP works at all, it also causes adverse side effects, namely dry, flaky skin. My thoughts on helping to stop breakouts from occurring in the first place as well as products to help when they occur can be found in many parts of this blog as well as both of my skin care books.

For more information, see:
HOT TIP: Because it is a peroxide, not unlike hair color, benzoyl peroxide can bleach your clothing—so be careful where you are using it.