Acne Treatment Benzoyl Peroxide

As you will recall from previous articles in this website, one of the major goals of any acne treatment program is eradication of bacteria. The Acne treatment benzoyl peroxide, found in both prescription and over-the-counter acne preparations, is one of the most common antimicrobials (germ killers)-and one of the most effective.

Most products contain 10% benzoyl peroxide, which is quite effective in combating teenage acne. This concentration is usually too strong, however, for adults with acne and will often cause inflammation. That's why adult sufferers should not buy off-the-shelf products that are marketed to teens. Adult acne preparations generally contain 2% to 5% benzoyl peroxide, which gets the job done without parching or irritating the skin.

Researchers have discovered that the primary bacterium responsible for acne is the propioni bacterium (right, as seen in a photomicrograph from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia). Benzoyl peroxide can kill this bacterium.

A Miracle Treatment

The Acne Treatment Benzoyl peroxide has been around since the 1960s, and it became a miracle treatment for acne patients. It fights acne in two ways: by killing bacteria and drying the skin (promoting peeling).

When you use a product containing benzoyl peroxide, it reaches the follicle, where it fights inflammation. It also helps loosen dead skin cells that have attached themselves to the follicle walls, and it washes away sebum.

The Acne Treatment Benzoyl peroxide can be irritating, so it's important to find the right concentration. People of African and Asian descent should also use it with caution, as it may produce dark spots as the skin peels. It's best to start conservatively, with a lower concentration and once-a-day application (usually at night). Apply the product to the entire area where pimples form, not just on the pimples themselves. Wash your face in the morning to remove residue. Eventually, you may want to apply it twice a day, if your skin can tolerate it. If you experience excessive dryness and peeling, you can cut back.

Avoid application to the lips or eyes. Also be aware that benzoyl peroxide can bleach clothing and linens if it comes in contact with them.

Acne Treatment Benzoyl Peroxide: Noticing Results

It may take up to a month for your skin to get used to the acne treatment benzoyl peroxide, and a certain degree of redness is to be expected. Acne generally improves between one and three months of benzoyl peroxide usage.

Be sure to use it regularly, and do not skip any days of treatment. You want to maintain momentum in the healing process.

Once your acne clears, it's still wise to continue using benzoyl peroxide-often at a lower concentration-as part of a maintenance program. Your goal: to keep bacteria and sebum at bay.

One of the biggest mistakes that people make is to use a product containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid as a spot treatment (applying it to a particular pimple or breakout, as opposed to the entire face). In reality, these products are supposed to be preventive in nature, and they need to be used every day. They kill bacteria, which prevents the development of lesions, and are not meant to be used only after a pimple has formed. They should be applied all over the face-not just to the affected area.

When to See Your Doctor

Always see your doctor when:

  • Over-the-counter medications don't work.
  • Your lesions are becoming large and painful.
  • Your skin becomes severely inflamed or burns. (Five percent of the population has an allergic reaction to benzoyl peroxide.)
  • You are developing acne scars.
  • Your acne is leaving dark marks.

Understanding Labels: Medications Versus Cosmetics

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates over-the-counter (nonprescription) medications. Any FDA-approved nonprescription acne medication must contain one of four ingredients:

  • Benzoyl peroxide
  • Salicylic acid
  • Sulfur
  • Sulfur combined with resorcinol

Be sure to read labels to ensure that the products you buy contain one of these ingredients. The most common ones used are benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid.

Sulfur was one of the primary drugs used in acne treatments for many years, but it has largely been replaced by benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. It works as an antibiotic, killing bacteria and fungi. Another older drug is resorcinol, which acts as a keralytic (peeling the skin's outer layer). It has fallen out of favor with many physicians because it can irritate the skin, and it creates problems for people of color, who frequently notice changes in skin pigmentation when they use it. Nonetheless, sulfur is still used in some over-the-counter acne treatments. As always, it is a good idea to speak with your dermatologist about specific treatments, but there's no harm in trying these products if you have mild acne and seeing if you experience an improvement.

Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid have two different mechanisms of action. The Acne Treatment Benzoyl peroxide is an antibacterial, which destroys bacteria. Salicylic acid helps exfoliate and unplug pores, which expels comedones. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce inflammation and redness. Regardless of which ingredient you choose, both will eliminate oil and penetrate into the follicles, which ultimately deters acne.

If you choose a product that does not contain one of these ingredients, it does not qualify as a "medication" under FDA guidelines. These products are classified as cosmetics-even though magazine or TV advertisements, as well as language on the package would seem to indicate that they are acne medicines. Such products often incorporate phrases like "problem skin" or "blemish control" into packaging, which allows them to imply that they're medications (as opposed to cosmetics). You may also see references to "oil control," "shine control" and "minimizing pores." Once again, these should be tip-offs that you are dealing with a cosmetic acne product versus a true medication.

Of course, you will see many other ingredients that are touted as acne "cures," whether they are vitamins, minerals, herbs or other substances. While many of these ingredients do contain properties that are anti-inflammatory or capable of taming oil, they have not been given medication status by the FDA.

Many of the ingredients that you will see on product labels claim to have healing properties, but there has not been much research conducted to confirm this. You may see ingredients like green tea extract or kola nut, which are purported to be anti-inflammatory agents used to reduce redness. You may also see sugar cane extract listed on a label, which serves as an exfoliant, as well as yeast, which is meant to prevent discoloration. It is hard to say, at this point, whether such ingredients will receive the FDA's blessing.

Prescription drugs take a notoriously long time to undergo the appropriate clinical studies, and any acne medication whose manufacturer wants it to qualify as a true "drug" must submit it for FDA review. This is why most manufacturers-from those that make lower-cost drugstore-type products to high-ticket department store brands that charge 10 times as much for a product that claims to do the same thing-choose to sell and market their offerings as cosmetics. Their reasoning is straightforward: There is no need to go through a government approval process, and they can get their products onto store shelves without any regulatory interference.

It's important for you to become a label-conscious consumer so you can choose products carefully and with knowledge. Once again, look for one of the four approved FDA ingredients, and stick with the agents that science has ruled efficacious.


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