Benzoyl peroxide

Sounds like 'BEN-zoh-il per-OX-ide'

Key points about benzoyl peroxide

  • Benzoyl peroxide is used to treat acne. 
  • Benzoyl peroxide is commonly called Brevoxyl, Clean & Clear, Benzac AC or Panoxyl.
  • Find out how to apply it safely and possible side effects.
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Benzoyl peroxide is used to treat acne (blackheads, whiteheads, pimples). It works by it killing the germs (bacteria) that cause acne, and softens and removes outer layers of the skin. It also reduces redness, soreness and inflammation and it helps to unplug blocked pores. Read more about acne.


Available products

You can buy benzoyl peroxide without a prescription at a pharmacy. It comes in different brand names and strengths – there are 2.5%, 4%, 5% and 10% strengths. 

Benzoyl peroxide is available in a cream, gel or wash. The choice between gel, cream and wash is based on preference and skin type. Gels are more suited to oily skin. A wash is more convenient for treating acne affecting your back and chest and is more suitable if irritation occurs.

Ask your pharmacist for advice on the strength of product that is best for you. The following is a guide:

  • The lower 2.5% strength is sufficient for most people and often work as well as the higher 10% strength preparations and causes less skin irritation.
  • It is best to start treatment with the lower strength, especially if you have sensitive skin, then if necessary, you can increase the strength gradually. 

  • Washes can be used once or two times a day. Leave on the skin for 30 seconds before rinsing thoroughly.
  • Apply gels and creams as a thin layer once daily. 
  • At the start, for the first 3 days when you begin treatment, apply the the cream or gel  for a short time (about 2 hours), then wash it off.
  • If you tolerate this, with no irritation, then apply once daily, at night, and leave on the skin overnight, washing it off in the morning.
  • Some people may tolerate twice daily applications.
  • Make sure the skin is clean and dry before applying. It can be used on the face as well as the chest and back.
  • 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 that are irritated or sore. 
  • If your skin peels or becomes very dry, use an oil-free moisturiser.
  • Acne responds very slowly to treatment, so it may take several weeks to months to notice improvement.

Note: Benzoyl peroxide bleaches clothing and hair. Make sure the benzoyl peroxide has completely dried before the treated skin touches clothes or bedding and wash your hands well after using.

Precautions before using benzoyl peroxide

  • Do you have a skin problem other than acne, such as eczema?
  • Are you are taking or using any other medicines? This includes any creams or medicated soaps you are using that are available to buy without a prescription.
  • Have you ever had an allergic reaction to a medicine?

If so, it’s important that you tell your doctor or pharmacist before you start using benzoyl peroxide. Sometimes a medicine isn’t suitable for a person with certain conditions or it can only be used with extra care.

What to know while you are using benzoyl peroxide

  • Avoid excessive exposure to sunlight.
  • Avoid cosmetic products containing alcohol, abrasives, or medicated soap.

Like all medicines, benzoyl peroxide can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them. Often side effects improve as your body gets used to the new medicine.

Side effects What should I do?
  • Redness or burning sensation of your skin
  • Dry skin
  • Skin peeling
  • These may go away with time.
  • Try applying benzoyl peroxide less often.
  • Avoid medicated, abrasive or alcohol-based soaps.
  • Avoid excessive exposure to sunlight. 
  • If your skin peels or becomes very dry, use an oil-free moisturiser. 
  • If blisters occur, stop using benzoyl peroxide and see your doctor or pharmacist for advice.
  • Signs of a severe allergic reaction such skin rash, itching, swelling of your lips, face and mouth or difficulty breathing
  • Stop using benzoyl peroxide.
  • Tell your doctor immediately or ring HealthLine 0800 611 116.
Did you know that you can report a side effect to a medicine to CARM (Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring)? Report a side effect to a product(external link)

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Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist, Healthify He Puna Waiora. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland

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