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Anyone who’s ever had the misfortune of dealing with a major breakout situation is probably familiar with benzoyl peroxide; it tops the list of choice acne-fighting ingredients for several reasons. First and foremost, it inhibits the growth of p.acnes, the bacteria that causes acne, explains Chicago dermatologist Jordan Carqueville, MD. That’s impressive in and of itself, but the benefits don’t stop there.
“Benzoyl peroxide also reduces excess oil on the skin and removes dead cells that can clog pores,” she adds. This trio of attributes makes it ideal for those with inflammatory acne—red, painful bumps and blemishes. (FYI, if it’s just a few whiteheads and blackheads you’re dealing with, it’s probably not the best ingredient for you, since it can be quite drying.) “It can be very effective at both treating active acne lesions and preventing new ones, especially if you pair it with a retinoid and/or salicylic acid,” says Carqueville. The other nice thing? BPO, as it’s often called, comes in a host of different formulas and products, from cleansers to creams.
Ahead, the best benzoyl peroxide products that can help you achieve your clear complexion goals.
This is a top choice for New York City dermatologist Morgan Rabach, MD, who lauds it for pairing BPO with a lipo-hydroxy acid to help exfoliate the skin and clear out pores. Carqueville is also a fan of this dual-action and adds that it’s especially great as a localized treatment, given that it does have a slightly higher concentration of benzoyl peroxide. (To that point, many reviewers note that a little goes a long way, so one tube should last you quite a while.) As if that weren’t endorsement enough, this is also a team Byrdie fan favorite, including a go-to for Jessica Mahgerefteh, Byrdie’s Commerce Editorial Director.
This formula boasts a 5% concentration of a micronized benzoyl peroxide that penetrates deep into pores, killing bacteria and absorbing excess oil. At the same time, however, it also releases a gentle moisturizer to help balance your skin and prevent unwanted dryness. Reviewers repeatedly note how well it’s helped clear their skin, and the affordable price doesn’t hurt, either.
This leave-on treatment has a gel-like texture and clear finish. So yes, it’s a mask, but one that you can apply and leave on all day, even layering moisturizer and/or makeup over it. (Although you should start to see some results in as little as four hours.) It contains a 2.5% concentration of BPO, enough to be effective, but not so much that you risk unwanted irritation or dryness.
Rabach and Carqueville both recommend this cleanser for treating body acne on areas such as your back, chest, and booty (because yes, you can break out on your butt). Credit the foaming action, which makes it easy to apply all over these larger surfaces. It contains 10% BPO, which might be a bit too much on the face for some people, but is usually well-tolerated on the body, says Carqueville.
Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring polysaccharide found in the human body. It acts as a cushioning and lubrication agent for our joints, nerves, hair, skin, and eyes. When used in skincare, it acts as a moisture binder, which means that it will attach itself to the water in the cells (while also attracting and holding water from the air) giving them a plumping effect.
If your complexion skews towards sensitivity, it’s important to proceed with caution when it comes to any kind of potent skincare ingredient, BPO included. That’s why we appreciate this formula, specially formulated to be ultra-gentle on skin. It has that acne-fighting benzoyl peroxide, yes, but it also contains hydrating hyaluronic acid, soothing niacinamide, and three different ceramides to keep the skin barrier healthy and intact (the secret to minimizing irritation.) It goes on creamy but transforms into a foam, you still get that satisfying lather and clean feel that’s lacking with many other cleansers geared towards sensitive skin.
When a big ol’ pimple pops up at the least opportune time, reach for this guy. It pairs 5% benzoyl peroxide with tea tree oil and a less irritating derivative of salicylic acid, working to shrink your zit in just three hours. The convenient size and applicator make it easy to use anytime, anywhere; simply roll the antimicrobial stainless steel tip over said zit up to three times per day.
Those who are always looking for ways to minimize the number of steps and products in their routine will appreciate this one-stop skin-clearing shop. There’s 5% benzoyl peroxide in this lightweight, double-duty moisturizer, which absorbs quickly yet still feels hydrating. Use it once daily, topping it with sunscreen if you’re applying it in the AM.
Using a face wash with benzoyl peroxide daily is an easy way to prevent future pimples from popping up and keep skin clear. Use it just once daily, alternating with a more mild cleanser, in order to minimize the likelihood of dryness.
Recite the alphabet as you apply it to ensure the active ingredient has enough contact time with your skin to do its thing.
“This is a great product because you can use it as either a mask or a cleanser,” says Rabach. If your skin is super sensitive or you’re trying to ward off future breakouts, use it as a cleanser. Otherwise, leave it on for five minutes as a mask (bonus points for the refreshing cooling sensation it delivers). Carqueville also likes this formula, noting that it contains 3.5% benzoyl peroxide, a good potency for use on the face.
Editor's Pick: Paula's Choice Skincare CLEAR Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment with 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide
If your skin is a bit problematic or you’re just trying to keep it clear, this is a great option to add to your routine—just ask Byrdie senior editor Hallie Gould, who says it's super effective. The featherweight lotion dries clear and matte and can be used on either face and/or body. It’s effective but gentle enough to use twice a day, thanks to the addition of soothing plant extracts that work to combat the dryness the benzoyl peroxide could cause.
This boasts the highest concentration of benzoyl peroxide that you can get without a prescription, 10%. That can be a lot for some, so start by using it only once a day; you can gradually work up to three times daily if your skin can tolerate it. It’s also a good move to save it as a treatment for the smaller areas where you’re prone to break-outs, think the chin or forehead, versus applying it all over your face.
In case we haven’t made it clear by now, dryness is one of the most common side effects that can come with using benzoyl peroxide. That’s why we appreciate that this has a unique delivering system that gets the ingredient into affected areas, without overdrying it. There are also ceramides to minimize water loss and further keep skin hydrated.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. While she’s actually allergic to benzoyl peroxide (fun fact), she often recommends many of these products to friends dealing with breakouts.
Meet the Expert
Jordan Carqueville, MD, is a Chicago-based dermatologist and dermatopathologist. Specializing in both cosmetic, surgical, and general dermatology, she frequently treats acne patients. Dr. Carqueville is also a Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at Cook County Hospital.
Meet the Expert
Morgan Rabach is a board-certified dermatologist, the co-founder of LM Medical in New York City, and a media expert on all things skin. She’s also an Assistant Professor of Dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.