Escape the Bexzoyl Peroxide Trap

Many acne sufferers face a common problem. It is the unending circle of breakouts, acne remedies, dry skin and then more breakouts. In my experience, this is the most common reason people with acne eventually turn from OTC products to more expensive specialty acne treatment systems like Proactiv. They are looking for an answer to their acne that does not simply cause another problem, like overly dry and itchy skin. For many people with acne this is what I call “the benzoyl peroxide trap.”

Benzoyl peroxide is a very effective acne treatment for all but extreme cases of cystic acne or roseaca; but, it can also be very drying to all but the oiliest of skins.* Most acne sufferers are simply plagued by acne vulgaris, a surface condition that is treatable with topical remedies. The most common over the counter remedies contain a 5 to 10% concentration of the active ingredient benzoyl peroxide.

Benzoyl peroxide works well in the correct concentration. Unfortunately, modern consumers have a “maximum strength” mentality. We don’t want 325mg of aspirin when we can get 500mg for just a few cents more. We never consider the fact that 325mg will cure our headache just as well, just as quickly and do it more safely. This is so prevalent that in many cases you cannot find regular strength products on the shelves anymore. They simply do not sell; therefore, they are not profitable and some companies just don’t make them.

When it comes to acne, we all want it gone as quickly as possible, so we buy maximum strength products. The problem with this is that in most cases it is overkill. Why swat a fly with a flyswatter when it will be just as dead if we use a   sledgehammer ? Because the  sledgehammer  will do some pretty significant damage to the table the fly landed on. Similarly, when we use too strong a concentration of benzoyl peroxide, we may get rid of the zit quickly, but the rest of the skin suffers. Thus, the benzoyl peroxide trap. We have acne, we treat the acne with maximum strength product, the pimples clear up, then the skin dries out and becomes uncomfortable, we stop using the acne product, and the pimples come back. It’s an endless circle, unless…

Lines like Proactiv have a secret weapon in their medicated product. They still use benzoyl peroxide, but they have a 2.5% concentration. What you say? Less active ingredient instead of more?!? Yes, less active ingredient. Used daily, a 2.5% concentration of benzoyl peroxide is very effective against acne, without overdrying the skin like typical over the counter remedies. These companies don’t announce the fact that their product contains less active ingredient, but what they do announce is how effective they are-and they are effective, as evidenced by the millions of dedicated consumers purchasing (and more importantly repurchasing) these products every day.

My recommendation:

Now, if you want to purchase Proactiv or a similar line, that’s fine. They are quality products that work. But this is the regimen I recommend to my acne clients who prefer the convenience and price point of over the counter products.

1) Cleanse-use the mildest cleanser that gets the job done for you. Most people can use glycerin soap with good results. There are several quality brands out there. If you wear heavy makeup I recommend you use a water rinseable cold cream.

2) Tone-those clients who use a glycerin soap to cleanse may not even need this step if they rinse thoroughly. For my clients who use water rinseable cold cream, I recommend they find an alcohol-free toner that they like. Note that I say toner here and not astringent. Astringents can strip the skin of its acid mantle, causing the pores to overreact and make even more oil, which just exacerbates the problem.

3) Treat-apply a 2.5% benzoyl peroxide product to the affected areas only. Neutrogena’s On-The-Spot Acne Treatment is an example of an over the counter 2.5% product. If, after time, your skin starts to feel dry, you can begin to apply the treatment product only before going to bed.

4) Protect-in the morning only and after your treatment product is thoroughly dry, apply a light layer of non-comedogenic sunscreen with an SPF of 15. Make sure your products have dried completely before applying makeup.

Follow this regimen twice a day for best results.

Note: it doesn’t hurt to keep a small tube of 5 or 10% benzoyl product available. Get the smallest tube you can and use it to dot on the occasional particularly troublesome pimple. Do not use over large areas of the face, just dot it on when you really need intervention.

* Cystic acne and roseaca are both conditions best treated by a doctor. To put it in simple terms, cystic acne is a form of acne characterized by excessively oily skin, blackheads, whiteheads and cysts-pimple like bumps under the skin that do not have any kind of “head” on them, meaning they do not vent to the outside. Roseaca often looks like a bad case of acne, but you may notice that while whiteheads may appear, few if any blackheads are present and the skin often looks extremely flushed. In both cases a doctor’s intervention is the best route to clearer skin.