Why Benzoyl Peroxide is a Skin Game Changer

by Jenna Rosenstein


Patrick DemarchelierPatrick Demarchelier I wash my face thoroughly every night. I scrub and exfoliate. I moisturize, cleanse, mask, and peel. I am so good to my skin. And, even in my 20s, I still get minor, but very annoying, breakouts. For years I have depended on acne products with salicylic acid. With every flare-up, I'd try a new spot treatment or long-term regimen with the acid, and avoid those with benzoyl peroxide, out of fear they'd be too harsh for my dry, sensitive skin. But I'm here to tell you that I am, as of this week, a benzoyl-peroxide convert.

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So what's the deal? "Both products treat acne, but they target different types," says David Bank, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. He recommends first identifying the type of acne you have--inflammatory (red pimples) or comedonal (white- and blackheads). Inflammatory acne responds to benzoyl peroxide, which fights bacteria that cause zits, while comedonal is best treated with exfoliating salicylic acid, which removes dead skin cells and bacteria from the pores.

All these years, it turns out, I could have been using a product like Clearasil's Ultra Rapid Action Vanishing Treatment Cream, with 10 percent benzoyl peroxide, the highest concentration available over-the-counter. Not only does it kill bacteria, it removes excess oil and sloughs away dead skin cells, while salicylic acid simply slows the shedding of the cells inside your pores. One week after I began using benzoyl peroxide, my breakouts are practically gone, and so are the redness and peeling. It's like the difference between using a tinted moisturizer and a BB cream. Why bother with a one-note product when there's another with so many benefits?

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Bank recommends doing a trial run before committing to any particular regimen. "Benzoyl peroxide can be drying on the skin and sometimes too harsh for more sensitive types," he says. "If it irritates you, I suggest using the product every other day until your skin can handle it." He also suggests using a moisturizer after treating a blemish. And always consult your dermatologist first. "Your skin changes over time, and the acne you may have had years ago can be different from the type you currently have," he says.

And one more thing: Keep BP away from your LBD, unless you prefer your dress covered in bleach stains.

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