Whether you're someone who is constantly battling breakouts or you just get the occasional pimple, you've probably heard of (or even tried) benzoyl peroxide, one of the top FDA-approved acne-fighting ingredient recommended by dermatologists. "Benzoyl peroxide has been used to treat acne for over 85 years," says Christine Choi Kim, M.D., a board-certified medical and cosmetic dermatologist in Los Angeles, CA. "Benzoyl peroxide is the ultimate multi-tasker: It's antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, keratolytic [meaning it breaks up the top layer of dead skin cells] and comedolytic [meaning it dissolves blackheads and whiteheads]." The powerful acne-blasting ingredient can also help kill certain bacteria that contribute to acne formation, making it key for pimple prevention, too.
What kind of skin is benzoyl peroxide good for?
Like many acne treatments, benzoyl peroxide "is best for people with oily, acneic, blemish-prone skin, as well as those with body acne on the chest, back, shoulders or buttocks," explains Dr. Choi Kim. Benzoyl peroxide is good for all types of acne, including cysts, blackheads and whiteheads, but it's particularly great at treating inflammatory cystic acne.
However, BP, as it's often called, is drying, so it's not ideal for those with dry or particularly sensitive skin, while those with rosacea or eczema should also avoid it. And if you're pregnant, you'll want to talk to your doctor before using any products with benzoyl peroxide.
What should I look for in a benzoyl peroxide product?
If you suffer from severe acne, you can get heavy-duty prescription benzoyl peroxide products from your derm, but for those with mild to moderate acne you can easily find over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide products that come in various strengths. When first choosing a product with BP, Dr. Choi Kim suggests starting with a lower percentage, like 2.5 or 5%, "to maximize effectiveness and minimize irritation."
If your skin is on the sensitive side, look for a formula that also includes humectants like glycerin, hyaluronic acid and allantoin to soothe and hydrate skin simultaneously. Alternatively, if you are looking for an extra-potent acne treatment, try a product that combines BP with the breakout-minimizing ingredient salicylic acid, topical antibiotics or certain topical retinoids, like adapalene. Since each of these skincare ingredients combats acne differently, they can work synergistically to treat and prevent all types of breakouts.
Here are the best benzoyl peroxide products you can buy to clear your skin for good, according to dermatologists, the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab skincare product experts and glowing online reviews, including top-rated gels, spot treatments, face washes and more.
Both Dr. Choi Kim and Good Housekeeping Beauty Director April Franzino recommend this multi-tasking benzoyl peroxide treatment from La Roche-Posay. "It can be used as either a spot treatment or in a thin layer all over acne-affected areas," Dr. Choi Kim says. "Plus, it contains both 5.5% micronized BP and micro-exfoliating lipo-hydroxy acid, allowing it to treat inflammatory acne and prevent blackheads and whiteheads at the same time." Franzino adds that it doesn't dehydrate skin: "I used this as a spot treatment on errant breakouts and found that it works without drying out my complexion."
- Treats multiple types of breakouts
- Works as a spot or all-over treatment
- Won't dry out skin like other BP products
If you are looking for an affordable acne treatment that works fast and furiously, look no further than Neutrogena's top-rated spot treatment, which has over 10,000 five-star reviews on Amazon. The gel formula contains 10% benzoyl peroxide and promises to shrink pimples and reduce redness in as little as two hours. "If I have a troublesome zit I see coming in at night, I smooth a little bit of this over it, and I wake up with the zit practically gone," one reviewer marveled.
- Bargain price
- High concentration of benzoyl peroxide
- Fast-acting formula
- Could cause irritation
You can treat acne with benzoyl peroxide as you cleanse your face, too, thanks to top-rated face washes like Differin's. "Formulated with both 5% BP and hydrating glycerin, this cleanser is effective but gentle," Dr. Choi Kim says. "It won’t leave your skin feeling dry or stripped of moisture like other BP cleansers can." She also loves that it is free of dyes and other potentially irritating ingredients.
- Gentle enough for daily use
- Won't dry out skin
- Good value
Portable and potent, this spot treatment from Glossier offers more than just cute packaging. In addition to 5% benzoyl peroxide, it contains tea tree oil and capryloyl salicylic acid, a less irritating derivative of salicylic acid to help tackle various types of acne. Swipe on up to three times a day (under or over your makeup!) and watch your pimples vanish.
- Dries quickly
- Combination of active ingredients
- May irritate skin
- Packaging can be difficult to use
While benzoyl peroxide is very effective at treating acne, it can be irritating, especially when you first start using it. "This product from Rodan+Fields has a unique dual-chamber delivery system that releases BP from one chamber and a penetration-enhancing gel from the other chamber," Dr. Choi Kim explains. "Mixing the ingredients together allows the low potency 2.5% BP to effectively reach its target in pores without irritating skin." Plus, it contains skin-nourishing ingredients like glycerin, allantoin, niacinamide and ceramides to hydrate and plump skin.
- Unique technology that prevents irritation
- Contains hydrating ingredients
- Effectively treats acne with two treatments in one
This three-step system from La Roche-Posay packs a big punch when it comes to treating acne. In addition to the powerful Effaclear Duo treatment which contains 5.5% micronized benzoyl peroxide and hydrating glycerin, this skincare routine set includes a cleanser and clarifying solution powered with salicylic acid that let you treat breakouts at every step. Dr. Choi Kim likes that "it's suitable for sensitive skin, oil-free and non-comedogenic."
- Contains a three-product acne treatment regimen
- Good value
- Combines two top breakout-reducing ingredients
When it comes to body acne, skin can typically tolerate a higher percentage of benzoyl peroxide. "PanOxyl's maximum strength 10% BP formula, the highest strength available without a prescription, is great to use in the shower to keep your chest and back acne under control," Dr. Choi Kim says. "It is pH balanced with three humectant and four emollient ingredients to combat potential dryness."
- High level of active ingredient
- Works on both body and face
- Won't dehydrate skin
- May irritate
Benzoyl peroxide isn't always easy to use if you have sensitive skin. Thanks to hyaluronic acid, niacinamide and ceramides, this cleanser from CeraVe calms and hydrates skin while treating breakouts, earning it over 13,000 five-star reviews on Amazon. The cream-to-foam formula is soft and soothing and doesn't leave skin feeling stripped or tight. "I have sensitive skin, but it's gentle enough and saved my skin," one reviewer raved.
- Safe for sensitive and dry skin
- Creamy texture
- Soothing yet effectively treats acne