When it comes to treating acne, there are few ingredients as powerful and effective as benzoyl peroxide. Trust me, I've dealt with breakouts on and off for years, and I always come back to benzoyl peroxide when my acne starts flaring to help get things under control. You can get benzoyl peroxide in an prescription form (which is usually the case if you're dealing with severe acne), but for anyone with mild to moderate acne, you can try a ton of different over-the-counter products, from creamy cleansers to spot treatments, all with varied strengths of BP. But before you start slathering on the wrong formula or concentration, allow me to explain what exactly makes benzoyl peroxide a dermatologist favorite.
Is benzoyl peroxide good for your skin?
If you have acne, yes! Benzoyl peroxide kills p.acnes (the bad bacteria on your skin that's responsible for breakouts), helps minimize oil production, sheds pore-clogging dead skin cells, and helps reduce the redness and swelling associated with inflammatory pimples. Basically, it helps target all the main causes of acne to get your skin clear. That being said, it's also known for being drying and pretty strong, which means if you have hypersensitive skin and/or dry skin, you'll want to start slow (every other day, max) and low (thin layers, low percentage).
What kind of acne is benzoyl peroxide good for?
Benzoyl peroxide is able to treat all kinds of acne—including blackheads, whiteheads, pustules, and cysts—but it's especially great for inflammatory cystic acne (aka those red, angry bumps). Side note: If you're using a benzoyl peroxide product on your blackheads and whiteheads and it isn't working, consider trying a salicylic acid product or a retinoid treatment instead.
What percentage of benzoyl peroxide is best?
Benzoyl peroxide products come in different strengths—from 2.5 percent to 10 percent—but know this: a higher concentration doesn't necessarily mean better results. According to studies, 2.5 or 5 percent benzoyl peroxide often works just as well as 10 percent benzoyl peroxide, just with fewer irritating side effects. So, as a rule, always start off with a low dosage, and work your way up if your skin can tolerate it and/or needs it.
Got all that? Good. Ahead, I've rounded up the 12 best benzoyl peroxide products to try right now.
Top Benzoyl Peroxide Face Wash for Treating and Preventing Acne
Best Overall: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo
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.)
Best Drugstore: Differin Daily Deep Cleanser
This Daily Cleanser Cleared My Acne Without Stripping My Skin
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.
"I used the cleanser once a day for about a week, and during that time I didn’t experience any new breakouts, and the ones I already had seemed to clear up quicker than usual." — Joline Buscemi, Product Tester
Best Mask: Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Daily Leave-On Mask
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.
Best Body Wash: PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash
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.
Best for Sensitive Skin: CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser
KEY INGREDIENTS 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.
Best Moisturizer: Obagi CLENZIderm M.D. Therapeutic Lotion
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.
Best Cleanser: Glytone Acne BPO Clearing Cleanser
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, 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.
Best Two-in-One: Neutrogena Clear Pore Cleanser/Mask
“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.
Experts Say These Face Masks Actually Help Heal Acne Scars
Editor's Pick: Paula's Choice Skincare CLEAR Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment with 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide
Paula's Choice CLEAR Extra Strength Skin Clearing Treatment
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.
Best Extra-Strength: Clean & Clear PERSA-GEL10 Acne Medication
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 breakouts, think the chin or forehead, versus applying it all over your face.
Best for Dry Skin: Kate Somerville Anti Bac Acne Clearing Lotion
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.
Because it helps to combat blemishes in several different ways, benzoyl peroxide is a fan-favorite acne-fighting ingredient among dermatologists. The La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo is a great BPO product to try, a great spot treatment. Shopping at the drugstore? Pick up the Differin Daily Deep Facial Cleanser for Acne-Prone Skin, a great daily cleanser, or the Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Daily Leave-On Mask, a clear mask that can be layered under makeup. Generally speaking, benzoyl peroxide can be a potentially-irritating ingredient for those with sensitive skin, but the CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser combines it with plenty of soothing and hydrating ingredients to mitigate the likelihood of irritation.
What To Look For in a Benzoyl Peroxide Product
The concentration of benzoyl peroxide
Not all products are created equal. Benzoyl peroxide is most often found in concentrations ranging from 2.5% to 10%. Since the ingredient can be drying, it’s always best to err on the lower side and gradually work your way up.