Benzoyl Peroxide Is Making My Skin Dry. What Can I Do?

6 Tips for Beating Dry, Peeling Skin Caused by Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatments

Woman applying moisturizer to her face
Photo: Pierre Bourrier / Getty Images

You've been using benzoyl peroxide for just a few weeks. Now your skin is super dry, red and peeling. It looks awful and feels even worse!

You're finding out first-hand one of the biggest drawbacks of benzoyl peroxide use. Whether it's an over-the-counter product or a prescription medication, benzoyl peroxide can make your skin dry.  Nearly everybody who uses it will experience some amount of dryness, flaking and peeling.

But you don't have to ditch your benzoyl peroxide treatment.  Try these 6 steps to limit dryness, soothe chapped skin, and help it feel better.

1.  Start using a moisturizer ASAP. 

Get yourself a good moisturizer and start using it every day. An oil-free brand will help soothe dry skin without aggravating acne. Don't be afraid to use a more emollient moisturizer if your light lotion isn't cutting it.

If your skin is especially irritated, a hypo-allergenic, fragrance-free moisturizer is the best choice.  It will be less likely to irritate your already tender skin. 

2.  Ditch drying skin care products.

Using acne treatment cleansers, medicated treatment pads, or astringent toners?  Take them out of your skin care routine (unless your dermatologist told you specifically to use them, of course.)  These types of products will just exacerbate dryness. 

Try switching to a gentle cleanser like Dove, the basic Neutrogena bar, Cetaphil, or Purpose.

Also, stop using all other OTC acne treatments, and skin care products meant for oily skin types, at least for the time being.

3. Don't scrub.

No one likes the flaking, peeling skin that benzoyl peroxide often causes.  But that gritty, abrasive scrub isn't such a great way to remove it. It can cause more irritation and leave your skin feeling raw.

If flaking skin is driving you nuts, you can use a soft washcloth with warm water and very gently buff it away. Don't rub too hard, though.

4.  Start off slowly.

If you haven't yet started using your benzoyl peroxide, or you just started using it within the last few days, you may be able to head off most of the dryness and peeling before it ever starts. 

Start off using your benzoyl peroxide just every other day, or 3 times a week.  Slowly increase usage over the course of several weeks until you're able to use it every day.  This lets your skin adjust to the medication. 

5.  Switch to a lower percentage.

Over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide products come in different strengths, from 2.5% to 10%.  If you're using a higher percentage product and your skin is protesting, switch to a product with a lower amount of benzoyl peroxide (you can find the amount listed under active ingredients on the back of your product.)

Lower percentage benzoyl peroxide products won't be as drying, but will allow you to still keep your acne treatments on track.

As your skin gets used to benzoyl peroxide, you can bump up to a higher percentage if need be.

If you're using a prescription medication, you can ask your dermatologist if it comes in a lower strength.  If not, he/she can give you some ideas to tame the dryness. And you can always try Tip #6.

6. Scale back use for a time.

Your skin may need a bit of a break, especially if it's becoming so dry that it's uncomfortable.  Don't stop using it altogether, though. 

Try cutting back on benzoyl peroxide use to once a day, or once every other day, until your skin is feeling better.  Then slowly start using it more often until you're back up to the recommended dose.  

Dryness and peeling are usually at their worst during the first few weeks of benzoyl peroxide use, and lessen over time. But do talk to your dermatologist if your skin is extremely irritated, red, swollen, or cracking.

You'll probably always have a bit of dryness while using benzoyl peroxide, but following these steps will help keep your dry skin manageable.

Next Steps:

What To Expect from Your Benzoyl Peroxide Treatment: A Week-By-Week Guide

Everything You Need To Know About Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatments

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