What to Expect From Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment

Your Week-By-Week Guide to Using Benzoyl Peroxide

Woman applying benzoyl peroxide

Wondering what to expect from your benzoyl peroxide acne treatment? 

Whether you've just started treating your acne with benzoyl peroxide, or you've been using it for a while and are wondering if what you're experiencing is normal, I've got you covered with this week-by-week guide to treating acne with benzoyl peroxide.

Remember, these are basic guidelines. You may notice your treatment progresses at a slightly faster or slower pace.

If you have questions or concerns, give your dermatologist a call.

Week 1

You'll notice benzoyl peroxide will leave your skin dry… really dry. Stave off some of the dryness and flaking that will inevitably come by using a good oil-free moisturizer every day.  Even if you don't normally use a moisturizer, you'll want to start now.

It's normal for benzoyl peroxide to burn or sting just a little bit when you apply it.  Your skin may also get red and a little itchy.  This doesn't necessarily mean you're allergic to benzoyl peroxide. It's just typical benzoyl peroxide side effects, especially during the initial stages of treatment.

Don't expect any results yet. New pimples at this stage are completely normal. Benzoyl peroxide is a slow worker. Give it more time before expecting improvement.

Tip: Even though you'll be excited to get things going, start slow and you'll be much less likely to have uncomfortable peeling and such.

Start off using just once every other day for a week or so. Gradually work your way up to using it every day, morning and night, over the course of a few weeks.

Weeks 2-3

Those side effects have started in earnest by now. You're going to be red, you'll be super dry, and you'll probably be peeling and flaking too.

As annoying as this is, it's normal.

The good news is, you're probably in the worst of it now. These side effects usually start to recede after this time (although as long as you use benzoyl peroxide you'll probably always notice some dryness.) Soldier through these side effects if you can, and continue using your treatment.

This might be tough because you're still going to be getting new pimples. Again, this is to be expected. Your treatment still needs more time to work.

Tip: If the side effects are making you really uncomfortable, it's OK to skip a day here and there. Just don't completely give up on the benzoyl peroxide yet.

Weeks 4-6

By now, thankfully, the worst of the side effects will have passed. Sure, you're still dry and a little flaky, but it's getting better. As you continue to use the benzoyl peroxide, your skin builds up a tolerance to the medication and side effects diminish.

As for those pimples, you're still (yes, still) getting new breakouts. Totally frustrating, I know. But, if you really take a hard look at your skin, you may notice those pimples aren't quite as big and inflamed, and they're healing more quickly too.

If you aren't noticing any change at all yet, don't worry. It's still early.

Tip: Keep using your moisturizer. If you're still extra dry try putting your moisturizer on first, and then applying your benzoyl peroxide lotion. If you're using a BPO cleanser, apply your moisturizer immediately after washing your face, when your face is still slightly damp.

Weeks 8-10

It's finally starting to pay off. By now, you should be noticing an improvement in your skin. While you'll still probably be getting some new pimples here and there, they will be smaller, less noticeable, and fewer and farther between.

Your skin isn't completely clear yet, and that's OK (if it is completely clear by now, consider it a bonus!) The longer you use the benzoyl peroxide, the better your acne will get. The results with this medication are cumulative.

Now that those pimples are starting to clear, you'll notice dark pink, purple, or brown spots all over your skin, where the pimples used to be. It can be very upsetting. Take a deep breath and relax. Those spots, too, are normal, and part of the skin's natural healing process.

It's called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. It's not really a scar, and many times these discolored areas fade away all on their own. There are also ways to treat post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, starting with getting your acne under control (which is what you're doing right now.)

Tip: The most important thing you can do now is remain consistent with your treatment. Try not to skip days. Keep at it!

Weeks 12 and beyond

At this point, your skin should be relatively clear! It's not realistic to think you'll never get another pimple, but in general, your acne is under control and you feel good about your skin and your benzoyl peroxide treatment.

By now, if there is no improvement at all, or some improvement but not enough to be happy with, it's time to re-evaluate your treatment options. Don't try yet another over-the-counter acne treatment product. Instead, see a doctor for a prescription medication.

Don't consider this a failure! Most people have to try a few different options before finding the one that works. You're one step closer to finding the best treatment for you.

Tip: Your skin is looking great, but don't stop using that benzoyl peroxide. It doesn't cure acne (nothing really does) so if you were to stop using it now your acne would come back. Continue using your treatment for as long as necessary. It may feel like a bit of a pain sometimes, but having clear skin is worth it.

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