Meds and you

Updated 11 February 2013

Benzoyl peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is indicated for use on the skin to treat acne.


Benzoyl peroxide is the active ingredient of Benzac AC 5, Benoxyl 5, Oxy 5 and 10 and Panoxyl.

Benzoyl peroxide is also one of multiple active ingredients found in Acnidazil and Acneclear (both benzoyl peroxide + miconazole), and Quinoderm (benzoyl peroxide + hydroxyquinolone).

General information

Benzoyl peroxide is indicated for use on the skin to treat acne. In fact, when combined with a topical (locally applied) antibiotic, it has been shown to be the most cost-effective treatment for mild to moderate acne. It is also effectively combined with oral antibiotics.

Treatment is often started with a low-strength preparation, and should only be switched to a stronger product if necessary. Research suggests that 5 and 10 percent concentrations are not significantly more effective than 2.5 percent, and the lower concentration is usually better tolerated.

Mild skin irritation may occur at the start of treatment, but this usually diminishes with time. Benzoyl peroxide has a drying effect and contact should be avoided with the eyes, mouth and mucus membranes. Furthermore, avoid applying benzoyl peroxide to sunburnt skin, and minimise sun exposure while using this medication.

For maximising the beneficial effect, the affected area should be washed and gently dried before application. It should be applied regularly for best results.

How does benzoyl peroxide work?

Benzoyl peroxide's removal of the top layer of skin, removal of dead skin cells and unblocking of the sebaceous glands is mainly responsible for its efficacy in treating acne. Besides unblocking hair follicles, benzoyl peroxide also markedly reduces the number of bacteria on the skin, thereby preventing infection and inflammation of these follicles.

Fast facts

Drug schedule: Unscheduled; schedule 2

Available as: Gel, cream and lotion

What does it do? Benzoyl peroxide has an anti-acne effect

Overdose risk: Low

Dependence risk: Low

Available as a generic? Yes

Available on prescription only? No

User information

Onset of effect: Oiliness of skin is reduced within minutes; acne only improves after 3-6 weeks of treatment.

Duration of action: 24 hours

Stopping this medicine: Benzoyl peroxide can be safely stopped when no longer needed

Prolonged use: The drug is usually not used chronically. It is ideally not used for longer than 2 months continuously. If used for longer periods of time, this should be only on the advice of your doctor.

Special precautions

Alert your doctor before using this drug if:

  • You have eczema,
  • You have sunburn,
  • You are taking other medication for the treatment of acne, or
  • You have rosacea.

Pregnancy: Avoid. It is unknown how this medication may affect your baby. Consult your doctor before using this drug, or if you are planning to fall pregnant.

Breastfeeding: Avoid. It is unknown how this medication may affect your baby. Consult your doctor before use.

Porphyria: Avoid. It is unknown how this medication may affect your condition. Consult your doctor before use.

Infants and children: This medication is not intended for use in children under the age of 12 unless under medical supervision.

Elderly: Benzoyl peroxide is not usually used in the elderly. No special precautions need to be taken.

Driving and hazardous work: No special precautions need to be taken.

Alcohol: No special precautions need to be taken.

Possible side effects

Side effect


Consult your doctor



Only if severe

In all cases

Skin irritation



Burning/ stinging









Itching, rash



Blistering/ crusting/ swelling




Drug interactions

Sunscreen containing PABA

Discoloration of the skin may occur


Dermatitis may occur. Use at least 12 hours apart

Skin-drying preparations (medicated soaps, cosmetics, aftershaves etc)

Increased skin irritation

Disease interactions

Consult your doctor before applying benzoyl peroxide if you have eczema, rosacea, sunburn or a known allergy to benzoyl peroxide.

Overdose action

A small overdose is no cause for concern. In case of intentional large overdose, extensive skin irritation may occur.

Recommended dosage

Apply a thin layer of the product to the affected area once or twice daily. If excessive irritation occurs, the medication can be applied on alternate days.

Interesting fact

Benzoyl peroxide is also commonly used for the dyeing of hair, and for tooth-whitening systems. It is also used in the preparation of flour.

This material is not intended to substitute medical advice, but is for informational purposes only. Please consult a physician for specific treatment and recommendations.


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