How Concerned Should You Be About Benzoyl Peroxide Products?

A private lab found prominent levels of a known carcinogenic while testing acne skincare.

woman applying benzoyl peroxide to manage acne
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Benzoyl peroxide, otherwise known as BPO, has long been a standard treatment for acne patients, with prescription formulas and over-the-counter products widely available. However on Wednesday, March 6, Valisure, an independent quality assurance lab, released research that the incredibly popular ingredient can release “unacceptably high levels” of benzene, a known carcinogen. They have since issued a petition for the Food and Drug Administration to weigh in and recall products containing benzoyl peroxide, however the FDA has not commented at this time—and none of the brands cited in the study have commented on the study.

That begs the question: How concerned should you be about the products currently sitting on your bathroom shelf? “We are all constantly exposed to small amounts of benzene through our environment. Even with the exposure to the amounts in the report, the damage would take years, not days or weeks, to cause any noticeable harm,” board-certified dermatologist Dr. Munheeb Shah shares via Instagram. “Benzoyl peroxide products have never been shown to cause cancer in humans, but that doesn't mean it’s not possible.”

beauty products

Benzoyl peroxide products found to have benzene include skus from Neutrogena, Cetaphil, Cerave, Differin, Clinique, and more.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

While additional exposure to benzene certainly is not a good thing, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jessica Dowling exclusively tells Marie Claire that "no one should panic." She adds: "Although this is disheartening news about a very effective medication, these results were found by one lab. There have been no official recalls of these products and there has been no public response from the FDA." More confirmatory data will be needed."

That said, it’s never wrong to err on the side of caution. So, while a rightful alarm is raised across the cosmetics industry—and recalls are likely set to become commonplace—it’s best to retire your benzoyl peroxide products until more information is known. The good news: There are plenty of alternative acne-fighting ingredients available on the market that can address both clogged pores and bacteria. "Some of these ingredients that are available over the counter are: glycolic acid, sulfur, azelaic acid, salicylic acid, and hypochlorous acid," notes Dr. Dowling. "As always, I recommend consulting with your dermatologist if you are using any of these products as a prescription. 

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Samantha Holender
Beauty Editor

Samantha Holender is the Beauty Editor at Marie Claire, where she reports on the best new launches, dives into the science behind skincare, and shares the breakdown on the latest and greatest trends in the beauty space. She's studied up on every ingredient you'll find on INCI list and is constantly in search of the world's glowiest makeup products. Prior to joining the team, she worked as Us Weekly’s Beauty and Style Editor, where she stayed on the pulse of pop culture and broke down celebrity beauty routines, hair transformations, and red carpet looks. Her words have also appeared on Popsugar,,,, and Philadelphia Wedding. Samantha also serves as a board member for the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME). She first joined the organization in 2018, when she worked as an editorial intern at Food Network Magazine and Pioneer Woman Magazine. Samantha has a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from The George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. While at GWU, she was a founding member of the school’s HerCampus chapter and served as its President for four years. When she’s not deep in the beauty closet or swatching eyeshadows, you can find her obsessing over Real Housewives and all things Bravo. Keep up with her on Instagram @samholender.