If you’ve had the pleasure of dealing with acne (sarcasm very much intended), then you’re probably familiar with an ingredient called benzoyl peroxide. It’s the main character in some of the best spot treatments, cleansers, and even lotions because it's basically a p.acnes-fighting superhero. “Benzoyl peroxide is perhaps the best ingredient we have to treat red, angry pimples,” explains board certified dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner. “It works by lowering levels of acne-causing bacteria, reducing inflammation in the skin, and helping to open up the pimples themselves.”
All sounds pretty good, right? That’s why we did our due diligence, a boat load of research, and a slew of product testing to identify the best benzoyl peroxide products on the market. From effective spot treatments to rinse-off washes, keep scrolling to shop the best products.
What to Look for in a Benzoyl Peroxide Product?
Percentage of Active Ingredient
When you’re shopping for a benzoyl peroxide product, you’ll notice that almost every product identifies a certain percentage on the label, typically ranging from two to 10 percent. That begs the question: Which percentage is ideal? “More is not necessarily any better,” says Dr. Zeichner. “In fact, the higher the concentration, the more likely the product is to cause irritation. Studies have shown that 2.5% benzoyl peroxide is as effective in treating red, angry pimples as 5% or 10%, but less irritating.”
The best benzoyl peroxide products can be broken down into two camps: Wash-off formulas or leave-on formulas, which are designed to sit on the skin for an extended period of time. While the latter is going to provide more continuous treatment, a wash is a great option for acne management, a body treatment, or for anyone who experiences irritation with leave-on formulas.
“Washes are a great option, especially if you are treating large surface areas like your chest and back,” says Dr. Zeichner. “Even though these products are called washes, they really should be used as short-contact therapies. I tell my patients to apply them in the shower, and let them sit on the skin while they sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to themselves. This allows enough contact time for the benzoyl peroxide to get into the skin.” Because a cleanser is a short-term treatment, a higher concentration (closer to 10 percent) is going to be ideal to maximize benefits.
The Best Benzoyl Peroxide Products
- The Best Benzoyl Peroxide Face Wash: PCA Skin BPO 5% Cleanser (opens in new tab)
- The Best Benzoyl Peroxide Mask: Jori Daily Leave-On Acne Treatment Mask (opens in new tab)
- The Best Benzoyl Peroxide Moisturizer: Obagi Medical CLENZIderm M.D. Therapeutic Lotion (opens in new tab)
- The Best Benzoyl Peroxide Spot Treatment: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Acne Spot Treatment (opens in new tab)
- The Best Benzoyl Peroxide Lotion: Jan Marini Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Lotion 10% (opens in new tab)
The Best Benzoyl Peroxide Leave-On Mask
“This is an ultralight water gel, gentle enough to use daily,” explains Dr. Zeichner. “Micronized 2.5% benzoyl peroxide gets deep into the pores where acne begins, instead of sitting on the surface of the skin causing irritation. Plus, the formula contains a botanical blend that addresses contributing factors to breakouts, like hormones, diet, and stress.” While this can be used as a full-face treatment to both treat and prevent acne, I personally like to use it as a leave-on spot treatment before bed when I feel like a pimple is coming on.
Pros: Gentle enough for daily use; Multi-use
Cons: Might stain sheets
The Best Benzoyl Peroxide Product for Body
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Anna Karp names this drugstore face wash as one of her tried and true favorites—especially when pimples are centered on the chest or back. “I love the 10% [option] for treating body acne and preventing it,” she says. “Benzoyl peroxide does not develop bacterial resistance so it is a very effective ingredient.” While the higher concentration is ideal for body acne, it’s worth calling out that it *might* be a little too intense to use on the face if you have a sensitive or dry skin type.
Pros: Affordable; Maximum strength
Cons: Might be irritating
The Best Benzoyl Peroxide Spot Treatment
Part of the equation when deciding on the best benzoyl peroxide product is figuring out what else is part of the ingredient list. Take this La Roche-Posay spot treatment for example. In addition to having 5.5 percent benzoyl peroxide, Dr. Karp points out it also includes “moisturizing” glycerin. This is just one of the ways the product reduces the possibility of dryness. “It also has micronized benzoyl peroxide, which is less irritating,” explains Dr. Karp.
Pros: Hydrating; Derm-approved; Fast acting
Cons: Might irritate sensitive skin; Might bleach fabrics
The Best Benzoyl Peroxide Lotion
If you’re unable to tolerate most benzoyl peroxide products because of the drying side effects, allow me to suggest this lotion from Jan Marini. The 10 percent micronized benzoyl peroxide (remember, micronized is more effective) can be irritating. But because it’s buffered by hydrating emollients, your skin will be left feeling hydrated and soothed. Pretty good deal, right? That said, 10 percent is the max, so if you do experience side effects try scaling down your use to every other day.
Pros: Hydrating, Maximum strength
Cons: Expensive compared to others
The Best Benzoyl Peroxide Moisturizer
Can’t be bothered with a multi-step routine? Still want to get rid of your acne? Instead of layering on different products, streamline your acne-fighting skincare routine with a benzoyl peroxide treatment and moisturizer duo, like this one from Obagi. It has a five percent formulation that will target breakouts—and prevent new ones—as well as a non-comedogenic, uber-hydrating base that will keep your skin barrier in shape. I’ll leave you with this takeaway: Drying out your skin is not the solution; it will only make matters worse.
Pros: Multi-purpose product; Hydrating and gentle
The Best Benzoyl Peroxide Cleanser
Developed in tandem with dermatologists, this five percent benzoyl peroxide cleanser is going to offer a multitude of benefits. The micronized benzoyl peroxide gets to work deep in the pores, and as a result is going to not only help stop acne from forming, but also reduce oil production and keep your shine to a minimum. Let’s call it a win-win-win. There’s also a bit of glycerin in the mix, which is a non-comedogenic and very lightweight moisturizer. To incorporate this baby into your routine, I suggest starting off once a day. If you can tolerate it, up your use to twice a day. If you experience irritation, scale back to every other day.
Pros: Good for sensitive skin; Affordable
Cons: Doesn’t work into a foam
The Best Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Patch
While we totally understand if you want to treat your acne using lotions and potions, there is another option. Pimple patches, namely these super cute pink glitter ones, are a great way to deliver the acne-fighting powers of benzoyl peroxide directly into your little friend. These hydrocolloid babies are formulated with AHAs to exfoliate the skin and get out the gunk, as well as benzoyl peroxide to help reduce inflammation. Just pop ‘em on clean skin and let them get to work for a minimum of six hours.
Pros: Cute; Vegan; Easy to Use
Cons: Not very powerful
The Best Drugstore Benzoyl Peroxide Product
Whether your skin is oily, dry, sensitive, or somewhere in between, I feel confident recommending this face wash. With four percent benzoyl peroxide, it’s going to do the lord’s work on the acne front. But it’s all the other good ingredients inside that really get me going. Niacinamide (which does everything and then some) boosts the acne-fighting properties of the cleanser, reduces pore size, and balances the skin. Then ceramides swoop in to keep the skin barrier intact and deliver an extra dose of hydration.
Pros: Affordable; Works for all skin types
Cons: Not as powerful as other products
The Best Benzoyl Peroxide Cream Cleanser
If a cream cleanser is more your speed, turn your attention to The Inkey List. The non-drying formula contains both hyaluronic acid and glycerin to compensate for the side effects of benzoyl peroxide. Through some fancy-schmancy clinical studies, the brand was able to prove that this product kills 95 percent of acne-causing bacteria in…wait for it…just 15 seconds. While it is effective and wildy fast acting, it’s not recommended for those with sensitive skin types.
Pros: Fast-acting; Nice texture
Cons: Not micronized benzoyl peroxide; Not approved for sensitive skin
The Best Heavy-Duty Benzoyl Peroxide Cleanser
Great for combatting whiteheads and blackheads, this five percent gentle foaming cleanser leaves skin feeling squeaky clean. I’m not normally one for scents, but this face wash has the subtlest, most refreshing hint of cucumber and aloe. While the ingredients do offer a refreshing morning pick-me-up, they have another purpose. Both, along with chamomile extract, soothe and comfort the skin while the benzoyl peroxide does its pimple-drying job.
Pros: Great smell; Nice texture
Cons: Doesn’t remove makeup; On the expensive side
The Side Effects of Benzoyl Peroxide
While benzoyl peroxide is one of the best ways to treat acne, it’s not without side effects—it can cause red, itchy skin. “True allergic reactions to benzoyl peroxide are quite rare, and most reactions are caused by direct irritation, either because too much was used or too high of a concentration was applied,” explains Dr. Zeichner. To keep irritation to a minimum, he recommends using no more than a pea-sized amount of a leave-on formula for your entire face. It’s also key to use a moisturizer that’ll keep skin hydrated and balanced during an acne treatment.
If irritation with a product continues or gets worse, make sure to consult with a board certified dermatologist.
Meet the Dermatologists
As the Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research at Mount Sinai Hospital's Department of Dermatology, Dr. Zeichner has a broad interest in medical and cosmetic dermatology as well as clinical research. His specialty is the treatment of acne, as well as the cosmetic rejuvenation of the aging face. Dr. Zeichner treats general skin conditions, including eczema, rosecea, psoriasis, and skin cancer. In addition, he is well-versed in the use of Botox and dermal fillers, as well as lasers and chemical peels.
Anna Karp, DO, is a board-certified dermatologist at the Skin Institute of New York (SINY®). Dr. Karp specializes in medical, cosmetic, and surgical dermatology, and she treats adults and children at SINY’s® three offices in New York City’s West Village and Bay Ridge and Park Slope in Brooklyn, New York. Dr. Karp is a native New Yorker, growing up on the South Shore of Long Island. After graduating magna cum laude with her bachelor of arts degree in Biology from the State University of New York at Binghamton, she went on to earn her medical degree from Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York City. She then completed dual residencies in Family Medicine and Dermatology at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway, New York. During her residency, Dr. Karp presented at a number of local and national conferences, and she published several articles in peer-reviewed journals. She also served as Chief Resident during the final year. Dr. Karp is an active fellow and member of the American Academy of Dermatology, American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, and the American Medical Association. As a highly skilled dermatologist, she focuses on providing the highest level of individualized and compassionate care to all her patients.
Samantha Holender is the Beauty Editor at Marie Claire, where she reports on the best new launches, dives into the science behind skincare, and keeps up with the latest trends in the beauty space. She has previously written for Us Weekly, Popsugar, Makeup.com, Skincare.com, and Philadelphia Wedding. Follow her on Instagram @samholender.
Royal Family Would “Collapse” Without Catherine, Princess of Wales, As the “Future Rests on Her”
By Rachel Burchfield
Paris Hilton Calls Princess Diana Her Idol, Says She’s Rooting for Prince Harry
Hilton and Harry both released memoirs this year.
By Rachel Burchfield
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Are Apparently Making Major Demands in Order to Confirm Their Attendance at the Coronation
“It could lead to chaos.”
By Rachel Burchfield