Benzoyl peroxide allergic reaction


I had horrible acne because I was allergic to this super common chemical

Jun 20, 2017 @ 10:09 am By Angie Piccirillo

I’ve had all the types of acne — literally, all the acne.

I turned 12 and my face exploded. And like anyone else, I went to the drugstore and bought the entire skincare aisle assuming I could scrub the bumps off my skin. I know you’ve probably tried that horrible apricot scrub you can get at every drug store — you know, that shit that’s like gravel in a bottle?

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1486941865725-0’); });

My face got so bad I had to call in an actual doctor to help me. And he decided to do something interesting: stop any and all over the counter products. Which sounded crazy — because like, wouldn’t all the bumps just come back?

Like one of those investigators who obsesses over weird murder cases, my doctor had a thing about him where he HAD to figure out what was wrong with my skin. My crazy doc then had a crazy idea: maybe my acne wasn’t normal acne? Maybe I was allergic to something that was in every product I had been using!

Triple threat tragedy: Me at seventh grade dance camp, with braces, acne and a perm.

With more investigating, my doctor figured out I was allergic to benzoyl peroxide, which is the active ingredient in almost every over-the-counter acne product.

So we started on a crazy regimen to zap these babies and eliminated all traces of benzoyl peroxide. In order to initially clear my face, I had to see him once a week and get my face sprayed with a chemical to “freeze” the bumps; take antibiotics twice a day to kill the bacteria; get a glycolic acid peel and full facial every two weeks; and put on a shit ton of prescription topical cream on a daily basis.

I had to wear a baseball hat when I was outside in the sun because of how many chemicals I had on me. It was a dangerous time.

Once my face was clear, we needed to figure out a face regimen that I could do without all the crazy medical prescriptions and harsh chemicals. It was decided then that I was only allowed to use products with a very low percentage of salicylic acid, including even my makeup. I highly recommend Clinique’s Acne Solutions foundation, which has a low percentage of salicylic acid in it that can help keep acne at bay. There’s also a BB cream version which is only available online, and has 40 SPF — so it’s great for summer (I’m not sure why this isn’t carried in stores, best kept secret!) and literally goes on invisibly.

READ ALSO: How To Tell If Your Phone is Giving You Acne

Covering up couldn’t be all I was worried about — I needed to find products that had all natural ingredients in them, because my doctor said there was a high possibility I could be allergic to many of the other chemicals in other cleansers.

We then made one simple rule about all my skin products that’s always remained the same: Read the ingredients on your skin products like you would ingredients for your food. If it’s full of chemicals you don’t know and can’t pronounce, it’s likely it’s not good for you!

So here I’m going to share with you what I’ve found that works for me — Here is my current list of recommended face products for the sensitive ones like me. I do have throw a disclosure out there: checking with a dermatologist is best — especially if you think you have underlying allergies, since they are NOT to be fucked with.

If you like to do a round of makeup wipes before cleanser, I recommend the cleansing cloths from Ogee. I’ve tried a bunch of different cloths, and they often leave behind a weird residue or fragrance — with these ones there’s no weird chemical remnants. Ogee is this radical brand where everything is organic, and the co-founders straight up source jojoba oil a farm to make their products the highest of quality. Let’s just say when you’re tired of not knowing what’s in your face products, Ogee is literally the only brand you wanna fuck with.

I recently found these little pulsating babies by Foreo which you can use along with a gentle cleanser like Cetaphil or the Frank Body Creamy Cleanser. The Foreo products use T-sonic pulsations to gently clean the skin, lifting away 99.5 percent of dirt and gross shit. Not to mention, it’s made from silicone — so it’s easy to clean and won’t collect bacteria like a regular brush.

A few elements of my regimen. (It’s a lot of work to look this mediocre!)

Next, try Frank Body’s creamy face scrub, which has coffee in it so you can gently scrub the day away instead of trying to use gravel to exfoliate. Frank Body also uses coffee in everything, and coffee has caffeine in it, and like, I’m sure you’ve heard caffeine is great for skin. So, it’s a total win and smells yummy too.

You may choose to use a toner or not, I personally like how it feels to spray on a toner when it’s hot af in the summer — plus, regular water can dry my skin out. I like to use Epicuren’s Brazilian Propolis Mist on a day with no makeup, or after I’ve washed. As the queen of being-allergic-to-fucking-everything I do have to warn that you should NOT use this if you are allergic to bees or honey, in which case you might be better off using the Mario Badescu Facial Spray with Rosewater. Both sprays are super bomb, and will make your face super soft! But reminder: read the labels!

It can be hard to find a light moisturizer that doesn’t clog those pores — but I say go with anything with a high amount of hyaluronic acid in it, which is better for moisturizing and preventing wrinkles. Frank Body has a great daily moisturizer, that I like to use at night, or you can use a few drops of Ogee’s Jojoba Restore Face Oil with the Cetaphil brand of moisturizer (look for that hyaluronic acid label!) if you are super sensitive.

Extra tip: If you are super dry at certain times of the year, put a few drops of Ogee’s Jojoba Restore Face Oil in your makeup, and literally, life changes happen.

I like to go for the bonus round and do the wrinkle prevention, but I hate how most wrinkle creams are thick and can make me break out again. When I found this serum — which is not crazy expensive like a lot of serums are — I almost lost my mind. Get yourself all the bottles of Ogee Seeds of Youth Serum and bask in how amazing it feels. Again, this brand is amazing — I mean, a jojoba farm? Such dedication.

Lastly, keep your makeup brushes clean and throw away sponges every few days! These are the biggest breeding grounds where bacteria can form, and you don’t wanna spread it all around your face! My fave brush cleanser is IT Cosmetics Brush Love, which is also made for sensitive skin AND has collagen in it, so again it’s a total WIN.

It was a bit of a struggle to find what worked for me — my biggest recommendation is to look at the ingredients of everything, and look for common threads and patterns in things when you begin to notice a problem. Some acne will be traced back to hormones, but there are a million causes for the many different kinds of acne. If you get a new product, definitely try the skin patch test and keep the Benadryl nearby!

For me, it’s clear (pun intended) that more natural products are def the way to go — just like your body, be gentle to your face and your skin. And know that even some of the worst cases of acne, there is hope in figuring out what can work for you!

About The Author: Angie Piccirillo

Angie is a film/TV & commercial producer and also a music journalist based in Los Angeles. Follow her on Instagram @whatangiesays or check out her newest fave tunes on Spotify at #WhatAngieSpins

Over-the-counter acne treatments can help you keep your skin clear and blemish-free. But some of these lotions and gels also could produce dangerous reactions that may, in rare circumstances, be life-threatening.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued a warning that says products containing the ingredients benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid can cause rare but serious and potentially life-threatening allergic reactions or severe irritation.

The FDA warning was prompted by 131 reports of serious allergic reactions from these products, which include gels, lotions, facial washes, cleansing pads, toners and facial scrubs. The reports came from consumers and manufacturers between 1969 and January 2013.

Allergy-like reactions

The serious reactions reported to the FDA were severe allergy symptoms such as:

  • Throat tightness.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Wheezing.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Fainting.
  • Collapse.

People also reported isolated instances of hives, or itching on the face or body – even of parts of the body where the person did not apply the medication – and swelling of the eyes, face and lips.

About 42 percent of the people who had reactions experienced them within minutes to 24 hours after using the products. No deaths were reported, but 44 percent of the people who had severe reactions required hospitalization.

Stopping blemishes

The products’ active ingredients are either benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. The FDA cannot determine if the products’ active ingredients, the inactive ingredients, or both triggered the reactions.

Salicylic acid is derived from willow tree bark. When applied to the skin to treat acne, salicylic acid reduces swelling and redness and unplugs blocked skin pores to allow pimples to shrink. Salicylic acid treats other skin conditions by softening and loosening dry, scaly, or thickened skin so that it falls off or can be removed easily.

Benzoyl peroxide is an antibiotic used to remove bacteria from the skin. It also is a bleaching agent, and can be found in non-acne products such as hair dye. Unlike oral antibiotics, there is no risk of bacteria becoming resistant to benzoyl peroxide even if you use it frequently.

These two blemish-fighters also can also irritate the skin, causing side effects like redness, itching, burning, dryness, peeling and slight swelling, says dermatologist Carol Slover, MD. Dr. Slover did not have a role in the FDA warning.

The FDA warning concerns the more serious allergic reactions.

“Since all acne medications can cause irritation to the skin, consumers need to determine whether they are seeing a side effect or a serious allergic reaction,” Dr. Slover says.

Go slow

Products containing salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are still safe to use, Dr. Slover says. But she urges consumers to read the labels on these products.

Benzoyl peroxide comes in several concentrations, such as 2.5 percent, 5 percent and 10 percent. The higher concentrations do not necessarily work better than the formulas with lower concentrations, Dr. Slover says. But the side effects are more common with the higher percentage formulas.

Go slow when you try out a new over-the-counter acne medication, Dr. Slover says. Apply a small amount of the product to a small affected area for a few days. If you don’t experience any discomfort, then you can follow the label’s directions for normal use.

If you experience minor irritation, discontinue use of the product, Dr. Slover says. You should seek medical attention immediately if you experience any of the severe, allergic-reaction type symptoms.

Struggling with adult acne? We feel your pain! It can happen to just about anyone and adult acne is surprisingly more common than people often think.

The good news is that you don’t have to simply accept pesky pimples and redness as a part of life. The right cleanser and a balanced skin care routine can help nip blemishes in the bud before they become unmanageable.

We asked top dermatologists to share their favorite face wash picks that help combat acne and oily skin — and though you should consult your own dermatologist prior to starting any new skincare routine, this list should help you along the way.

The top facial cleansers for acne

1. Bioré Charcoal Acne Clearing Cleanser

“The winning combination of salicylic acid and purifying charcoal works to clean out oil and bacteria, while the cooling sensation leaves your face feeling super clean. Plus, the price can’t be beat!” said New York City cosmetic dermatologist, Dr. Howard Sobel, founder of Sobel Skin.

2. First Aid Beauty Skin Rescue

“This foaming gel cleanser combines red clay and rosemary leaf oil to help cleanse the skin and absorb excess sebum. As an added bonus, it also contains a blend of botanical antioxidants (licorice root, feverfew and white tea),” said Dr. Dendy Engelman, a dermatologist in New York City.

3. La Roche Posay Effaclar Medicated Cleanser

“The use of 2-percent salicylic acid ensures a quick exfoliation within the pores, where acne develops. In addition, the lipohydroxy acid takes a longer term approach, diving deeper within the pore and causing a more gentle exfoliation that develops over days and does not increase dryness or irritation. This ‘turtle and hare’ approach makes a lot of sense, since acne is a chronic disease that requires consistent, well-tolerated treatment,” said Dr. Ted Lain, board-certified dermatologist.

4. Philosophy Purity Made Simple Cleanser

Stuff We Love

Get a daily roundup of items that will make your life easier, healthier and more stylish.

“This face wash cleanses pores, but does not leave skin dry. It moisturizes the skin and is good for all types,” said Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, celebrity cosmetic dermatologist and founder of PFRANKMD and PFRANKMD Skin Salon.

5. Clean and Clear Acne Cleanser

“This product contains 10-percent benzoyl peroxide, which is anti-inflammatory and antibacterial, and often used as an acne treatment,” said Dr. Julia Tzu, founder and medical director of Wall Street Dermatology.

6. Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser

“Glycerin, a potent humectant, helps to maintain moisture despite the foaming action. Salicylic acid, on the other hand, helps cell turnover in the pores to help clear blackheads and whiteheads and reduce the formation of new ones. Last but not least, this cleanser’s soy complex helps reduce dryness, irritation and redness associated with acne treatments and salicylic acid,” said Dr. Heidi A Waldorf of Waldorf Dermatology Aesthetics.

7. Kate Somerville Daily Foaming Cleanser

“Sulfur is a great antiseptic and clears the redness in acne. It can smell and irritate the skin, but the soothing oats and honey in this cleanser help prevent these two potential issues,” said Dr. Patrick Blake, dermatologist at EllaMD and voluntary clinical instructor at UCSD.

8. Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne and Redness Facial Cleanser

“This lightweight cleanser helps boost the delivery of salicylic acid to help reduce the appearance of acne. Aloe and chamomile help to calm irritation while visibly reducing facial redness,” Sobel said.

9. Proactiv Renewing Cleanser

“With this product, Proactiv uses a micronized version of benzoyl peroxide, a mainstay acne treatment, which allows the ingredient to have beneficial effects at a low 2.5-percent concentration. The addition of hydrating hyaluronic acid and calming chamomile minimizes inflammation or irritation,” Lain said.

10. Cetaphil DermaControl Foam Wash

“It has an instant impact on oily, overly shiny skin that many people with acne have, giving more of a matte appearance. Also, it’s inexpensive and rarely causes irritation,” Blake said.

11. Elta MD Foaming Facial Cleanser

“This is a super gentle cleanser that is great for patients who have acne but also have sensitive, dry skin and are on other topical acne treatments. It does not contain any active anti-acne ingredients, so it does not cause any level of irritation to the skin when other acne medications are applied,” said Tzu.

12. Epionce Lytic Gel Cleanser

“This cleanser effectively dissolves dirt, oil and makeup, and calms the visible appearance of irritated skin without over-drying or leaving the skin feeling tight or stripped of its natural oils. It contains willow bark extract, lavender extract, marshmallow root extract, orange fruit extract and menthol,” Engelman said.

13. Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash

“This cleanser contains salicylic acid which has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. It also exfoliates, and unclogs the pores, eliminating whiteheads and blackheads,” said New York City-based, board-certified cosmetic dermatologist, Dr. Michele Green.

14. SkinMedica AHA BHA Exfoliating Cleanser

“This cleanser contains alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) — lactic acid, glycolic acid, citric acid and malic acid — and beta-hydroxy acid (salicylic acid), in addition to jojoba spheres to help exfoliate and enhance skin texture,” Engelman noted.

15. iS Clinica Exfoliating Facial Scrub

“This scrub/cleanser works to clear clogged pores and acne, and the micro-beads mechanically exfoliate the skin. The botanical enzymes and salicylic acid chemically exfoliate the skin in addition to eliminating stubborn acne,” said Dr. Lily Talakoub from McLean Dermatology and Skincare Center.

To discover more deals, shopping tips and budget-friendly product recommendations, and subscribe to our Stuff We Love newsletter!

Face wash stays on your skin for less than a minute, so can it really make a difference for your acne? Yes, yes it can. Cleanser resets your skin to a so healing, active ingredients can work more effectively.

“Acne prone skin truly requires a targeted facial cleanser to help clear the skin and prevent new lesions from forming,” says Marnie Nussbaum, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. She suggests looking for ingredients like salicylic acid (to purge pores and dissolve dead skin cells), benzoyl peroxide (to help kill acne causing bacteria), as well as calming ingredients like niacin amide, chamomile, and green tea. If your skin tends to dry out quickly, also look for cleansers that have hyaluronic acid or ceramides on the ingredient list that will help moisturize.

As for the actual cleansing part of the process, Dr. Nussbaum says there are dos and don’ts. First, remove your makeup—yes, this is a separate step from washing your face. “Once your makeup is off, your cleanser can really get to work on your pores to remove excess skin cells and dirt,” she explains. Then, use clean fingertips (they’re the most gentle) to massage in your cleanser in circles for 20-30 seconds. While you may think the longer you cleanse the better, washing your face is not like brushing your teeth and overcleansing can actually lead to irritation. Another important element that can lead to redness and inflammation: Hot water. Keep your H2O lukewarm while washing to prevent stripping your skin dry.

Here are some of the best acne face washes that meet all of the above criteria.

1. Best Overall Acne-Fighter: Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Pink Grapefruit Facial Cleanser

Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Pink Grapefruit Facial Cleanser $8.33 $6.67 (20% off)

The pink grapefruit cleanser is a cult classic for a reason. It’s salicylic acid-based to treat everything from blackheads to breakouts, plus adds vitamin C to balance out T-zone oil. The light citrusy scent also provides a mood boost in the AM.

2. Best For Blackheads: Bioré Charcoal Acne Cleanser

Bioré Charcoal Acne Clearing Cleanser $5.99 $3.99 (33% off)

Salicylic acid combined with purifying charcoal wiggles its way into pores to clean out all that oil and skin cell gunk. It creates a cool tingle that leaves your face feeling squeaky clean. If you have any dryness afterwards, follow up with a non-comedogenic moisturizer.

3. Best For Cystic Acne: Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Cleanser

Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Facial Cleanser $7.99

A 10 percent benzoyl peroxide formula, this cleanser attacks pimple-causing bacteria for your most stubborn blemishes. Because BP can be drying, start by using this wash once a week and build up as tolerated.

4. Best For All-Over Breakouts: PanOxyl Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Creamy Wash

PanOxyl Acne Creamy Wash Benzoyl Peroxide 4% $11.15

Here’s another BP cleanser with a moderate four percent strength. It’s wrapped up in a creamy formulation, which provides additional moisture so you’re left with soft skin—not that super-tight feeling. You can even use this on your bod to treat bacne.

5. Best For Dry Skin: Differin Daily Deep Cleanser

Differin Daily Deep Cleanser $10.44

This cleanser has five percent BP, which is as effective at fighting acne as stronger percentages without causing the same dryness or irritation—a major plus for those of you with sensitive skin. It also contains moisturizing glycerin to hydrate your skin while removing oil, gunk, and bacteria.

6. Best For Oily Skin: Origins Zero Oil Deep Pore Cleanser

Origins Zero Oil Deep Pore Cleanser $24.00

All you need is a little H2O and this lathers into a nice cooling foam. If you have an issue with oil, count this as your go-to. The salicylic acid treats pores, saw palmetto (a berry extract) stops germs from proliferating on the skin, and mint keeps impurities at bay.

7. Best For Redness: Peter Thomas Roth Acne Clearing Wash

Peter Thomas Roth Acne Clearing Wash $39.00

The two percent salicylic acid cleanser is tough enough to tackle breakouts and remove a day’s worth of makeup (although we still suggest doing this before washing). It’s still gentle on your skin thanks to allantoin, an ingredient that eases potential sensitivity, and pro vitamin B5, which helps skin stay supple and redness-free.

8. Best Exfoliating Scrub: Garnier SkinActive Deep Pore Exfoliating Scrub

Garnier, $8.99

If a clean face means getting gritty and scrubby with it…you need this one from Garnier. The salicylic acid clears out excess oil, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, while manual exfoliators remove pore-clogging dead skin cells.

9. Best For Sensitive Skin: Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser

Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser $6.77

This gentle foaming formulation effectively removes dirt without stripping your skin, says Dr. Zeichner, and the salicylic acid helps to remove excess oil from the skin.

10. Best Natural Alternative: Tata Harper Clarifying Cleanser

Tata Harper Clarifying Cleanser $72.00

If you’re into green beauty (and you’re willing to spend a bit more on an acne face wash) try this option from Tata Harper. It uses exfoliating lactic and citric acids to slough away pore-clogging skin cells, while balancing oil and redness with botanical extracts.

11. Best Multitasker: Clear Skin Days by Sephora Collection Clarifying Cleanser + Mask

Clear Skin Days Clarifying Cleanser + Mask SEPHORA COLLECTION $10.00

This cleanser doubles up on acids and includes salicylic and glycolic to help blast through what’s clogging your pores: dirt, oil, and dead skin cells. It can also be used as a mask. Just swipe a thick layer onto dry skin and leave it on for up to five minutes so it can get to work before rinsing away—with lukewarm water, of course!

12. Best Anti-Aging: Boscia Clear Complexion Cleanser

Clear Complexion Cleanser boscia $28.00

On top of willow bark extract—the natural form of salicylic acid—this cleanser also uses geranium to help balance out sebum (what you refer to as oil) production which is what can clog pores and typically leads to breakouts. The gel formula also uses rosemary extract for some added firming benefits.

13. Best Deep Clean: REN ClearCalm 3 Clarifying Clay Cleanser

Clearcalm 3 Clarifying Clay Cleanser $32.00

Cleansing in itself is purifying for the skin but this cleanser takes it once step further thanks to kaolin clay that works like a sponge to absorb impurities and excess oil then remove them. On top of that, zinc helps calm redness while flavonoids (a plant-based antioxidant) work to tone and repair skin.

14. Best Soothing: Biossance Squalane + Tea Tree Cleansing Gel

Squalane + Tea Tree Cleansing Gel Biossance $29.00

Yes, this cleanser has tea tree oil to help clear up your acne, but it’s also packed with lots of calming ingredients like aloe, lavender oil, and glycerin—key for inflamed skin or pimples. The plant-based squalane (a moisturizer similar to a substance your skin naturally produces) keeps skin hydrated, which can be difficult when you’re using drying acne ingredients.

15. Best Scent: Indie Lee Purifying Face Wash

Purifying Face Wash Indie Lee $34.00

This foaming face wash is loaded with essential oils like orange peel, lemon peel, and jasmine that not only make for a nice sensorial experience when you’re cleansing, but also help to soothe skin and keep your oil production in check.

Jessica Migala Jessica Migala is a health writer specializing in general wellness, fitness, nutrition, and skincare, with work published in Women’s Health, Glamour, Health, Men’s Health, and more. Daley Quinn Daley Quinn is a Connecticut-born, Texas-bred beauty & wellness writer living in New York City. Chelsea Burns Chelsea Burns is the Senior Beauty Editor for Women’s Health and has been writing in the beauty and wellness space for over six years with her work appearing in Real Simple, Health, Fitness, and


Published: 5 March 2015

A Topical Issue – Serious Hypersensitivity and Burning Reactions

Prescriber Update 36(1): 2
March 2015

Key Messages

  • Serious hypersensitivity reactions including anaphylaxis have been reported following the use of topical acne products that contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.
  • There is a risk of chemical skin burns with the use of chlorhexidine solution for skin disinfection in premature neonates.
Topical acne products containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid

Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are used in topical acne products available from pharmacies, supermarkets and other retail stores. These products include gels, creams and face washes.

Local skin irritation reactions such as redness, burning, dryness, itching, peeling, or slight swelling are known to occur particularly with benzoyl peroxide.1 Serious hypersensitivity reactions including anaphylaxis have also been reported following the use of these topical acne products.2

The Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring (CARM) has received reports of angioedema, periorbital oedema, bronchospasm and syncope with the use of topical acne products that contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.

Consumers should be advised to stop using these products and to seek emergency medical attention immediately if they experience throat tightness, difficulty breathing, feeling faint, or swelling of the eyes, face, lips or tongue. These are symptoms of a serious hypersensitivity reaction.

Use of chlorhexidine in premature neonates

Chlorhexidine solution is used as a skin disinfectant prior to invasive procedures in neonates. It is available in both alcohol-based and water-based solutions.

There have been reports internationally of chemical skin burns in premature neonates who were treated with chlorhexidine solution before central venous catheterisation.3 This risk has been associated with both alcohol-based and water-based solutions.

According to these reports and the published literature, the risk appears to be higher in premature neonates, especially those born before 32 weeks of gestation and within the first two weeks of life.

To reduce the risk of chemical skin burns, use the minimum amount of chlorhexidine solution required and do not allow the solution to pool in skin folds or under the patient. Remove any excess solution and any soaked materials from the skin. Monitor patients frequently to ensure that cutaneous side effects are detected and managed at an early stage. 3

There have also been reports of severe allergic reactions including anaphylaxis following chlorhexidine use. Medsafe has previously notified healthcare professionals of this risk (

  1. Galderma Australia Pty Ltd. 2011. Benzac AC Gel Consumer Medicine Information. 4 August 2011. URL: (accessed 7 January 2015).
  2. The Food and Drug Administration. 2014. FDA warns of rare but serious hypersensitivity reactions with certain over-the-counter topical acne products.Drug Safety Communications 25 June 2014. URL: (accessed 7 January 2015).
  3. Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. 2014. Chlorhexidine solutions: risk of chemical burn injury to skin in premature infants. Drug Safety Update June 2014. URL: (accessed 7 January 2015).

RE Benzoyl Peroxide Side Effects

Generic Name: benzoyl peroxide topical

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 23, 2019.

  • Side Effects
  • Dosage
  • Interactions
  • Pregnancy
  • Breastfeeding
  • More

Note: This document contains side effect information about benzoyl peroxide topical. Some of the dosage forms listed on this page may not apply to the brand name RE Benzoyl Peroxide.

For the Consumer

Applies to benzoyl peroxide topical: topical bar, topical cream, topical foam, topical gel/jelly, topical liquid, topical lotion, topical pad, topical soap, topical solution

Along with its needed effects, benzoyl peroxide topical (the active ingredient contained in RE Benzoyl Peroxide) may cause some unwanted effects. Although not all of these side effects may occur, if they do occur they may need medical attention.

Check with your doctor immediately if any of the following side effects occur while taking benzoyl peroxide topical:

Less common or rare

  • Painful irritation of skin, including burning, blistering, crusting, itching, severe redness, or swelling
  • skin rash

Incidence not known

  • Difficult breathing
  • fainting
  • hives
  • itching
  • swelling of the eyes, face, lips, or tongue
  • tightness in the throat

Get emergency help immediately if any of the following symptoms of overdose occur while taking benzoyl peroxide topical:

Symptoms of overdose

  • Burning, itching, scaling, redness, or swelling of skin (severe)

Some side effects of benzoyl peroxide topical may occur that usually do not need medical attention. These side effects may go away during treatment as your body adjusts to the medicine. Also, your health care professional may be able to tell you about ways to prevent or reduce some of these side effects. Check with your health care professional if any of the following side effects continue or are bothersome or if you have any questions about them:

Less common

  • Dryness or peeling of the skin (may occur after a few days)
  • feeling of warmth, mild stinging, and redness of the skin

For Healthcare Professionals

Applies to benzoyl peroxide topical: compounding powder, topical bar, topical cream, topical foam, topical gel, topical kit, topical liquid, topical lotion, topical pad, topical soap


Very common (10% or more): Peeling, application site erythema

Common (1% to 10%): Dryness, pruritus, contact sensitization reactions

Uncommon (0.1% to 1%): Burning sensation

Frequency not reported: Contact dermatitis, application site rash, application site discoloration, application site reactions (irritation and pain)


Frequency not reported: Allergic reactions, including application site hypersensitivity and anaphylaxis


The most commonly reported side effects were peeling and application site erythema.


Frequency not reported: Swelling of the face

1. “Product Information. Triaz (benzoyl peroxide topical).” Medicis Dermatatologics Inc, Phoenix, AZ.

2. Cerner Multum, Inc. “UK Summary of Product Characteristics.” O 0

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Some side effects may not be reported. You may report them to the FDA.

Related questions

  • Can you buy antibiotics over the counter?

Medical Disclaimer

More about RE Benzoyl Peroxide (benzoyl peroxide topical)

  • During Pregnancy or Breastfeeding
  • Dosage Information
  • Drug Interactions
  • Drug class: topical acne agents
  • FDA Alerts (2)

Consumer resources

Other brands: Acne Treatment, Acne-Clear, PanOxyl, PR Benzoyl Peroxide Wash, … +41 more

Professional resources

  • Benzoyl Peroxide Wash (FDA)

Related treatment guides

  • Acne
  • Perioral Dermatitis

Home remedies for peeling skin on the face

The following sections look at possible causes of peeling skin on the face.

Dry skin

Dry skin, or xerosis, can flake and peel off. It results from a lack of water and oil.

People with dry skin may also experience:

  • roughness or cracks in the area
  • chapped lips
  • itchiness in the area
  • a gray coloring, in people with darker skin

Dry skin on the face can result from various issues, including:

  • a dry climate
  • cold weather
  • chlorine in swimming pools
  • adverse effects of medications
  • skin products that dry or irritate the skin
  • medical conditions, such as seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, or psoriasis


Sunburned skin peels because the body is getting rid of damaged skin cells.

Both first- and second-degree sunburns can cause skin to peel. More severe burns cause swelling and blisters, as well as redness.

Acne treatments

Certain acne medications and similar products can cause peeling or dryness of the skin. Among them are topical treatments that contain benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or retinoids.

Skin conditions

Various skin conditions can cause peeling and dry skin on the face and the rest of the body, including:

  • Eczema (atopic dermatitis): This inflammatory condition tends to cause red, peeling, and itchy skin. The skin may be scaly and crack or develop crusty sores that may weep fluid.
  • Facial psoriasis: Another inflammatory condition, this can cause red, dry, scaly patches of skin that may feel itchy and sensitive.
  • Rosacea: This causes redness and pus-filled, red bumps on the face. Affected skin may also be dry, peeling, or both. A person with rosacea may flush easily and feel sensitivity or a burning or stinging sensation in the affected area.
  • Allergic contact dermatitis: This is an allergic reaction to a substance, such as a chemical in a skin care product. It can cause a red, itchy, scaly rash.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis: This develops in areas of the body that produce the most oil, such as the scalp, face, chest, or back. It can cause greasy skin and white or yellow crusty flakes. When it occurs on the scalp, it is called dandruff.


Share on PinterestA person with hypothyroidism may experience fatigue, a loss of appetite, and high blood pressure.

Hypothyroidism can cause dryness that leads to flaking or peeling skin. Other symptoms include:

  • brittle nails
  • thin, coarse hair
  • fatigue
  • intolerance to cold
  • a loss of appetite
  • weight gain
  • constipation
  • high blood pressure

Fungal infections

Fungal infections most commonly start on the skin. In this case, they can cause the skin to become dry and to peel and flake. An infection can also cause redness and swelling.

Peeling skin syndrome

Peeling skin syndrome is a rare genetic disorder that causes skin to continuously peel. It usually appears in newborns or infants, but it can develop later in life. The affected skin may also be itchy and red.

Acne Med Tips

How to Successfully Use Benzoyl Peroxide & Face Reality Acne Med

Acne is one of the most common skin challenges in the U.S. and it’s not just limited to teenagers. In fact, it impacts all ages, races, and genders. Nearly 60 million Americans have active acne and 20 million are at risk of developing scar tissue as a result.

What’s your defense?

One effective defense is benzoyl peroxide (BPO), a chemical in the organic peroxide family that has been used in acne treatment formulas for more than 80 years. It works as a bleaching and peeling agent and is antimicrobial, increases cell turnover, reduces the bacterial count, clears up existing acne, and prevents future breakouts.

Benzoyl peroxide is a white or off-white water-soluble crystalline powder that offers the following benefits for blemished and impure skin:

  • It peels skin like salicylic or resorcinol, reducing blockages.
  • It kills the bacterium Propionibacterium acnes (P.acnes).
  • It contains inflammatory properties which reduce pain and discomfort associated with many lesions.
  • It eliminates fatty acids and oils in the skin.

Things you should know about using benzoyl peroxide & acne med:

Expect to be a bit dry!

Benzoyl peroxide can be extremely irritating and drying. During the initial weeks, you may experience some dryness, redness, itching, flaking, tightness, or mild peeling. This is temporary and will subside as your skin adapts. Try to put up with some peeling as it will eventually go away. Those who can push through the initial dryness and light flaking get the fastest results. However, if you are uncomfortably dry or you are a darker skin type, then let us know. We can offer some helpful tips for getting through the dry phase.

Avoid eye area and lower neck

Do not use benzoyl peroxide on your neck or eye area as the tissue is too delicate and it will over dry and irritate the skin too much.

No eye cream in the PM

Do not use eye cream or moisturizer around the eyes or neck because the benzoyl peroxide will migrate through the cream and cause irritation and possible swelling.

Avoid eye irritation

Allow benzoyl peroxide to dry before going to bed. If your eyelids get irritated, try changing your pillowcase more often. When you are wearing acne med at night, it will get on the pillowcase.

Smile lines

This area tends to be the most sensitive area on the face and will be the first place you see irritation and dryness. You can put a very thin layer of Rhonda Allison Pro Salve on this area to protect it for a few days and then resume product regular product use.

Working out? Remove benzoyl peroxide

Do not wear benzoyl peroxide when you expect to perspire. If you plan to exercise, engage in physical labor, or be outside under the hot sun, wash it off first or it will irritate your skin.

Will bleach fabric

Benzoyl peroxide will bleach fabric, so we suggest wearing a white shirt when using it. Also, use a white washcloth when removing the product from your skin. Use white pillowcases when you start wearing benzoyl peroxide overnight. Make sure to wash your hands with soap following each application to avoid bleaching towels.

Allergic reaction

Dry or irritated skin is often not an allergy. Allergies to benzoyl peroxide are rare but do occur occasionally. Dry skin does not constitute an allergic reaction. An allergy is characterized by itching, swelling, or burning associated with a rash similar to a mild case of poison ivy dermatitis. If you are experiencing unusual irritation or an allergic reaction occurs, stop using Acne Med and contact us immediately.

Diligence pays off

If you skip a day or two or only spot treat, this break in your treatment gives a chance for acne to form. You will never get clear if you skip your home care treatment plan.

Use over the entire acne-prone area

While spot treating can be effective for those who are mildly blemish-prone, those with inflamed acne must use benzoyl peroxide serum over the entire acne-prone area, every day. This is what will help prevent future breakouts.

Your eyelid skin is a “canary in the mine shaft” when it comes to allergic and irritant reactions.

Eyelid skin is so thin that it will break-out in an allergic reaction while the rest of your face sits by quietly unfazed. I see a lot of people with eyelid dermatitis in my dermatology office, and I just had a conversation about it on the web, too.
It’s always fun for me to sleuth-out the cause, sort of a Sherlock Holmes meets dermatology moment. My patients seem to like the detective adventure too since they’re frustrated by their eyelid dermatitis and eager for help.

When the thin skin of your eyelids get a rash, it’s pretty dramatic. People with eyelid dermatitis usually describe their eyelids as wrinkled, swollen, red, and itching, or burning. They’re also pretty disturbed by the appearance because the rash is so striking and hard to hide. Most of the home remedies they’ve tried sting, and the problem gets steadily worse.

The real detective work comes because of the seemingly unrelated allergen exposures that cause allergic eyelid reactions. For example, the number one cause of eyelid dermatitis in North America is nail polish!

Yes, nail polish. It contains chemicals (most notably formaldehyde and it’s relatives) and when your polished fingernails touch your fragile eyelids, the chemicals can cause eyelid dermatitis. The thick skin of your fingers remains rash-free because it’s so thick that the chemicals don’t easily get through it. Your eyelid skin, on the other hand, is thin and readily absorbs the chemicals; if you’re allergic to formaldehyde, that means a rash.

Common Ways Your Eyelids are Exposed to Allergens:

Chemicals are carried to your eyelids from your hands such as the fragrances or ingredients in hand soaps and hand lotions.
Actually, everything that you get your hands into can be carried to your eyelids. I’ve seen hand-to-eyelid dermatitis in musicians allergic to the metal on their musical instruments, gardeners allergic to specific plants, artists working with glues, paints and lacquers, cooks allergic to foods, hair dressers allergic to hair dye or perm solutions, etc.
Most of the time though, it’s nail polish! When the allergen is brought to the eyelids from the hands, the rash is usually worse on one side than the other because we touch our faces more with one hand than the other.

I recommend that eyelid dermatitis patients use only hypoallergenic hand cleansers and hand creams. My recommended products include my Foaming Hand Soap, Natural Face/Hand and Body Lotion and my Dry Skin Hand Cream. All are free of the most common skin care allergens.

Airborne droplets of any spray products bring allergens to your eyelids.
I’ve seen eyelid dermatitis due to air fresheners (sprays, plug-ins, potpourri, scented candles, etc.), spray perfumes, hair spray, spray household cleaners, etc. If you can smell it, it’s in the air and it settles out on your eyelids, too.

Allergens include the fragrance itself, chemicals in products, and more. It is why I have an ultra-hypoallergenic spray home cleaner in my product range. I’ve treated allergic eyelid dermatitis for so many years and in so many patients that I know how impossible it is to find truly hypoallergenic home cleaning products so I’ve created them.

Airborne pollen can cause eyelid dermatitis, too. That includes the usual pollens that also cause sneezing in allergic folks, but it also includes indoor flower arrangements with flowers like chrysanthemums and others. Wood burning smoke, inadvertently burned poison oak or ivy smoke, new carpet off-gassing, and sawdust have all had their turn as culprits in eyelid dermatitis in my office.

Chemicals washing over your eyelids bring allergens.
I usually see this from hair care products which are very taunting to delicate eyelid skin. Hair care products are some of the most chemically complex hygiene products that we have, and their ingredients can be more than your delicate eyelids can handle.
These products are loaded with fragrance, foaming agents that dry out delicate skin to make it more porous, and strong preservative chemicals. As mentioned above, fragrances are common allergens. Preservatives are too, especially the formaldehyde-releasing preservatives commonly found in hair care products such as:

  • Quaternium 15;
  • Imidiazolidynil urea; and
  • Methylchloroisothiazolinone and its relatives, among others.

It’s best to completely wash these products off your skin before stepping out of the shower just to be safe.

Lastly, allergens can be those things that you directly apply to your eyelid skin.
Most commonly, these are your facial soaps or creams. Again, fragrances and preservatives in these products are often the cause. Interestingly, eye cosmetics are formulated carefully to minimize potential allergens, and I rarely find them the culprit of an allergic eyelid dermatitis. The one exception is metal sensitive patients who can mount an allergic reaction to metal pigments in eye makeup.

Not every eyelid rash in allergic.
It’s also possible that the skin has broken down due to simple irritation without allergy.
Examples include ingredients in many of the best anti-aging or acne treatment products such as: tretinoin, glycolic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and salicylic acid. Typically with an irritant reaction on the eyelids, I see more of a skin redness and less scale, usually starting in the upper eyelid fold. The skin may split in the crease and the skin sensation is more likely described as a burn than an itch by patients.

Treatment of Eyelid Dermatitis:

Treatment starts with identifying the cause and avoiding it.
I usually recommend that patients wash their face with only the most non-irritating cleanser until the skin heals. Skin with a rash is more porous, and thus easily irritated – and irritated skin just won’t heal. My favorite cleansers for the job is Tolariane Cleanser and Vanicream Cleansing Bar.

I usually also recommend a thin film of a safe, bland emollient applied after washing such as pure jojoba oil or my Sensitive Skin Face Oil applied right after washing. For my eyelid dermatitis patients, I may also prescribe a very short course of a non-halogenated, hypoallergenic cortisone ointment.
This treatment must be supervised by a treating physician because cortisone topical medicines can be absorbed through the eyelid skin and damage the eyes.

It’s difficult to confirm the allergen that causes eyelid dermatitis because we usually do this type of allergy testing on the back skin. Eyelids are so much more sensitive than the back, or any other area on the body, and we usually can’t recreate the same reaction elsewhere. Figuring out the allergen pretty much depends on good detective work.

Eyelid dermatitis is dramatic and frustrating. AND, it’s also fascinating because the cause is almost always such a surprise. Find the allergen, and you fix the problem.


Certain acne treatments can, in rare instances, cause severe allergic reactions that are potentially life-threatening.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning that the use of certain acne products containing the active ingredients benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid can cause rare but serious and potentially life-threatening allergic reactions or severe irritation. An active ingredient is the component that makes the medicine effective against the illness or condition it is treating.

The acne products the FDA is warning about are sold over-the-counter (OTC) and applied to the skin (topical). Their serious allergic reactions differ from the less harmful irritations already included in the product Drug Facts labels, which include burning, dryness, itching, peeling, redness, and slight swelling where the product is applied.

“There is currently no mention of the possibility of these very severe allergic reactions on the product labels,” says Mona Khurana, M.D., a medical officer at FDA. “It’s important that consumers know about them, and that they know what to do if they occur.”

Consumers can find out if an OTC topical acne product contains benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid by looking at the Active Ingredient(s) section of the Drug Facts label on the product package.

FDA has issued a Drug Safety Communication (DSC) to inform both consumers and health care professionals of the potential dangers of these products.

Products of concern are marketed under different brand names such as Proactiv, Neutrogena, MaxClarity, Oxy, Ambi, Aveeno, and Clean & Clear. They are available as gels, lotions, face washes, solutions, cleansing pads, toners and face scrubs.

From 1969 through January 28, 2013, FDA received 131 reports from both consumers and manufacturers of allergic and hypersensitivity-related adverse reactions associated with these products. About 42% of these reactions occurred within minutes to 24 hours of use. The affected persons ranged in age from 11 to 78 years.

Types of Reactions

Forty percent of these reports described severe allergy symptoms such as throat tightness, shortness of breath, wheezing, low blood pressure, fainting or collapse. Isolated instances of hives, itching of face or body (even of parts of the body where the person did not apply the medication), and swelling of eyes, face and lips were also reported.

Based on the information reported, FDA cannot determine if these reactions were triggered by the products’ active ingredients, the inactive ingredients, or a combination of both.

While no deaths have been reported, 44% of the cases required hospitalization.

“FDA will continue to monitor closely and evaluate this safety issue,” Khurana says. The agency is also encouraging manufacturers to use the drug label to advise consumers how to test the product’s safety before using it for the first time.

For example, Khurana suggests that new users should apply a small amount of the product to a small affected area for three days. If no discomfort occurs, they can follow the labeled directions for normal use.

What to Do If a Bad Reaction Occurs

She adds that there are a number of important safety actions to counter an allergic reaction, including:

  • Avoid using the product if you’ve had previous allergic or hypersensitivity reactions.
  • Stop using the product if you develop hives or itching of the face or body.
  • Stop using the product and seek immediate medical attention if you develop throat tightness or swelling of the eyes, face, lips or tongue; feel faint; or have difficulty breathing.

FDA encourages consumers to report any negative reactions or side effects from use of these products to the FDA’s MedWatch program.

back to top

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *