On My Complex Relationship With Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl Peroxide (BP) has been there when nothing else worked. But boy did BP come with a price.

I’m a girl who has “struggled” (though I don’t know why I am comedically trying to play down said struggling. As anyone who’s had acne knows, it sucks balls) with acne since I was put on some disastrous birth control at around twenty years old. Before said birth control (Cerazette, now officially my arch-nemesis, which I truly believe should be banned), I had basically perfect angel skin. I used exclusively face wipes and never moisturizer, and would smear on a pump of foundation with my hands once in a while. It honestly feels like I’m writing about a different person.

When I had my painful, cystic chin situation, for the longest time nothing seemed to help. But three things eventually did.

Number one, stopping Cerazette, never to return. Number two, waiting for about six months to get the Cerazette fully worked out of my system. And number three, that eternally unglamorous skincare ingredient, benzoyl peroxide.

Truly, it was a discovery of circumstance. I live in England, where BP is hard to find and often confined behind chemist’s counters, unlike the United States, where it is basically its own genre of acne warfare, listed on all manner of different products like a trusty facial guardian angel. And by happenstance, I was on a trip to the U.S. right when this discovery needed to be made. I picked up my very first tube of the Clean and Clear Persa Gel 10, and I never looked back.

Actually, that’s a huge lie. I’m constantly looking back. Because as effective as I found BP at restoring my chin to what is broadly a clean slate, it came at a cost.

For one thing, this shit is sooo drying. If you’re a beginner, be really careful. Start with a tiny amount every couple of days and build up. I’m now pretty much immune to its drying effects, but it’s been a long road, paved with skin flakes, peeling and redness. Sorry, but it’s true.

Secondly, it ruins everything it touches. And by ruins, I mean bleaches. I have bleached more towels, pillow cases, and necklines of sweaters than I care to admit. Leaving a constant trail of destruction behind you: sounds fun, is actually awful.

While these factors are true for everyone, the last reason I am constantly trying to cut down on BP use is that, for me, it is not an acne cure. By this I mean, if I do get a spot, benzoyl peroxide will do nothing for it. It only works as a constant upkeep, preventing things from happening before they do. But when this preventing is also drying out skin and causing photosensitivity and probably other damage, and you can’t even tell if you really need it, it starts to seem like a bit of a fool’s errand.

Particularly when I believe I’ve found other ingredients which have simultaneous acne-preventing and skin-helping benefits. Anything with retinol seems to do the good spot-fighting work while delivering actually, officially scientific anti-aging benefits. Also, acids are wondrous. (Lactic seems to be my best, although azelaic, mandelic and glycolic have all pulled their respective weights.)

I think I basically have what is dermatologically termed (not really) as “lazy skin” — skin that is unwilling to turn over and clean itself, and instead relies on outside help.

But there are times, perhaps thrice a year, where everything goes beserk (on my face, though this does usually also correlate to “in my life”). And during such trying times, there is one trusty frenemy whose shadowy presence always sneaks back into my life.

Benzoyl peroxide, I wish I knew how to quit you.

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