Is Benzoyl Peroxide a Sustainable Method For Acne Treatment? Here’s What You Need to Know (and Buy)

Alarm bells have sounded off for many undergoing acne treatment as recent data revealed that go-to acne-buster, benzoyl peroxide, can produce benzene, a group one carcinogen on par with formaldehyde and asbestos.

In early March, research conglomerate Valisure found that benzoyl peroxide acne treatments were “unstable” and could form “unacceptably high levels” of benzene in both prescription and over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide products.

Results from the test found that current products on the market containing benzoyl peroxide, such as internet faves like PanOxyl’s foaming facial wash and similar cleansers and treatments, can form over 800 times the conditionally restricted FDA concentration limit of benzene.

So, what does this mean for the future of acne treatment, and what should we be using instead? To better understand the best route to efficacious and safe acne treatment, EBONY spoke with a board-certified dermatologist to understand the latest news surrounding benzoyl peroxide and what alternatives we should consider.

What is benzoyl peroxide and how does it work?

For many, benzoyl peroxide is first in class when it comes to acne treatment. The topical antiseptic works by “killing the bacteria that contribute to acne breakouts, reducing inflammation, and helping to unclog pores,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hope Mitchell.

It is safe for topical use when used as instructed, but like any treatment, the risk for side effects is always present.

“It’s a powerful tool in the fight against acne, but it’s essential to use it responsibly and under the guidance of a healthcare professional to minimize any potential risks,” says Dr. Mitchell.

What is benzene?

Benzene is a chemical compound that is found in many everyday items, including skincare, says Dr. Mitchell.

“Benzene contamination in skincare products can pose health risks, including an increased risk of cancer with prolonged exposure,” Dr. Mitchell tells EBONY.

Benzenes are also found in adhesives, cleaning products, paint strippers and can also be found in low levels in the atmosphere as a result of gasoline fumes, motor vehicle exhaust and second-hand tobacco smoke.

In short, benzenes should be avoided where possible.

“Taking proactive steps to minimize exposure to benzene-contaminated products is essential for protecting skin health and overall well-being,” says Dr. Mitchell.

Where does benzoyl peroxide fall into all this?

Benzoyl peroxide itself isn’t benzene; rather, benzene is a potential result of contamination that can occur during manufacturing or storage if benzoyl peroxide is exposed to hot temperatures. This, explains Dr. Mitchell, is the primary cause for concern when it comes to benzene being created by benzoyl peroxide.

Can we still use benzoyl peroxide?

Despite the recent news, benzoyl peroxide is still believed to be a safe and efficacious treatment for acne, so long as utilized as intended.

“I understand the concerns surrounding benzoyl peroxide use, especially given recent findings about benzene contamination in some products,” explains Dr. Mitchell. “[But] benzoyl peroxide remains an effective acne treatment when used correctly. Rather than discontinuing use altogether, I recommend staying informed about product safety and considering alternatives or storing products properly in cooler environments, or even refrigeration if desired,” says Dr. Mitchell.

What are some benzoyl peroxide-free products?

For those who are still decidedly against benzoyl peroxide due to the recent news, there are some alternatives that can be used to treat acne.

“Salicylic acid is a common ingredient in many over-the-counter acne products and can be effective in treating acne by unclogging pores and reducing inflammation,” says Dr. Mitchell.

She also suggests topical retinoids, which can help regulate skin cell turnover and prevent clogged pores.

For those looking to go the completely natural route, Dr. Mitchell says natural remedies such as green tea extract or tea tree oil can also be used to treat acne. However, as is the case with any skincare concerns, it is best to consult with a dermatologist beforehand.

“It’s essential to consult with a dermatologist to determine the best treatment plan tailored to individual skin needs and concerns.”

In honor of Earth Month and a push toward more expansive skincare and acne treatment methods, we have included a few earth-conscious alternatives that may be the perfect addition to your skincare repertoire —benzene-free.

What to know about benzoyl peroxide

Paula’s Choice
Purely Natural Refreshing Toner

Price: $25

Shop at Paula’s Choice

This antioxidant-packed toner is comprised of 98% natural ingredients, the perfect post-cleanse step.

For best results, apply twice before applying any serums or moisturizers.

What to know about benzoyl peroxide

Youth To The People
Superfood Gentle Antioxidant Refillable Cleanser

Price: $39

Shop at Sephora

This cleanser meets Sephora’s clean beauty standard, which includes “climate commitments, sustainable sourcing, responsible packaging, and environmental giving.”

What to know about benzoyl peroxide

Star Seed Silicone-Free 100% Mineral Facial Sunscreen SPF 30 with Vitamin C + Prebiotics

Price: $38

Shop at Sephora

A solid sunscreen routine is one of the most important steps in mitigating acne scarring. This Herbivore mineral facial sunscreen meets Sephora’s clean beauty standard and contains vitamin C and prebiotics, which are perfect for evening the skin and preventing excessive hyperpigmentation.

What to know about benzoyl peroxide

Jasmine Green Tea Toner

Price: $22

Shop at Beauty Loops

Another gem from Herbivore, this toner includes green tea, which has been shown to help treat acne. It also meets Sephora’s clean beauty standard and is great for acne and blemishes.

Updated: April 11, 2024 — 12:04 pm