The Ingredient Chronicles: Benzoyl Peroxide

Chances are, if you’ve ever tried an acne treatment product, you’ve used something with the active ingredient benzoyl peroxide.acne ingredient benzoyl peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is an active ingredient used in many prescription and over-the-counter acne treatments. It kills p. acnes, the bacteria that causes acne. By killing the bacteria, you eliminate a major cause of frequent breakouts. Some experts classify benzoyl peroxide as a topical antibiotic, but many dermatologists use benzoyl peroxide to help enhance the performance of other topical antibiotics like clindamycin and erythromycin. Because benzoyl peroxide is primarily used to kill bacteria, it is most effective on inflammatory acne.

Although we don’t fully understand the mechanisms of how benzoyl peroxide works, we do know that it seems to kill bacteria by adding oxygen to the skin. When benzoyl peroxide is applied to the skin, it breaks down into two parts- oxygen and benzoic acid. Since the p.acnes bacteria thrives in an oxygen free environment, adding oxygen to the skin essentially kills off the bacteria.

I’ve heard many people complain that benzoyl peroxide seems to stop working. I used to think that you could develop a resistance to benzoyl peroxide, as consistent use would eventually cause more resistant bacteria (think: MRSA and other super bugs). But while researching this article, I’ve learned that, while there is concern about resistant p. acnes bacteria, benzoyl peroxide appears to be the solution, rather than the cause. Many researchers feel that the resistance comes from ingredients like clindamycin and erythromycin, and that benzoyl peroxide lessens that likelihood.

Benzoyl peroxide has some other functions that can be helpful for acne control. It also works as an exfoliant, helping to unclog pores and reduce the appearance of blackheads. I feel that benzoyl peroxide is not as effective at unclogging the pores as salicylic acid, so if you have a lot of blackheads, you may want to introduce that ingredient into your routine.

Benzoyl peroxide comes in all forms. You can find it in cleansers, spot treatments, moisturizers, and serums. If you’re using a wash, you can leave the cleanser on your skin for a few minutes as a mask. If using a serum, it can be applied all over the skin or just on spots. You can even just treat the areas of the face that break out the most often. You can find it in strengths from 2.5% to 10%, though many studies have shown that higher percentages are no more effective than lower ones, but higher percentages often cause more adverse reactions, such as redness, flaking, and dryness.

Though this ingredient can be very effective, like many ingredients, benzoyl peroxide has its downside. I find that many of my clients react adversely to benzoyl peroxide, more so than other common acne treatments. I’ve even found that people can use benzoyl peroxide for years before suddenly developing adverse reactions. Because of this, I like to recommend that you limit your usage as much as possible. If you have been using it twice daily, try cutting your usage down to once a day once your skin starts to clear. If you remain breakout free, try going to every other day. Eventually, you may be able to stop using benzoyl peroxide entirely. Or you find that you need to stay on a routine that uses benzoyl peroxide just a few times a week.

It’s also important to remember that benzoyl peroxide includes…peroxide. This means that it will bleach clothing, sheets, and towels. It is one of the biggest complaints about benzoyl peroxide, but it’s also the easiest to fix. You can get some cheap white pillow cases or towels to use. If you’re applying it to the body, apply it at night and wear inexpensive white tee shirts to sleep. Also keep in mind that if you’ve tinted your brows or lashes, benzoyl peroxide may cause the tinting to fade faster.

If you’ve been using benzoyl peroxide and you’re suffering from adverse reactions, I have a few ideas. First, try using a lower percentage. Research shows that lower percentages are just as effective as higher ones and equally effective. Less isn’t always more when it comes to skin, so don’t worry about backing off a little. Next, try using the benzoyl peroxide less frequently. If you’re using it twice a day, try once. Once a day, try every other day. If cutting the number of applications down doesn’t work, try a light weight, oil free moisturizer underneath your benzoyl peroxide product. Finally, if these tips don’t work, try something that stays on the skin for a shorter period of time, like a wash just a few times a week. You’ll still get the bacteria eliminating benefits without as much irritation.

A final thought to keep in mind. Benzoyl peroxide and retinol don’t mix. If you’d like to use both ingredients, make sure that you use one in the morning and one at night. It will help to minimize irritation, as well as maintaining the integrity of the individual ingredients.

 

 

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What Kind of Acne Do You Have?

Do you have acne? I was traumatized when I was diagnosed with acne in college; it felt like the end of the world. I didn’t think my skin was “bad enough” to be called acne, yet there I was in the dermatologist’s office complaining of breakouts I couldn’t control. Now that I work in skin care, I simply see the word as a way to define how often someone breaks out. If you’re breaking out several times a month, or you have more than a couple of breakouts at a time, I consider that acne.

But do you know that there are kinds of acne that don’t break out? The tricky part about acne comes in when someone isn’t having breakouts, but they have what I call textural acne, or bumpy acne. Often, these little bumps don’t come to a head and pop, the way a normal pimple might. Nevertheless, I still consider this acne, even if my client doesn’t.

Let’s look at the kinds of acne that you can get.

Pustular Acne  acne

This is the more inflammatory, infected acne. This acne will generally come up as a localized bump and turn red. It will eventually develop a white head, pop, and then start to heal. This kind of acne is generally cause by a bacterial infection in the skin, and is treated with topical antibiotics.

 

acneTextural Acne

This acne you can feel. Some bumps may be large enough to see. The bumps are either milia, or bumps that are under the surface and don’t go anywhere, or blackheads. Textural acne needs to be addressed because it is often a precursor to pustular acne. It is best treated with retinol.

Cystic Acne

Cystic acne is the one that hurts. These bumps show up under the skin. They can cause soreness and will often hang around for a long period of time, sometimes even weeks. They often don’t come to a head. Do not try to pop these! Chronic cystic acne will probably require a trip to see the dermatologist, as the infection is deeper than just the surface of the skin.

A Combination of Several Kinds

Most people with severe acne have both textural and pustular acne happening at the same time. The problem is that bumpy acne can become pustular acne easily, since bumpy acne is a prime environment for bacteria, which will inevitably become a pimple.

Each form of acne needs to be treated in a specific way. Pustular acne needs to be treated in a way that kills bacteria, usually with benzoyl peroxide or clindamycin. Textural acne generally requires something to unclog pores, like salicylic acid or retinol. Cystic acne is very difficult to treat topically, but you may find relief if you apply ice to reduce inflammation and numb soreness.

I like to focus my treatment efforts on textural acne first. This takes longer and requires more patience, but if you can unclog the skin, you ultimately will prevent pustular acne by eliminating the environment that produces the pustular acne in the first place.

It’s hard to treat multiple kinds of acne at once, unless your skin is super durable or oily. Acne treatments can be incredibly drying, and using a combination of several products can lead to inflammation, flakiness, and irritation. You may find that juggling your acne treatments with a gentle cleanser and moisturizer provides enough balance. Or maybe you’ll need to use one treatment on one day and another on another day. You’ll need to find the balance that is right for you. Check with your doctor for options if you’re using prescriptions and having trouble.

 

 

 

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Why Your Acne Products Aren’t Working

why your acne products stopped workingAcne. Persistent breakouts. It is one of the trickiest things to treat. And everyone claims to have a magic cure. If you’re an acne sufferer, then you’ve probably tried every product out there.

Unfortunately, acne is more than just a physiological issue.  This means that acne is often a problem that is that is deeper than just a case of too much oil, dead skin, and bacteria. Although all acne boils down to this basic issue, many hidden factors can impact why you might be more breakout prone. Sometimes these issues can make it incredibly difficult to find a good solution.

Hormones have a huge influence on your skin, for both men and women. The good news is, men typically grow out of the hormones that cause acne. The bad news for women is that we typically grow into that hormone. Many women are affected by persistent breakouts for the rest of their lives. Hormonal acne is a subject I’ll be exploring in-depth in a future post.

Let’s look at some other reasons why your acne products aren’t working.

  • You’re not consistent with your regimen. This may not necessarily mean using the same products every night, but it may mean rotating consistently. Your skin needs consistency at this point. Maybe you’ve been switching brands, or maybe you don’t use any skin care most of the week.  Stick with one product line for at least three months, if not six. Put into skin terms: your skin cell cycle is at least 30 days. If you use a product for 2 months, that’s only two skin cell cycles. Changing the skin is like steering a barge. It takes time to reverse a course. You can’t do a 180 in a day.
  • You’re not treating your type of acne with the right kind of product to address it. Not all acne is created equal. There are a finite number of ingredients that can fix acne. One kind of acne may respond better to one kind of treatment, while another may respond better to a different ingredient. For example, benzoyl peroxide is best for an inflammatory acne (the bumps come to a head and eventually pop). Retinol is best for non-pustular, bumpy acne (acne that causes texture but doesn’t necessarily become infected).
  • You’re over-treating your acne. If you inadvertently over-treat and dry your skin out, you will make acne worse. Skin that’s been over-treated also has inflammation because it’s irritated. Clogs become drier and more stubborn and won’t come out as easily. The skin is less pliable. Inflamed skin is more likely to contract around the pores, which creates a favorable environment for bacteria to replicate. And boom. More pimples.

Remember that may not be the quality of the product… it may just be that there is a greater issue causing your acne to be more persistent. Make sure to sign up for the newsletter to stay in the loop as I continue to talk about the kinds of acne and ingredients to treat them.

 

 

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Just The FAQs: Will That Make Me Break Out?

can products cause acneThis particular question is always a hot topic. People are always quick to blame their skin care for the problems they’re having. The truth of the matter is, sometimes breakouts just happen. Sometimes it happens at the same time you change your skin care routine. I can’t tell you if something will make you break out without also looking at the rest of your routine and your skin type. I don’t often find that one single product is the only reason.

Acne can be complicated by many things, but it always comes down to three factors: excessive oil, a build up of dead skin cells, and bacteria. There may be underlying causes that influence one of these factors, like diet, hormones, or stress. Knowing this, there are only a few ways that a product can cause acne. I will say that some skin care can affect breakouts, but it is not nearly as common as people think. Here are a few cases where a product can cause acne.

  • Adding excessive oil to the skin. If you are already very oily, and you start using a product that has oils or occlusive ingredients like mineral oil, petrolatum, or even shea butter, you will break out. Because your skin doesn’t need more oil, the occlusives block the pores, therefore leading to more clogs. Add a little bacteria to the party, and you have a breakout.
  • Purging the skin. Whether skin really purges is a point of debate, even among skin care professionals. I believe it happens in very specific instances, and not every time you change your skin care. It might happen if your skin is already clogged and you start using something that contains retinol or salicylic acid. These ingredients break down debris in the pores, and you may experience some breakouts. Ultimately, you are reducing the likelihood a breakouts long-term since you are keeping the pores clear. Short-term, it’s no fun.
  • Causing allergic reactions. Acne is not a common allergic reaction. Most allergic reactions look like itchy red skin, rashy red bumps, or flakiness. Allergic reactions do cause inflammation though, and if you have conditions that are favorable for breakouts, it may make it more likely. Inflammation constricts a clogged pore, creating the anaerobic environment that bacteria thrives in. And voilà! Pimple.

In order to know if something would make you break out, you have to look at your skin care routine as whole, and how often you’re currently breaking out. [Tweet this!] Are you acne-prone, but not well controlled? Most people have a natural tendency to break out. It’s just what the skin likes to do. People tell me that they can only use a certain product or they break out. My reaction to this is that they need to be on an acne control regimen that will keep the pores clear and prevent breakouts long-term, because their skin is naturally prone to clog. I once read a quote from Dr. Dennis Gross, founder of MD Skincare, and he stated that it takes six weeks to form a breakout. If that’s true, then it can’t be the product you started using last week.

Have you ever stopped using a product because you felt it made you break out? After reading this, do you still think it was the product?

 

 

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Proper Picking Procedures

It’s never my first recommendation, but sometimes the temptation to pick a pimple is overwhelming. And I understand… sometimes those guys just scream to be squeezed! I have a list of rules that must be followed how to properly pop a pimpleshould you succumb to the urge to pick.

  • Start with steamed skin. Usually after a shower is best. Steam softens the skin and allows the debris to come out more easily.
  • Use an enzyme mask before. Enzymes also soften the skin, making the extraction process easier. One to try? The Murad Vitalic Pomegranate Exfoliating Mask is a great option.
  • Only pick the most obvious whiteheads, with the infection right at the surface. If you’re going for a blackhead, only go for those that at the surface and opened.
  • Wrap your clean fingers in tissues. Never use your nails. Use gentle pressure. Don’t force it if it doesn’t give immediately. Wait a few days and try again.
  • Cleanse the area and sanitize it with a salicylic acid spot treatment, like Sircuit Skin Fixzit. You can even apply ice for a few minutes to reduce the inflammation.
  • Use a sulfur mask to kill bacteria and help the pores contract. You can even leave it on the spot overnight. One of my all time favorites for this is Peter Thomas Roth Sulfur Cooling Masque. I do this to reduce blemishes when I first notice them too, so I don’t ever get to the point where I have to extract them.
  • Leave it alone. This is the point where not picking becomes very important. If you repeatedly pick at a blemish, you slow down the healing process, and ultimately you can cause long-term scarring.

Ideally, we will never get to the point where something screams at us to be picked. But it happens to all of us, and using these precautions can prevent the long-term collagen damage that occurs when we’ve overpicked. Also remember that sometimes the best way to control your urge to pick is to take one giant step away from the magnifying mirror. [Tweet this!]

 

 

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4 Ways You’re Secretly Sabotaging Your Skin

Four things you're doing that may be causing acneBreakouts are frustrating, especially when they show up right before a big event. Sometimes it seems that no matter what products you try, your breakouts persist. Bacteria is a key cause of acne. If you are exposing your skin to things that harbor bacteria, you could be making your skin worse… without even realizing it. Check some  of these everyday items that may be causing more harm than good.

  • Your cell phone. If you often talk on your cell phone, it can become a breeding ground for bacteria. Oil and makeup can get trapped in the keys and build up on the screen, and… ew. Try using ear buds or a blue tooth when possible, and wiping the surfaces of your phone with alcohol. You can easily get individually wrapped alcohol swabs online to keep in your desk or bag for easy sanitizing.
  • Your pillowcase. It captures oil and sweat from your face nightly, and then you go back the next night and lay your face in all that… ew. The pimples will of course pop up while you’re snoozing. Try changing your pillowcases regularly, even every night if you’re super oily or prone to break outs. Purchase extra pillowcases to make this easier. If you’re using an acne treatment with benzoyl peroxide, make sure to use white pillowcases as it can bleach fabrics.
  • Your makeup brushes. Are you washing them regularly? If not, they can be trapping excess oil and bacteria in the bristles and then, you brush all that… right back on the next day. Try washing your brushes once a week, or even every couple of days if you’re very oily. Better yet, use clean hands wherever possible. Wash your brushes with a gentle non-drying shampoo or even face wash.
  • Your hair products. Heavy hair products can build up alongPhilosophy Microdelivery Mini Peel Pads the hairline, clogging pores and trapping bacteria, and you might not be really getting clean when you wash up at night. Factor in hats and you have… the perfect storm. Try using peel pads along the hairline to get into that area and break down clogging. Some to try are the Philosophy Microdelivery Peel Mini peel pads, which have lactic acid to exfoliate and citrus extracts to help kill bacteria. Oilier or mature skin types can try the Peter Thomas Roth Un-Wrinkle Peel Pads, which have a higher concentration of alpha and beta hydroxy acids and some anti-aging ingredients. They’re better for skin types that can take more aggressive exfoliation, especially since these pads have a textured surface. Also, remember to wash your hat regularly as well.

These every day items are things that we often don’t consider when we think about acne treatment programs. Have you ever realized you were secretly sabotaging your efforts for clearer skin?

 

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