There's no nice way to put it: Pimples are annoying little suckers. Despite who you are or what important event might be happening soon — like meeting your significant other's family for the first time, getting your passport photo taken, or heading off to a job interview — they always seem to pop up when least invited.
Thankfully, there's a range of over-the-counter skin-care products that can help kill bacteria, increase cell turnover, and dry out oil to help give you a clearer complexion. At the top of that list is benzoyl peroxide — a common medication found in several acne-fighting cleansers and treatments. In fact, according to Mount Sinai Hospital dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, it's one of the most powerful anti-acne ingredients available.
"By killing acne-causing bacteria, BPO [benzoyl peroxide] helps reduce skin inflammation," he tells Refinery29. "At the same time, BPO can also help remove blockages from the pores." However, make note that benzoyl peroxide shouldn't be confused with salicylic acid — another popular skin clearing medication. His rule of thumb: Salicylic acid is best to treat blackheads and whiteheads, while benzoyl peroxide on the other hand targets "red, angry pimples" that are oftentimes hidden beneath the skin's surface, Dr. Zeichner explains.
Likewise, because benzoyl peroxide is so potent, Dr. Zeichner suggests keeping a close eye on how your skin may react to it. Although true allergies are quite rare, "If your skin gets red, itchy, burns, or peels, you may have developed an irritant reaction from it," he says. It's also important to note that not all skin pros swear by the stuff — some say it's so drying that it can do more harm than good, just another reason to ease in and decide for yourself if your skin reacts favorably. See your skin clearing? That's great, but if you have dry, flaky skin that's irritated and out of wack, it might not be for you. It's also easy to overdo it, so read the instructions carefully and don't exceed them — less is more in this case.
"Also, BPO can bleach your fabrics, so be careful about letting it touch any darkly colored pillow cases, towels, or clothing," he notes. "I typically recommend using BPO in the evening before bed and it can be incorporated into your regular skin-care regimen."