Pimples don't discriminate. It doesn't matter 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 will always pop up when they're least invited.
Thankfully, there's a range of over-the-counter skin-care products that can kill bacteria, increase cell turnover, and sweep up 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 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 targets "red, angry pimples" that are oftentimes hidden beneath the skin's surface.
Likewise, because benzoyl peroxide is so potent, Dr. Zeichner suggests keeping a close eye on how your skin reacts to it. Although true allergies are 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.
And there's one more reason it's not always the most popular product on the block: "BPO can bleach your fabrics, so be careful about letting it touch any darkly colored pillow cases, towels, or clothing," Dr. Zeichner notes. "I typically recommend using BPO in the evening before bed and it can be incorporated into your regular skin-care regimen."
More advice from top derms and the products they recommend for breakouts, ahead.