This is a great question! The first thing to consider when starting an acne treatment is that allergies and sensitivities are two different things. Sensitivities to acne treatment ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are often mischaracterized as allergies. An allergic reaction (significant redness, swelling, and itchiness after application) is possible but quite rare.
A more common reaction of skin dryness, flaking, and mild redness/irritation is more likely an irritation rather than a true allergy. This typically occurs when too much and/or too potent a medication is applied to the skin (perhaps too often!).
Can you use benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid on sensitive skin?
Absolutely! Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are the 2 most effective topical medications for acne treatment. If used in the right strength, amounts, and frequency, they can be used even on sensitive skin to help treat and prevent acne breakouts. Before ruling these ingredients out altogether, try the below tactics first.
How to prevent irritation from benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid
Start low, small, and slow! If you have sensitive skin, you'll want to start with more mild treatments that are less potent. You can use these every other night (or even every 3 nights) to allow your skin to adjust to the medications and build up and more often from there.
What to do if you get irritation from using benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid
If you've just started your acne treatment with benzoyl peroxide and/or salicylic acid and are experiencing irritation, try implementing the following tips.
Reduce Frequency: Use your acne treatment every other night or every 3rd night until the irritation subsides.
- Reduce Quantity: For acne treatment creams, you should be using only a pea-sized amount for your entire face. If you've been getting overly ambitious and slathering your treatment to your entire face (we've all been there)...pull back.
- Reduce Potency: To further minimize irritation, you can mix your treatment cream with an equal amount of (oil-free) moisturizer to create a less potent mixture.
- Apply Moisturizer!: If your skin is still feeling dry and irritated, you can apply more oil-free moisturizer as needed to soothe the skin.
To find the right cleanser and treatment cream for your unique skin, take the free MDacne skin analysis here!