Summary: Benzoyl Peroxide is a popular prescription strength medication to treat acne. It can have side effects like skin irritation. Hydrogen Peroxide is a similar product that is cheap, effective and, in certain forms, better tolerated than Benzoyl Peroxide. Isopropyl (Rubbing) Alcohol is another inexpensive option but can also cause skin irritation.
Dear Curtis: My son has had problems with acne lately and the doctor prescribed him Benzoyl Peroxide. My other son has taken Benzaclin in the past and I still have some left in the medicine cabinet. Would it be OK for me to give that to him? Also, if not, is there anything over the counter that might be equivalent to Benzoyl Peroxide that I could give him and that isn’t real expensive?
I think you already know how I’m going to answer that first part of your question. Which is, no, you can’t give your younger son Benzaclin just because it was prescribed for the older brother.
First of all, it’s a safety issue. And I mean that in all seriousness.
Benzaclin is actually a combination product which contains Benzoyl Peroxide and clindamycin (an antibiotic). While it’s probably rare, your younger son may have an allergy to clindamycin which could result in a skin rash.
Also, something you didn’t mention: what is the expiration date on the Benzaclin? There’s probably a good chance that it has already passed it’s expiration date and isn’t safe to use anyways. And yes, I do definitely follow the expiration date on liquids as they are usually accurate and the potency of the product may have decreased because of it.
Now, since the Benzaclin is out for your youngest son, let’s look at some inexpensive over-the-counter products that he might be able to sue.
Benzoyl Peroxide Products
Please keep in mind that just because your son’s doctor ‘prescribed’ Benzoyl Peroxide, that doesn’t mean it’s only aviailable as a prescription product. While this is confusing for a lot of folks, there are a number of products that contain Benzoyl Peroxide that are the same strength as prescription products but that can be bought over the counter.
Even better, many of these products are pretty cheap. You can browse the full range of Benzoyl Peroxide products here.
Benzoyl peroxide is used to treat acne for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s an antibiotic and is particularly effective against one of the more common bacteria involved in acne (Propionibacterium acnes). While we don’t know for sure, it’s thought that Benzoyl Peroxide acts by releasing free-radical oxygen which is capable of oxidizing the proteins which make up the bacteria. Benzoyl peroxide also helps you slough off the outer most layer of skin cells.
However, Benzoyl Peroxide is often not tolerated that well by patients as it can cause a fair amount of skin irritation.
So, when looking at over the counter products you want to find ones that mimic some of the good properties of Benzoyl Peroxide and minimize the irritation that you can see. One that immediately comes to mind also sounds a lot like like Benzoyl Peroxide. It’s the good ol’ standby hydrogen peroxide.
Believe it or not hydrogen peroxide not only shares many of the properties of Benzoyl Peroxide it also appears to be better tolerated by acne patients(1). But please note, this study involved a hydrogen peroxide that was diluted in a cream base. I don’t have personal experience with using undiluted hydrogen peroxide to treat acne. But, there are a number of patients who have posted positive responses to Hydrogen Peroxide use on online message boards. I have also had patients personally tell me that they have used hydrogen peroxide undiluted with success. The biggest risk factor I heard about was it can actually bleach your hair. For example, patients who applied peroxide on their forehead saw bleaching of their eyebrows if they weren’t careful.Also, it can dry your skin out. But it seems to be better tolerated in this regard than Benzoyl Peroxide.
Isopropyl (Rubbing) Alcohol
Another option which I personally used during my teen years was simple rubbing alcohol. Unlike peroxide, rubbing alcohol doesn’t have the free radical effect on the bacteria, but it is a very strong antiseptic. Like hydrogen peroxide and Benzoyl Peroxide your son may not be able to tolerate the dry skin effects of rubbing alcohol.
Since cost is a concern I’d probably stay away from the ProActiv products and the like. While some patients have reported good results to me they are quite expensive. Right up there with prescription acne products.