Benzoyl Peroxide and Benzene: Why the Safety of the Famed Acne Ingredient Is Now Up for Debate

Benzoyl Peroxide and Benzene: Why the Safety of the Famed Acne Ingredient Is Now Up for Debate featured image
Scott Kleinman / Getty Images

When it comes to acne treatment, benzoyl peroxide (BPO) has long been a staple ingredient for combating acne-causing bacteria. However, recent concerns have surfaced regarding the potential for benzoyl peroxide to break down into benzene, a known carcinogen, under certain conditions. This issue has sparked debates among dermatologists and regulatory bodies alike, prompting a question surrounding BPO’s safety in acne products and whether or not consumers should be concerned.

A recent study conducted by Valisure found that many benzoyl peroxide acne products can degrade and form high levels of benzene when incubated at elevated temperatures. However, critics argue the study’s testing conditions do not reflect realistic product storage. Some dermatologists say they want more transparency on the testing methods and data on benzene formation at normal temperatures. However, many say it is best to proceed with caution.

  • Jody A. Levine, MD is a board-certified dermatologist in New York
  • Joel Schlessinger, MD is a board-certified dermatologist in Omaha, NE
  • Brendan Camp, MD is a board-certified dermatologist based in New York
  • Blair Murphy-Rose, MD is a board-certified dermatologist in New York

Benzoyl Peroxide Temperature Breakdown

New York dermatologist Jody Levine, MD notes the importance of storage conditions in minimizing risks associated with benzoyl peroxide. She notes, “Benzoyl peroxide can break down into benzene, but this occurs primarily at high temperatures, typically between 99 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Most products are recommended to be stored at room temperature or in cool areas, which significantly reduces the likelihood of benzene formation.”

Addressing the need for further research, Dr. Levine stresses, “To fully assess the safety of benzoyl peroxide, we would need detailed data on its thermal decomposition profile, the amount of benzene formed, and the potential health risks associated with exposure. Understanding these factors is crucial in determining whether current FDA guidelines adequately protect consumers.”

On the other hand, Omaha, NE dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, MD raises concerns about the practicality of current storage guidelines. “We can’t always guarantee ideal storage conditions throughout the supply chain,” he says. “Temperature fluctuations are common, and we need reassurance that benzoyl peroxide remains stable under normal usage scenarios to ensure consumer safety.”

Dr. Schlessinger says Valisure’s investigation raises valid concerns that warrant attention. “While companies will scrutinize and replicate their findings, it’s essential to verify whether benzoyl peroxide can continue to be safely marketed as it is currently.”

Are Current Guidelines Enough?

“Currently, no BPO-containing products have been formally recalled,” says New York dermatologist Brendan Camp, MD. “The lab that performed the testing, Valisure, filed a petition with the FDA for the recall of OTC and prescription BPO products, but the FDA has not yet provided any guidance related to their safety.”

Regarding current FDA guidelines, Dr. Levine explains, “The FDA permits benzoyl peroxide concentrations ranging from 2.5 percent to 10 percent in over-the-counter acne products. These concentrations are considered safe and effective when used as directed.” However, she adds, “In light of recent concerns, it’s prudent to reassess whether these guidelines adequately address the potential for benzene formation and whether adjustments are necessary.”

“Benzoyl peroxide is currently restricted by the FDA to a concentration of 10% in OTC preparations,” adds New York dermatologist Blair Murphy-Rose, MD. “To ensure consumers are properly informed, it is crucial to mandate that packaging instructions include educational content on avoiding product exposure to high temperatures.”

Dr. Schlessinger echoes this sentiment, emphasizing the carcinogenic nature of benzene. “Even minimal amounts of benzene pose risks,” he warns. “Given these findings, it’s clear that current guidelines may need revision to reflect emerging data and better safeguard public health.”

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