Benzoyl Peroxide – Helpful or Harmful?

July 07, 2012 4 min read

Breakouts are the skin bane of teenagers and adults alike. It’s tempting to reach for the “quick fix” to clear skin. Usually that’s benzoyl peroxide, likely the most widely used ingredient in acne preparations both over the counter and prescription. The use of Benzoyl Peroxide (BP) in cosmetic and acne preparations has been banned throughout Europe. So why are we still using it?

In the 1990’s, the FDA changed the safety rating on BP from a Class I (Generally Recognized as Safe and Effective) to a Class III (Safety Uncertain) category (FDA/56 FR 37622). This was due to information that raised safety concerns about BP as a tumor promoter in animal studies and startling study that suggested BP as a tumor initiator.

Cancer has three main stages: initiation, promotion and metastasis. Initiation is a breakdown of the body’s attempt to metabolize the chemical. The active chemical retains the ability to damage and alter cell DNA. Promotion occurs when these new cells multiply. A cancer promoter encourages this growth of altered cells. BP is a cancer promoter. It helps the damaged cells to rapidly multiply, creating larger tumors. Metastasis occurs when parts of the tumor are moved into the bloodstream and attach themselves in a different part of the body. If a tumor promoting chemical is present, the tumor can grow again, and the process continues. Soon, the body’s immune response can be overwhelmed by new tumor growth.

While a 2010 ruling eventually changed the rating back to a Class I, the FDA also included the following statement with that ruling: “The tumor promotion studies demonstrate that Benzoyl Peroxide is a tumor promotor in the presence of a chemical initiator” . A chemical initiator starts the tumor. Known carcinogens (initiators) are widely researched and reported on. While the FDA does not believe that BP will create the initial tumor, their own position states that they know it can help one grow and spread. Yet, this is classified as “Safe and Effective”.

One of the most disturbing aspects of industry panel reviews on the toxicity of individual ingredients is that they all begin with the assumption that the human body is a “clean slate”, free from any previous contamination or potential chemical initiators. Most of us are educated enough to understand that this assumption is utterly ridiculous. Our daily lives are awash in manufactured chemicals, toxic residues, pesticides and contaminated water and air.

To assume the human body free from any potential exposure or harmful chemical initiator is irresponsible. Check your makeup, your acne cream, your favorite perfume. Check your drinking water. All contain “safe” levels of potentially harmful chemicals. These chemicals have been lab tested to be safe in isolation. In real life they are not present in isolation. They are present combined with dozens or hundreds of other chemicals. You absorb these chemicals into your body. Many of them are not able to metabolized (broken down), so they build up slowly in your tissues.

Another consideration for BP treatments is that these creams and topical ointments often come packaged with known or probable human carcinogens: triclosan, resorcinol, paraben-based preservatives, just to name a few.

Benzoyl peroxide is a free radical generator on the skin. Free radicals break down critical components of skin structure leading to premature aging, cellular DNA damage, and discoloration (hyper-pigmentation). Free radical damage further slows the healing process. BP also removes the top layer of skin. This crucial layer is your skin’s first line of defense against moisture loss, damage from ultraviolet rays, and numerous pathogens.

Adding insult to injury, acne sufferers using BP products usually find that their skin becomes red, sensitive, and extremely dry or peeling. Most are warned not to stop using BP or their acne will return; usually with a vengeance. This is because damaging chemicals like BP don’t treat the root causes of acne, only dry out the visible blemishes.

Your skin is a living organ similar to your kidneys and liver. It’s not a one way street. Unwanted toxins can just as easily move into your body, absorbed by your skin, as they can be pushed out through it in your sweat. Given the rich blood supply of your facial skin, and the thinner, more delicate layers, you need to treat it gently.

Natural botanical oils and butters nourish and hydrate while helping to heal skin. Since there are many potential reasons for acne to develop: hormonal fluctuations, poor hygiene habits, chronic inflammatory diseases, and hidden food sensitivities to name just a few, it becomes extremely important to discover what is at the root of your breakouts. Reducing inflammation throughout your body will only help your skin.

For 2013, make it your goal to remove another processed, nutrient-deficient “food” product every week until you are consuming as much fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds and herbs as possible. Your skin eats what you do! Refined flours, sugars and degraded (heated) fats and oils contribute to inflammation. Live enzymes, antioxidants, and a dense supply of vitamins and trace minerals found in fresh produce reduce inflammation, both inside (organs, joints and tissues) and on our skin.


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