Retinoid vs Benzoyl Peroxide

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For patients dealing with acne or other types of skin conditions, certain medications that alter the behavior of cells in the skin can help manage symptoms and improve appearance. Retinoids and Benzoyl Peroxide are two such treatments commonly used for acne. They each have different mechanisms of action but both can significantly reduce inflammation and clear up breakouts. Retinoids work by normalizing the lifecycle of follicle cells in the skin to prevent clogging, which results in fewer blackheads and whiteheads. On contrary, Benzoyl Peroxide is a topical antibiotic that kills Propionibacterium acnes (P.acnes), a type of bacteria responsible for inflammatory acne lesions.

What is Retinoid?

Retinoids, a derivative of vitamin A, marked a major advancement in the treatment of acne when compared to the previously popular medication Benzoyl Peroxide. Retinoids were first approved by the FDA in 1971. They work by regulating skin cell turnover to keep pores free from oil and inflammation at bay. Retinoids are prescribed for various forms of acne and other skin conditions such as fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation. Unlike Benzoyl Peroxide which primarily targets bacteria that causes acne, retinoids have an influence on cell turnover with only minor drying effects on the skin's surface layer which results in it having fewer side effects than others treatments like Benzoyl Peroxide that can cause severe dryness and irritation.

What conditions is Retinoid approved to treat?

Retinoids and Benzoyl Peroxide are approved for the treatment of different types of acne:

  • Comedonal acne, also known as whiteheads and blackheads (primarily treated with retinoids)
  • Inflammatory acne, which includes papules and pustules (can be treated with both retinoids and benzoyl peroxide)
  • Cystic or nodular acne, a more severe form that can lead to scarring (usually treated with oral medications but topical treatments like retinoids may also be used in combination)

How does Retinoid help with these illnesses?

Retinoids are a class of medication used to manage acne by promoting the turnover of skin cells, which prevents blockage of the hair follicles. They do this by binding and activating retinoic acid receptors in the skin, leading to an increase in cell differentiation and decrease in cell proliferation. This results in less dead skin that can clog pores, reducing the formation of blackheads or whiteheads (comedones), a precursor to more severe forms of acne.

Benzoyl peroxide is another common treatment for acne. It works primarily by introducing oxygen into the pore, creating a hostile environment for Propionibacterium acnes bacteria that contribute to inflammation and lesion formation in acne. Benzoyl Peroxide also has keratolytic properties; it helps peel off layers from the epidermis surface helping unclog blocked pores.

The choice between retinoids and benzoyl peroxide will depend on several factors including severity and type of acne, patient's tolerability towards medications' side effects among others.

What is Benzoyl Peroxide?

Benzoyl Peroxide is a widely used treatment for mild to moderate acne. It works as an antimicrobial, reducing the number of acne-causing bacteria on the skin and aiding in the prevention of new breakouts. Additionally, it helps to unclog blocked pores by promoting turnover of skin cells. Benzoyl Peroxide was first approved by the FDA in 1960 and since then has been recognized as an effective over-the-counter remedy.

Unlike retinoids which affect cell growth and oil gland function through interaction with DNA, benzoyl peroxide works primarily by releasing oxygen into your pores, killing acne-causing bacteria that cannot survive in an oxygen-rich environment. This fundamental difference means that its side-effect profile is also different from that of retinoids; while some drying or peeling may occur at first use, benzoyl peroxide typically does not cause photosensitivity (a common side effect with retinoid use). The effects on pore clearing and antibacterial actions can be highly beneficial for treating active breakouts, especially for those who do not respond well to topical retinoids or other treatments.

What conditions is Benzoyl Peroxide approved to treat?

Benzoyl Peroxide is a widely recognized treatment for acne and is approved by the FDA to treat the following conditions:

  • Mild to moderate acne vulgaris, characterized by blackheads, whiteheads, papules and pustules
  • Severe inflammatory acne which includes nodules and cysts.

It's known for its antibacterial properties which helps reduce P. acnes bacteria that contribute to acne formation on the skin.

How does Benzoyl Peroxide help with these illnesses?

Benzoyl Peroxide is a topical medication that plays a crucial role in many skincare routines, particularly in the treatment of acne. It functions by introducing oxygen into the pores, which can kill Propionibacterium acnes (P.acnes), the bacteria responsible for causing inflammatory acne. This makes Benzoyl Peroxide an effective antibacterial agent against these skin issues. Its action on reducing inflammation and exfoliating dead skin cells may also play roles in its effectiveness as an acne treatment. Since it does not significantly affect retinoid receptors - proteins within cells responsive to vitamin A derivatives like retinoids - it is sometimes prescribed when a patient does not respond well to typical Retinoid treatments or may be combined with Retinoids to enhance overall results.

How effective are both Retinoid and Benzoyl Peroxide?

Both retinoids and benzoyl peroxide have established histories of success in treating patients with acne, and they were initially approved by the FDA several decades ago. Since they act on different aspects of acne development, they may be prescribed under different circumstances. The effectiveness of retinoids and benzoyl peroxide in alleviating acne was directly studied in various clinical trials; the two drugs exhibited similar efficacy in managing symptoms of acne as well as similar, promising safety profiles.

A review demonstrated that retinoids are effective at preventing pore clogging starting from the first weeks of treatment. Its side effect profile is generally manageable although some users experience dryness or irritation, especially during initial use. Retinoid formulations such as tretinoin have become one of the most widely-prescribed topical treatments for mild to moderate acne due to their ability to target both inflammatory and non-inflammatory lesions.

Benzoyl peroxide has been shown through numerous studies to be more effective than placebo in treating active cases of inflammatory acne due to its antibacterial properties against Cutibacterium acnes (formerly Propionibacterium acnes), a bacteria intimately involved with the inflammation process seen in many types of pimples. Nonetheless, benzoyl peroxide is often used alongside other first-line treatments like topical antibiotics or retinoids because it helps prevent antibiotic resistance when used concurrently with these treatments.

Overall, while data confirming its efficacy as a stand-alone treatment is robust, evidence supporting benzoyl peroxide significantly augmenting the effects when combined with other anti-acne medications is also strong. Therefore it's common practice for dermatologists to prescribe combination therapies involving both agents depending on individual patient needs.

abstract image of a researcher studying a bottle of drug.

At what dose is Retinoid typically prescribed?

Topical applications of Retinoids range from 0.01% to 0.1%, but studies have indicated that a concentration of 0.025% is sufficient for treating mild to moderate acne in most people. Adolescents may be started on the lower concentration of 0.01%. In either population, the concentration can be increased after a few weeks if there is no response. The maximum concentration that should not be exceeded in any case is 0.1%.

Likewise, Benzoyl Peroxide comes in various strengths ranging from 2.5% to10%. However, research suggests that using a lower strength (2.5%) can effectively manage acne without leading to excessive skin dryness or irritation often associated with higher concentrations.

Both these treatments are topical and used once daily preferably at bedtime after washing your face, unless directed otherwise by your healthcare provider.

At what dose is Benzoyl Peroxide typically prescribed?

Benzoyl Peroxide treatment typically begins with a lower concentration, usually 2.5% to start. It can be applied once or twice daily, depending on your skin's reaction and tolerance. If well-tolerated, the concentration may be increased up to 10%, again either once or twice daily as needed for acne control. Maximum application should not exceed two times per day unless directed by a doctor due to potential skin irritation. Use of benzoyl peroxide might require several weeks before you see significant improvements in your acne condition; continued use is often necessary to keep acne at bay.

What are the most common side effects for Retinoid?

Common side effects of retinoids include:

  • Skin irritation, dryness, and peeling
  • Increased sensitivity to the sun
  • Redness and warmth at the site of application (like mild sunburn)
  • Changes in skin color
  • Mild stinging when applied

On the other hand, benzoyl peroxide may cause:

  • Dryness and flaking of skin
  • Feeling of warmth on the skin
  • Tingling or slight stinging
  • Skin redness or rash

abstract image of a patient experiencing side effect

Are there any potential serious side effects for Retinoid?

While Retinoids and Benzoyl Peroxide are both used to treat acne, their side effects can vary. Here's what you need to know:

  • Severe skin reaction: This could include redness, peeling, or extreme dryness—particularly with retinoid use. If these symptoms persist despite using a moisturizer alongside the medication, discontinue use and speak with your doctor.
  • Signs of allergic reaction: hives; difficulty breathing; swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat may occur in rare cases for either drug.
  • Unusual changes in skin color (too dark or light): While benzoyl peroxide is more likely to cause this effect due to its bleaching properties, it's also possible when using retinoids.
  • Swelling of the eyelids or eyes: Both drugs can lead to this if applied too close to the eye area.
  • Increased sensitivity to sunlight: This is particularly common with retinoid use but could also happen on benzoyl peroxide. Always apply sunscreen while using these treatments as they can make your skin more vulnerable.

Always remember that severe reactions are uncommon—if any serious adverse effects are experienced while taking either drug like fast/pounding heartbeats or feeling unsteady—seek medical help immediately.

What are the most common side effects for Benzoyl Peroxide?

The use of Benzoyl Peroxide can lead to certain side effects including:

  • Dryness or peeling of the skin
  • Warmth or tingling sensation under the skin
  • Redness, stinging, and swelling
  • Mild burning or itching
  • Increased sensitivity to sunlight leading to sunburns

Keep in mind that these are common reactions as your body adjusts to the medication. However, if they persist for an extended period or become severe, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional immediately.

Are there any potential serious side effects for Benzoyl Peroxide?

While Benzoyl Peroxide is a widely used treatment for acne, it's important to be aware of potential side effects. These may include:

  • Signs of an allergic reaction: rash; hives; itching; red, swollen, blistered, or peeling skin with or without fever; wheezing
  • Tightness in the chest or throat
  • Trouble breathing, swallowing
  • Unusual hoarseness
  • Swelling of the mouth, face, lips, tongue or throat
  • Severe skin irritation (burning feeling after applying it)

These are not common side effects but if you experience any of these symptoms upon using benzoyl peroxide products for your skincare routine stop its use immediately and consult your healthcare provider right away.

Contraindications for Retinoid and Benzoyl Peroxide?

Both retinoids and benzoyl peroxide, similar to most acne treatment medications, may cause skin irritation in some individuals. If you notice an increase in redness, peeling or discomfort after applying these products, please consult with a dermatologist immediately.

Neither retinoids nor benzoyl peroxide should be used if you are currently using other topical treatments like salicylic acid without proper consultation from your healthcare provider. Overlapping the use of multiple acne treatments can lead to excessive dryness and skin irritation.

If you are pregnant or nursing, it is important to discuss with your doctor before starting on either retinoid or benzoyl peroxide as certain types of retinoids should not be used during pregnancy due to potential health risks for the baby. Always disclose all skincare products that you're currently using; this will help avoid any harmful interactions.

How much do Retinoid and Benzoyl Peroxide cost?

In the case of topical acne treatments:

  • The price for a tube (45g) of brand-name Retin-A (0.025%), which is a type of retinoid, averages around $150 to $200, depending on your location and pharmacy. If using daily as instructed, this can work out to roughly $3–$4/day.
  • The cost for 60 grams of Benzoyl Peroxide gel (5%) under the brand name BenzaClin is about $230 to $280, working out approximately at $4-$5/day.

Therefore if you are applying these creams once per day as typically recommended, then brand-name Retin-A may be less expensive on a per-day treatment basis compared to BenzaClin. It's important however not to make cost the primary consideration in determining which medication is right for your skin type and condition.

As far as generic versions go:

  • Tretinoin (a type of retinoid) cream or gel in various strengths (0.025% up to 0.1%) is available with approximate costs ranging from about $40 - $100 per 20 gm tube; it could cost between ~$1 – ~$2/day when applied daily.
  • Generic benzoyl peroxide can be considerably cheaper than its branded counterpart: A typical price range might be from around ~$10 – ~$30 for 60gm at concentration levels comparable (5%). This would work out at lower than dollar-per-day amounts ($0.16 -$0.50). Always remember that effectiveness and suitability should take precedence over pricing alone while choosing an acne treatment regimen.

Popularity of Retinoid and Benzoyl Peroxide

Retinoids, including various forms such as tretinoin and adapalene, are widely used in the treatment of acne. They work by promoting cell turnover and preventing hair follicles from becoming clogged. In 2020, it was estimated that about 6 million people in the US were prescribed a retinoid medication for their skin concerns. Retinoids accounted for approximately 15% of all acne prescriptions in the US that year.

Benzoyl peroxide is another popular acne treatment option which works by killing bacteria underneath the skin and reducing inflammation. It was prescribed to an estimated 4 million people in the USA during 2020 alone. In terms of overall acne treatment prescriptions within America, benzoyl peroxide represented around 12%. Unlike retinoids which require a prescription, many benzoyl peroxide products can be purchased over-the-counter which likely increases its usage beyond these statistics.


Both retinoids and benzoyl peroxide have long-standing records of usage in patients with acne, backed by numerous clinical studies and meta-analyses indicating that they are more effective than placebo treatments. Sometimes, these medications may be combined for a more comprehensive approach to acne treatment, but this should be subject to careful consideration by a dermatologist as there could be increased skin irritation.

Retinoids work primarily by unclogging pores and reducing inflammation while benzoyl peroxide acts mainly as an antibacterial agent that also clears pores. These different mechanisms mean they tend to be prescribed under different circumstances - retinoids are often considered the first-line treatment option for mild to moderate acne whilst benzoyl peroxide is usually used in mild cases or as adjunctive therapy (addition) to retinoids or antibiotics.

Both drugs are available over-the-counter in milder forms, which represents significant cost savings especially for those who must pay out of pocket. Both retinoid-based products and benzoyl peroxide may require an adjustment period where results won't immediately show.

The side effect profile is similar between the two drugs; both being generally well-tolerated but can cause skin dryness and irritation with retinoids potentially causing increased sensitivity to sunlight. For both treatments, users should closely monitor their skin's reaction especially when starting treatment, taking care not overuse them which could lead excessive dryness or peeling.