Benzoyl peroxide is perhaps the most frequently used active ingredient in acne treatment products. Once applied to the skin it decomposes and releases free radicals that kill bacteria. Unfortunately free radicals are not precision weapons and they cause damage to all the cells they come in contact with. Because of this inflammatory effect BP can cause more problems to some acne victims than it solves.
Sebum oxidation: the spark that lights acne
Sebum is composed of different fatty acids. Like all fatty acids, sebum is prone to oxidative damage by free radicals. In other words it oxidizes. This sebum oxidation is one of the first events in acne process.
As sebum oxidizes its oxygen content decreases. As this happens it becomes more and more suitable environment anaerobic bacteria, such as P. Acnes. Without sebum oxidation the acne causing bacteria find it difficult to thrive in blocked pores.
So oxidation of sebum is the event that kicks off the acne formation process.
Skin antioxidant defense
Antioxidants are the body’s defense system against free radicals and oxidative damage. Vitamins C and E are among the most important antioxidants in the body. Sufficient levels of these vitamins on the skin protect sebum against oxidation and thus against acne.
Unfortunately for acne patients benzoyl peroxide depletes vitamin E and C content in the sebum and thus destroys the antioxidant defense. As this study found:
A single dose of BPO [Benzoyl Peroxide] depleted 93.2% of the total vitamin E. While continuing the BPO exposure for 7 d further depleted vitamin E in both vehicle-only and α-tocotrienol-treated sites, significantly more vitamin E remained in the α-tocotrienol-treated areas. Seven BPO applications increased lipid peroxidation.
Topical α-tocotrienol supplementation inhibits lipid peroxidation but fails to mitigate increased transepidermal water loss after benzoyl peroxide treatment of human skin
Another test tube study found that BP peroxide depleted 50% of the skin vitamin E content within 30 minutes of application. BP also significantly increased inflammatory chemicals in the skin cells.
Topical application of vitamin E on the skin protected against BP induced free radical damage. But the trick is that you have to apply vitamin E on the skin before BP. If they are applied at the same time vitamin E increased the oxidative damage. Unfortunately the studies didn’t specify how much before vitamin E was applied.
Above all protect your skin against oxidative damage
It has become clear to me that free radical induces oxidative damage on the sebum is perhaps the critical factor in acne formation. Without this inflammatory acne simply couldn’t happen. That’s why it’s critically important that you protect your skin against all forms of oxidative damage. This could come from chemicals (such as BP), excessive exposure to sunlight, or even from shampoo. In this task healthy diet and lifestyle and strategic application of topicals and certain supplements is critical.
- Effect of benzoyl peroxide on antioxidant status, NF-kappaB activity and interleukin-1alpha gene expression in human keratinocytes.
- Topical α-tocotrienol supplementation inhibits lipid peroxidation but fails to mitigate increased transepidermal water loss after benzoyl peroxide treatment of human skin
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