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Benzoyl Peroxide causes cancer (?)

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Throughout the last fifteen years there has been much research conducted in order to determine whether there are any significant long term effect related to the use of benzoyl peroxide as an acne treatment. Benzoyl peroxide is routinely used in a number of over the counter acne treatment products and is considered to be one of the more popular treatment products that can be obtained without a prescription. Many of the first indications that there may be some side effects related to long term use of benzoyl peroxide as a treatment for acne were reported in the early eighties. Prior to 1995, however; even the FDA indicated that it was safe to use the product without fear or concern. This was in spite of those early reports that expressed concern this product could potentially lead to the development of carcinoma; commonly referred to as skin cancer. The concern over this long term side effect was related to the fact that benzoyl peroxide was discovered to produce free radicals; which we now know has been directly linked to cancer.

While the FDA eventually reversed its decision and classified benzoyl peroxide as ‘safety unknown’ as began insisting that products containing benzoyl peroxide carry safety warnings, there was still no concrete evidence to point consumers toward the fact that this product might very well be dangerous. Side effects that were generally reported for this product included generalized crusting and blistering of the skin along with some reports that individuals with sensitive skin might experience a more severe skin allergy when larger doses of benzoyl peroxide were used to treat acne. In most instances, patients were recommended to either reduce the dose of the product or space out the doses in an attempt to alleviate bothersome side effects.

Benzoyl peroxide is known to only be able to control acne when it is used on a consistent, and even long term, basis. Due to the fact that long term use of benzoyl peroxide is now theorized to lead to the development of skin cancer; this causes some grave concerns.

At the current time, research only indicates that benzoyl peroxide has led to the rapid development of carcinoma in studies conducted on lab mice and in some instances, hamsters. As a result of these studies, warnings have been issued stating that consumers should be aware that there is a concern and should take this into consideration when selecting acne treatment products. Consumers should note that the FDA has now classified benzoyl peroxide with a safety warning as ‘unknown.’

Science. 1981 Aug 28;213(4511):1023-5. PubMed

Skin tumor-promoting activity of benzoyl peroxide, a widely used free radical-generating compound.

Slaga TJ, Klein-Szanto AJ, Triplett LL, Yotti LP, Trosko KE

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