Benzoyl Peroxide for Acne More Likely to Stain Cotton/Linen vs Synthetic Fabrics

Benzoyl peroxide (BPO) gel, a widely used, over-the-counter topical treatment for acne,  is more likely to stain cotton and linen than synthetic fabrics, a fact that may be associated with dissatisfaction in some patients and non-adherence to treatment in other patients, according to the results of a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

The investigators sought to assess the staining effect of 10% BPO gel on clothing. They selected 6 different black fabrics for their analysis: 100% polyester fleece (100% polyester), 100% cotton, 75% nylon/25% spandex, 100% rayon, and 55% linen/45% rayon.

Identical 8×8-inch swatches of fabric were used, with 4-inch segments delineated on each swatch. The fabric segments were labeled A through C. On segment A, 4 mL of 6% sodium hypochlorite was applied as a positive control.

Segment B served as a negative control, with no product applied. On segment C, 1 fingertip unit of 10% BPO was applied. All of the swatches were dried flat for 8 hours. Following this, each swatch was individually washed by hand in warm water with laundry detergent and dried flat again. In the second phase of the study, the staining effect was evaluated using a longer contact time of 1 week.

Slight discoloration was observed on the 55% linen/45% rayon and the 100% cotton fabrics after washing swatches that had been in contact with 10% BPO for 8 hours. There was discoloration noted on the 55% linen/45% rayon, 100% cotton, 75% nylon/25% spandex, and 100% rayon swatches following 1 week of BPO contact and washing.

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The 55% linen/45% rayon and 100% cotton swatches exhibited more prominent discoloration after 1 week of BPO contact than after only 8 hours of BPO contact. There was no staining due to BPO noticeable on the 2 swatches of 100% polyester (traditional 100% polyester and fleece) in either phase of the study.

The investigators emphasize that the staining properties of BPO are a known point of dissatisfaction among patients. The results of this study suggest that washing the fabric within 8 hours may help reduce staining from contact with BPO gel. Since the swatches of 100% cotton and the cotton/linen combinations remained discolored after washing, even after only 8 hours of contact, patients should be particularly concerned about exposing these fabrics to BPO.


Edwards T, Cardwell L, Patel N, Feldman SR. Benzoyl peroxide gel stains synthetic fabrics less than cotton [published online May 9, 2018]. J Am Acad Dermatol.
pii: S0190-9622(18)30667-4. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2018.05.008.