Visit any home with a teenager with acne and you’re likely to see towels with bleached-out spots. Benzoyl peroxide is the culprit. It's one of the most common ingredients in acne cleansers, gels, and creams and it bleaches towels, leaving orange blotches when towels are wet. Several manufacturers claim their towels resist this bleaching, so the textile pros at Consumer Reports put them to the test.

“Benzoyl peroxide is a tried and true, well-tested, over-the-counter ingredient that is known to help fight acne,” says Dr. Jessica Krant, a dermatologist in New York City and a member of Consumer Reports’ medical advisory board. Benzoyl peroxide helps kill bacteria that may build up on the skin surface or in follicles and pores, and loosens dead skin cells from the surface, helping to unclog pores, she adds. It’s used in over-the-counter acne treatments as well as in some prescription acne formulas.

What We Tested

For comparison, our secret shoppers bought various brands of hand towels that do not carry the benzoyl-peroxide safe claim, and two hand towels from each brand that claimed to be benzoyl-peroxide resistant. We chose blue, green, and light brown towels, to more easily see any bleaching, from these brands:

The L.L. Bean towels are made using a process with vat dyes that are very resistant to bleaching, according to Mac McKeever, a company spokesperson. He says the towels are bleach resistant for as long as the towels last.

Bed Bath & Beyond would not disclose what prevents bleaching in the Real Simple towels. Jessica Joyce, public relations manager, said the towels have been discontinued and will be sold until inventory runs out. Kohl’s did not reply to our requests for information.  

How We Tested

We laundered one “resistant” towel from each brand and color, and then painted a B on the towel using an acne gel that contained 10% benzoyl peroxide. The next day we washed and dried the towels in a dryer, following the instructions on the care label. We then compared the towel to the unwashed “resistant” towel and the regular towels.

The results. Even a heavy application of the acne gel didn’t bleach the Real Simple and Sonoma towels. The L.L. Bean towels didn’t do as well. The green towel was lightly bleached and the blue had a faint bleach mark. However, no bleaching occurred when we retested by applying a smaller amount of benzoyl peroxide.

As for the towels that don't claim to be benzoyl-safe, the acne gel bleached them, unless they were white. A heavy application of acne gel didn’t even mar the white towels—giving you another choice when shopping for towels. 

Throwing in the towel? Not so fast. See “How to Choose Bath Towels That Last” and email your toughest towel questions to kjaneway@consumer. org.