Hydrogen peroxide is a bleach and oxidant that is used not only in cleaning products, but also as an antiseptic and in skin care products. In low concentrations (up to 10%) it is used as a disinfectant and skin whitening agent. Hydrogen peroxide has been used to treat wounds, acne, and hyperpigmentation. It works by releasing oxygen, which causes foaming, which helps remove dead skin cells.
However, the use of hydrogen peroxide carries risks such as skin irritation and impaired wound healing, which is why health professionals do not recommend its use to clean or whiten the skin. Hydrogen peroxide can be toxic if swallowed or inhaled.
What is hydrogen peroxide?
Hydrogen peroxide is water (H 2 O) with an additional oxygen molecule (H 2 O 2 ). When this extra oxygen molecule is oxidized, the solution can disinfect and whiten surfaces. Oxidation produces free radicals that attack pathogens or germs. Hydrogen peroxide has disinfectant, antiviral, and antibacterial properties.
Hydrogen peroxide differs in its ability to fight germs and side effects based on its concentration. The concentration of medical grade hydrogen peroxide is 3%. This means that the bottle contains 3% hydrogen peroxide and 97% water. Higher concentrations are available, but can be toxic if swallowed or inhaled. For example, the concentration of food grade hydrogen peroxide is 35%. Most household cleaners that contain hydrogen peroxide have a concentration of 3% to 9%.
Low concentrations of hydrogen peroxide are generally safe for cleaning surfaces. However, higher concentrations are very irritating to the eyes, skin, and intestines. If inhaled or swallowed, it can cause burning, blisters, coughing, shortness of breath, vomiting, and bleeding.
Normal use on the skin.
Hydrogen peroxide can quickly kill germs and whiten surfaces, and has been used in the past to treat common skin problems like acne, wounds, and dark spots. However, it is no longer recommended for use on the skin due to its potential side effects and risk of toxicity.
Acne breakouts are caused by clogged pores due to the accumulation of dirt and bacteria on the skin. Although hydrogen peroxide can kill acne-causing bacteria, the risks outweigh the benefits. Hydrogen peroxide is harsh and irritating to the skin, causing inflammation and making acne symptoms worse. Hydrogen peroxide also dissolves in water, so it generally doesn't stay on the skin for long. This means that it will not work during the day like other acne medications.
Your grandmother may have used hydrogen peroxide to treat cuts and scrapes because of its ability to fight germs. Hydrogen peroxide cleans and disinfects the surfaces it touches. While this sounds good to keep the cut clean, it will probably do more harm than good.
Research has shown that hydrogen peroxide can cause skin blisters, worsen wounds, and increase the risk of infection. It can also interfere with the body's natural wound healing by killing cells that promote healing and irritate the skin.
Hydrogen peroxide has strong whitening properties, which helps lighten dark areas of the skin. Dark spots can be caused by sun damage, aging, scarring, medications, or hormonal changes. While hydrogen peroxide can lighten the skin, it can also irritate and damage it.
Possible side effects.
Hydrogen peroxide is a chemical and can cause serious side effects. The higher the concentration, the more serious the side effects can be. Using a higher concentration of hydrogen peroxide on your skin can cause burns and blisters. Even low concentrations, such as 3% medications, can irritate the skin .
Swallowing hydrogen peroxide causes oxygen bubbles to form in the stomach. Low concentrations are unlikely to pose a serious health risk, but foaming at the mouth and vomiting may occur. Because hydrogen peroxide is an irritant, mouth pain and an upset stomach are common. If you ingest higher concentrations of hydrogen peroxide, seek emergency medical attention immediately. Hydrogen peroxide can cause bleeding in the digestive tract, a burning sensation in the esophagus, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and dizziness. Life-threatening side effects such as seizures, fluid build-up in the lungs, and shock are also possible.
Inhaling high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide is also dangerous. Symptoms can begin with irritation of the eyes and nose and progress to coughing, shortness of breath, chest congestion, and bleeding in the lungs.
To avoid these serious risks, never store highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide in your home. If you are holding a bottle of 3% hydrogen peroxide to clean it, place it on a high shelf out of the reach of children and make sure it has a clear label on it.
When to call poison control
If you experience eye irritation from hydrogen peroxide splashes, first flush your eyes with clean water for 20 minutes and then call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. Regardless of the concentration level, if you or your child accidentally swallowed or inhaled hydrogen peroxide, seek help from your doctor or call a poison control center.
Alternatives to hydrogen peroxide
Now that we have determined that hydrogen peroxide is not safe to use on the skin, what are we left with then? Fortunately, there are safer and more effective treatments for common skin problems like acne and scratches.
Since hydrogen peroxide can irritate the skin and make acne worse, talk to your dermatologist about the best options. Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid have been shown to improve acne symptoms without significant skin irritation. Unlike hydrogen peroxide, benzoyl peroxide forms a film on the skin and continues to fight acne within hours of application.
For minor cuts and scrapes, discard the hydrogen peroxide bottle and wash it with soap and water. Wash the wound with mild soap and water. Then pat dry with a clean towel, apply antibacterial gel, and cover with tape. For larger or more severe cuts, see your doctor for suturing and cleaning.
Sunscreen is your new best friend in helping to treat and prevent dark spots. Pigmentation and age spots are often associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. Daily use of sunscreen can prevent dark spots from getting worse, as well as preventing new ones from forming.
To lighten existing dark spots, look for an over-the-counter product that contains retinol , vitamin C , 2% hydroquinone, azelaic acid, glycolic acid, or kojic acid. These ingredients can help reduce the amount of melanin in your skin, resulting in a darker appearance. Your dermatologist will also be able to help you resolve any skin pigmentation problems.
Best uses of hydrogen peroxide
If you have a bottle of hydrogen peroxide in the back of your cabinet, don't throw it away just yet. While it shouldn't be used on the skin, hydrogen peroxide is an excellent disinfectant and can be used on common surfaces like countertops, doorknobs, and trash cans. Use it in the kitchen to sanitize cutting boards and wash food. Due to its bleaching properties, hydrogen peroxide can be used to remove stains and whiten tile grout. Be sure to store it in a cool, dry place out of the reach of children.
Get the word of drug information
Hydrogen peroxide is a chemical that is an effective bleach and disinfectant. It should not be used on the skin due to risks such as skin irritation and wound healing problems. Look for alternative treatments for acne, wound cleansing, and hyperpigmentation, but keep hydrogen peroxide on hand to clean and brighten your home. If you are concerned about swallowing or inhaling it, contact a poison control center immediately or seek emergency help.