Can hydrogen peroxide treat acne?

Hydrogen peroxide is a blanching agent and antiseptic. It kills many types of microorganisms, bacteria included. Thanks to their antibacterial and drying effects, many people have tried hydrogen peroxide for acne. There is no proof, however, to prove it can make acne obvious.

Hydrogen peroxide can make the acne or scarring worse in some cases. There is also a lack of evidence to suggest that use as a treatment for acne is safe. Those with mild to severe inflammatory acne would have to avoid it.

Continue reading to learn more about the use of acne hydrogen peroxide including forms of acne, its effect on scarring, and the dangers.

Types of acne

Hydrogen peroxide uses
Hydrogen peroxide is not a safe way to treat acne.

There are two main types of acne:

  • Non-inflammatory acne: This includes blackheads and whiteheads that are not swollen or inflamed. The lesions are usually small and do not have redness or pain.
  • Inflammatory acne: This includes red and sometimes painful acne pimples, pustules, and cysts. Inflammatory acne breakouts are often deeper in the skin than noninflammatory acne.

There is no evidence that any form of acne can be helped by hydrogen peroxide. People who choose to use it, especially those with moderate to severe inflammatory acne, will need to be very careful when using hydrogen peroxide.

Learn more about acne types in pictures here.

Risks

There are several risks to using hydrogen peroxide as a form of acne treatment.

Irritation worsens inflammatory acne

The skin can be affected by hydrogen peroxide, which can be harmful to skin that is prone to acne.

Research suggests that inflammation is an important factor in the development of acne, and may cause inflammation by irritation. This can make inflammatory acne discomfort worse by growing redness, itching and pain.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends that people do not use any product that will dry out or irritate the skin, as it may cause irritation and cause more breakouts.

It could delay healing of current acne

Research suggests that hydrogen peroxide may reduce infection, but it is harsh on the skin, causes irritation, and can in some instances delay wound healing.

According to the Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Agency, products containing 3–5 % peroxide concentrations that are readily available in many stores can cause skin irritation. Hydrogen peroxide will cause even more irritation at still higher concentrations.

Dangerous on wounds

In rare cases, the use of hydrogen peroxide on wounds can cause a life threatening oxygen embolism. This occurs when an air bubble blocks a blood vessel.

What about non-inflammatory acne?

People who have mild non-inflammatory acne cases can try hydrogen peroxide without a high risk of worsen the inflammation.

However, by adding distilled water they should ensure that they dilute all solutions of hydrogen peroxide to a concentration of 1 percent. For example, if the concentration of the hydrogen peroxide is 3 percent, dilute I part of hydrogen peroxide to 3 parts of water.

Stop using it if it causes dryness, irritation or other side effects.

People should also avoid getting hydrogen peroxide on clothes or fabrics, because they can bleach or stain.

Scarring and hydrogen peroxide

Acne — particularly inflammatory acne — often causes damage to the skin’s deeper layers which can lead to scarring. Managing acne with the right treatment can help prevent such scars from happening.

In most cases, an acne treatment is recommended by a health care provider intended to reduce breakouts, inflammation and scarring.

Unfortunately, to some people, hydrogen peroxide could actually make acne scarring worse. An older study in the Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection and Critical Care says hydrogen peroxide may interfere with fibroblast formation.

Fibroblasts are cells that help in the formation of collagen, an important connective tissue in the skin. Without collagen, skin can’t properly heal and rebuild itself, which could increase scar risk.

Hydrogen peroxide vs. benzoyl peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is a well-known treatment for acne which kills bacteria and causes bleaching as well as hydrogen peroxide. While they release oxygen to kill bacteria, there are some important differences between the two chemicals however.

Benzoyl peroxide is stable

Benzoyl peroxide has anti-inflammatory and skin-peeling effects that can help clear the acne. It is also oil-soluble, meaning it can penetrate the oil in the skin to work in the pores. Combined with its antibacterial ability, these properties can help prevent multiple forms of acne breakouts.

Benzoyl peroxide is typically stabilized by manufacturers combining it with other ingredients that stop it from breaking down on the skin.

Hydrogen peroxide is unstable

An article in the Journal of Cosmetic Science states that light and air exposure makes common hydrogen peroxide unstable and reduces its efficacy. Once a person applies it to their skin, their ability to kill bacteria begins to lose out.

However, the use of products containing stabilized peroxide as an acne treatment may have potential. One study found that when used to treat acne, the use of a gel containing a stabilized hydrogen peroxide product at a concentration of 1 per cent combined with adapalene showed good results.

It is important to remember that this stabilized formulation is very different from the standard “brown bottle” peroxide of three percent hydrogen sold in stores.

Summary

Hydrogen peroxide kills the bacteria and certain types of germs. It may be useful in the desinfection of surfaces, utensils and tools as such.

There is no study that supports the effective use of hydrogen peroxide as treatment for acne. However, those with mild, non-inflammatory acne who want to try it can use a diluted strength of 1 percent. Hydrogen peroxide may not be as effective as the traditional treatments for acne.

Hydrogen peroxide should be avoided by people with inflammatory acne as it can cause irritation and can make scarring worse.

Hydrogen peroxide should be avoided by people with inflammatory acne as it can cause irritation and can make scarring worse.

Inflammatory acne patients should use proven acne treatments that are gentler on the skin and help with healing.

Individuals with acne should also see a dermatologist if the treatment is not working. A health care provider may recommend therapies that can help avoid scarring and reduce the emotional damage that can cause acne.

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