What to know about hydrogen peroxide and skin conditions

Hydrogen peroxide is a chemical agent used in products for the washing. Some people use it on their bodies, due to its antibacterial and bleaching effects. However, this isn’t considered safe by many health authorities.

Some people use hydrogen peroxide, or products containing it, to deal with skin problems such as acne or hyperpigmentation.

Hydrogen peroxide concentrations in commercial products vary , depending upon their intended use. Certain common concentrations, according to The National Capital Poison Center, include:

  • 3% — typically the concentration in household cleansers used to kill bacteria, fungi, and viruses
  • 6–10% — the concentration in some hair dyes and teeth whitening products
  • up to 90% — the concentration in industrial products not intended for home use

Discover the dangers and applications of hydrogen peroxide in skin care below.

Can you use it on the skin? 

Bottle of hydrogen peroxide
A person should only use hydrogen peroxide as advised by a doctor.

In many ways , people use hydrogen peroxide on the skin, such as preventing infections in minor wounds, such as scrapes or small cuts.

Experts no longer recommend using hydrogen peroxide in wound care, however, as it can irritate or damage the cells responsible for wound healing.

For example, the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR) states that low hydrogen peroxide concentrations can cause irritation and blistering of the skin.

They advise that a person should wash the area thoroughly with soap and water if the chemical touches the skin.

Using hydrogen peroxide on wounds may in rare cases cause an embolism of oxygen. This involves blocking an air bubble to a blood vessel, and it can be life-threatening.

Does it work for skin care?

Hydrogen peroxide has the properties of disinfecting and bleaching, and as a result , some people believe it can combat infections, reduce blemishes, lighten the skin and relieve the symptoms of certain conditions.

Researchers outside the United States have found, as the writers of one 2016 study showed, that using a solution of 1 percent hydrogen peroxide can treat acne as effectively as, and often better than, benzoyl peroxide — a common ingredient in acne medication. The same work shows that hydrogen peroxide has less side effects as well.

While that may seem promising, people in the U.S. are unlikely to find solutions in the country with concentrations below 3 percent.

Instead of using products that contain hydrogen peroxide, people in the US can consult a doctor about the best options for treating acne.

Lean what other research says about using hydrogen peroxide for acne here.

The ATSDR notes that hydrogen peroxide exposure to diluted solutions can cause temporary bleaching of the skin.

An older study suggests a 20–30 percent concentration is needed to lighten the skin—a range far greater than the 3 percent concentration deemed safe in household products. Overall, the risk of severe burns and blistering is far greater than a skin lightening likelihood.

Meanwhile, a topical solution of hydrogen peroxide has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration ( FDA) as a treatment for a type of noncancerous growth called seborrheic keratoses.

Nevertheless, researchers warn that doctors should limit treatment to 2–4 applications to prevent skin damage.

Often speak to a health care professional before adding hydrogen peroxide to the skin. Usually, they can suggest a less risky and more effective approach.

Side effects 

Using hydrogen peroxide on the skin can cause adverse reactions, including:

  • redness
  • burns
  • blisters
  • swelling

It can also cause harm to the eyes — and if a person swallows hydrogen peroxide or inhales it, the effects can be severe.

In preparations with higher concentrations the contact risks are higher. Handling hydrogen peroxide with care is always a good idea.

If a person has hydrogen peroxide in his or her eyes, they should wash their eyes under hot water for 20 minutes, then call a poison control center.

A person can get help from an online poison control center here, or by calling 1-800-222-1222.

If a child swallows household hydrogen peroxide, they are likely to complain of a sensation of burning and may vomit foam.

Giving the child milk or water might help. For further advice contact a poison control center or the child’s doctor.

Alternatives

A range of products can treat acne in a safe manner. If a routine of treatment is ineffective, a dermatologist or other doctor may recommend adjustments.

Some approaches to treating acne or preventing it include:

  • using over-the-counter products containing active ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid
  • washing the face twice a day with mild soap
  • washing the skin after sweating
  • removing makeup
  • ensuring that the diet is healthful

Learn more about different types of acne and their treatments here.

People can try topical creams which include azelaic acid, corticosteroids, or hydroquinone to treat hyperpigmentation.

Also, they could try cosmetic procedures like laser therapy, chemical peels, or microdermabrasion. Many home remedies can be helpful too.

A doctor can not prescribe medication when it comes to treating seborrheic keratoses, unless the growths mimic cancer or cause problems like catching on clothing or jewelry.

A doctor may prescribe cryotherapy to remove those growths, which freezes them off. Or, maybe they prescribe curettage. This entangles the area and scoops out the growths. The method is the removal of the laser, in an ablation procedure.

Summary

Products with hydrogen peroxide can be effective disinfectants. Applying the chemical to the skin, however, can cause irritation, burns or other adverse reactions.

It’s a good idea to talk to a doctor, like a dermatologist, about safe and effective ways to treat any skin problems, and carefully handle any hydrogen peroxide products.

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