- Hydrogen peroxide is a mild antiseptic commonly used to treat minor cuts and prevent infection
- It can kill acne-causing bacteria and encourage the skin to peel
- Side effects include irritation, blistering and burning
- Benzoyl peroxide or retinol are safer alternatives to hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is an inexpensive disinfectant and antiseptic that is commercially available at a 3% solution. While some people believe hydrogen peroxide for acne may be an optimal choice, there are safer, more effective products available specifically to treat this skin concern.
Should You Use Hydrogen Peroxide on Your Skin?
It is not recommended to use this solution on your skin. Acne-causing bacteria and an overproduction of sebum (excess oil) can both contribute to acne breakouts. Hydrogen peroxide can effectively kill this bacteria and dry up the excess oil (sebum), but not without consequences.
Hydrogen peroxide has been a long-established home remedy for cleaning out minor wounds because of its antibacterial properties. However, health authorities no longer recommend using it as it is now believed to irritate or damage healthy skin cells.
While it’s true that hydrogen peroxide can kill live cells, such as bacteria, it can also kill beneficial skin cells. Some of these beneficial skin cells, such as fibroblasts, are found in connective tissue and aid in wound repair and maintaining the health of this tissue.
For skin to repair itself, it needs the fibroblasts to be in working order. If these cells are damaged, healing will be hindered and ultimately increases your risk of developing acne scars.
Another type of skin cell called a neutrophil actually produces hydrogen peroxide. Research has shown that people with acne also have more hydrogen peroxide in their neutrophils than people who don’t. This indicates that hydrogen peroxide may actually be related to inflammation.
Will Hydrogen Peroxide Clear Acne?
Hydrogen peroxide can help dry out excess sebum and prompt exfoliation of the upper layer of skin. This could help minimize the appearance of pimples and pustules. However, while hydrogen peroxide might help clear acne in the short term, it can actually cause damage over the long term.
Although many people believe hydrogen peroxide can clear acne, there is no scientific evidence that it’s effective or safe. It may actually irritate or burn the skin if its concentration is too high. It could also keep the skin from healing properly and make potential scarring worse.
How to Use Hydrogen Peroxide for Acne
If you still want to try using hydrogen peroxide to treat acne, check with your dermatologist first. They’ll be able to provide more insight into whether this home treatment is appropriate for your skin type and condition.
Check the label before you begin. Hydrogen peroxide is usually sold in a concentration of 3%; it should be diluted to 1% before it’s applied to the skin.
To use hydrogen peroxide for acne, after your regular cleansing routine:
- Mix 1 tbsp hydrogen peroxide with 3 tbsp water
- Dip a cotton ball in the diluted solution
- Swipe the cotton ball lightly over your skin; let rest 5 minutes
- Rinse your face with lukewarm water; gently pat dry
- Follow with your moisturizer of choice
- Complete your regular skin care routine
Using hydrogen peroxide on the face
Use caution when applying hydrogen peroxide to your skin. It can bleach your hair, so keep it away from your eyebrows and your hairline. Also, keep the solution away from your eyes, as it could cause a burning sensation or pain.
Should you use it on a popped pimple?
While hydrogen peroxide does kill harmful bacteria—including the bacteria that causes acne—it can also irritate a wound and slow healing. Because of this, it’s best not to apply hydrogen peroxide to a popped pimple.
Popping a pimple creates a small, open wound on the skin. Putting hydrogen peroxide on it could slow the healing process and cause a scar to form.
The primary side effect of using hydrogen peroxide for acne is skin irritation. Hydrogen peroxide can cause irritation, blisters and burns, especially in an undiluted or higher concentration. It’s also possible to have an allergy to hydrogen peroxide, so patch-test your skin before use.
Why does hydrogen peroxide turn white on the skin?
Hydrogen peroxide turns white because of a chemical reaction that occurs when it comes into contact with the skin. The solution oxidizes, and the resulting oxygen bubbles create a white, foamy appearance.
It’s possible that using hydrogen peroxide for acne could irritate the skin and cause scarring because it interferes with wound healing. It can also cause skin irritation and burns if used at too high of a concentration.
Hydrogen peroxide is a bleaching agent, particularly when it comes in contact with skin and hair. Proceed with caution if you are darker-skinned, and avoid any contact with eyebrows, eyelashes and your hairline.
Individuals with sensitive skin or an allergy to hydrogen peroxide shouldn’t use it on their skin. Ensure you keep the solution away from your eye area.
Instead of using hydrogen peroxide, a more effective treatment would be benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide is available in multiple over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription formulations, including facial cleanser and spot treatments. It’s best used as a treatment for mild to moderate inflammatory acne.
Another safer alternative for acne is retinol, a vitamin A-derived topical medication that’s available in OTC and prescription formulations. Retinol encourages gentle removal of dead skin cells and regulates sebum production.
Using hydrogen peroxide for acne may be an inexpensive home remedy, but it could also cause harm. Hydrogen peroxide can be harsh on skin and cause irritation, burns or blistering. It can also inhibit the wound-healing process and cause acne scars to form.
Talk to your dermatologist before applying hydrogen peroxide to your skin. If you choose to use hydrogen peroxide, dilute the solution with water and rinse off before continuing your skin care routine.
Safer options would be to use OTC acne medications such as benzoyl peroxide or retinol.
If you experience irritations or signs of an allergic reaction after using hydrogen peroxide for acne, contact your dermatologist.
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