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Why It’s Time to Get Hydrogen Peroxide Out of Your Medicine Cabinet

You probably have a bottle of hydrogen peroxide kicking around somewhere in your medicine cabinet. Hydrogen peroxide has antiseptic properties, so a lot of people use it to clean wounds or as an acne treatment. But using it for those purposes is outdated and no longer recommended.

Jessica Regnaert, MD, a family medicine specialist at Banner Health Center in Mesa, AZ, said, “Most people are shocked to hear that hydrogen peroxide should not be used on a wound, since it’s been used that way for many years. However, many patients who come in with a non-healing wound will be using hydrogen peroxide to treat it, and once they stop, the wound will heal. Hydrogen peroxide is not an effective treatment because it actually irritates the skin and inhibits wound healing. The advice about using it has changed because new research shows that the irritation it causes is not worth the antiseptic effect.”

A better way to treat scrapes and cuts

You probably won’t miss the sting of hydrogen peroxide on your minor skin wounds. To clean them properly and help prevent infection, Dr. Regnaert recommends good, old-fashioned soap and water. After you’ve cleaned the cut or scratch, dry it off with a paper towel or a clean towel, cover it with antibiotic ointment and protect it with an adhesive bandage. 

Of course, you should get medical care for bigger wounds, cuts that won’t stop bleeding or injuries you can’t clean out.

Today’s options to treat acne

Since hydrogen peroxide irritates your skin, it can make acne worse. And it dissolves quickly, so any benefits it might provide don’t last long. If you are trying to control acne breakouts, Dr. Regnaert said benzoyl peroxide is a good choice. Or talk to your primary care physician or a dermatologist. There are lots of different medications available that can help you get your acne under control. 

You don’t have to throw away that hydrogen peroxide

While hydrogen peroxide isn’t effective in treating your skin, its antiseptic properties make it useful around the house. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it can kill viruses, bacteria, yeast, fungi and spores.

You can use it to:

  • Disinfect household surfaces such as countertops, sinks, tubs and showers, toilets, doorknobs, light switches, cutting boards and toys.
  • Remove mold and mildew from your dishwasher.
  • Sanitize personal-care products like tweezers and nail clippers.
  • Kill germs in your trash cans.
  • Remove stains on white or light-colored items—don’t use it on darker colors, since it can bleach them.
  • Remove soap scum.
  • Lighten grout between tiles.
  • Clean produce—submerge the fruits and veggies in a large bowl or sink full of water with a quarter-cup of hydrogen peroxide added, then rinse the produce with water.
  • Eliminate odors from a litter box.

Be sure to use hydrogen peroxide in a well-ventilated area, and wear gloves so it doesn’t irritate your skin. If you keep your hydrogen peroxide for household use, store it out of reach of children or pets. Swallowing hydrogen peroxide is dangerous.

Hydrogen peroxide doesn’t last forever. It’s H2O2—in other words, water with another molecule of oxygen. And over time, that extra oxygen molecule gets released, so your bottle eventually just contains water. If your hydrogen peroxide is past its expiration date or it’s not bubbly, you’re probably not getting the disinfecting benefits you want. 

The bottom line

Hydrogen peroxide used to be a popular antiseptic for cleaning wounds and treating acne. But it’s not a good idea to use it for those purposes, since it can irritate your skin. If you don’t want to throw away your brown bottles, you can use hydrogen peroxide to clean and disinfect around the house. If you’re looking for better alternatives for treating minor wounds and acne, reach out to a Banner Health provider.

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