Hydrogen peroxide is a staple in almost everyone’s medicine cabinet. And after cuts and scrapes most people run for the hydrogen peroxide to clean their wound. But there’s a common misconception that hydrogen peroxide is a disinfectant or antiseptic helpful for treating wounds. That’s not surprising since the label on this bottle of hydrogen peroxide even says, “First Aid Antiseptic!” While it is an effective cleaning agent, hydrogen peroxide is not actually effective at reducing bacterial infection of wounds. And on the flip side, what most people don’t know is that it can cause scarring because it’s toxic to and even destroys newly formed skin cells.
So what’s the story? Should you use Hydrogen peroxide or not?
Well. It depends.
Hydrogen peroxide should be used to help clean dirty wounds, especially those with visible dirt or other foreign material in them, like skinned knees. That’s because its bubbling helps painlessly remove small particles of dirt, gravel and debris acquired by an injury caused by a dirty surface like the ground. Just make sure that after irrigating a dirty wound with hydrogen peroxide a few times, or when the bubbling has diminished, make sure to rinse the wound with warm water and then apply an over the counter antibiotic ointment four to six times per day followed by a band aid.
But don’t use peroxide on a clean injury, like a paper cut or a cut from a clean surfaced object like a knife or the corner of an indoor table. Since hydrogen peroxide is not a disinfectant, the down side of the peroxide further damaging already damaged cells from the injury, and even healthy cells, far out weighs its potential benefit since these types of wounds are not usually contaminated with dirt and foreign substances. For clean injuries like these, use warm water on the wound, cleanse the area around it with a gentle soap, and then apply an over the counter antibiotic ointment four to six times per day, followed by a band aid.
And for technically curious viewers, the bubbling from peroxide may be inviting and cool to watch...
...but do you remember why we use antioxidants? To reduce dangerous free radicals and reactive oxygen species. Well, the oxidizing capacity of hydrogen peroxide is so strong that hydrogen peroxide itself is considered a highly reactive oxygen species. If you need more convincing, because of it’s power as a highly reactive oxygen species, more concentrated solutions of hydrogen peroxide are used as a propellant in rocketry.
That always blows my mind!