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Effects of Peroxide on the Skin

author image Robin Wasserman
Robin Wasserman has been writing and prosecuting biochemical patents since 1998. She has served as a biochemical patent agent and a research scientist for a gene-therapy company. Wasserman earned her Doctor of Philosophy in biochemistry and molecular biology, graduating from Harvard University in 1995.
Effects of Peroxide on the Skin
Hydrogen peroxide can help prevent bacterial infections.

Hydrogen peroxide be both beneficial and harmful to skin. In dilute concentrations on open wounds, hydrogen peroxide can prevent infections. In contrast, on otherwise healthy skin, hydrogen peroxide can cause irritation, allergic reactions, and in high concentrations it can cause blisters, redness and other skin damage.

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Treatment of Wounds

Effects of Peroxide on the Skin
Hydrogen peroxide releases oxygen bubbles that kill anaerobic bacteria. Photo Credit bubbles image by wkphoto from

Hydrogen peroxide is commonly used to prevent infections in wounds. Many skin infections are caused by anaerobic bacteria. They cannot grow in the presence of oxygen. When a typical over-the-counter 3 percent hydrogen peroxide solution is applied to a wound, oxygen is released. An enzyme called catalase breaks down hydrogen peroxide, releasing oxygen and water. While the water cleans the wound, the oxygen kills the anaerobic bacteria.


Effects of Peroxide on the Skin
Hydrogen peroxide can bleach hair. Photo Credit hair image by Dubravko Grakalic from

Hydrogen peroxide can bleach hair on the skin. Unlike sunlight and lemon juice, which work with UV light to bleach hair, peroxide is an oxidizing bleach. It breaks the chemical bonds of the color-causing molecules in the hair, the chromophores. When the chemical bonds of the chromophores are broken, the molecules no longer have color.


Effects of Peroxide on the Skin
Hydrogen peroxide in high concentration can burn skin. Photo Credit match image by Franc Podgor...¡ek from

Because hydrogen peroxide is an aggressive oxidizing agent, it can corrode many materials, including skin. Severe third-degree skin burns can result, causing blisters.

Allergic Reactions

Effects of Peroxide on the Skin
Allergic reactions can cause red skin. Photo Credit pieds 7 image by Nathalie P from

Hydrogen peroxide can cause allergic reactions. For example, commercial hair-dye products typically contain a nonoxidized 4-paraphenylenediamine, or PPD-based colorless dye, and an oxidizer, typically hydrogen peroxide. When PPD reacts with peroxide, it becomes partly oxidized and colored. This form of hydrogen peroxide may cause an allergic reaction. Typical symptoms include skin inflammation and a burning sensation.

Skin Damage

Effects of Peroxide on the Skin
Hydrogen peroxide can cause damage to the skin. Photo Credit skin image by Robert Kelly from

In laboratory studies, hydrogen peroxide was shown to damage skin cells in a process known as oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is involved in many human diseases, such as heart disease and Alzheimer's disease, and also in the aging process. When hydrogen peroxide was placed on skin cells in laboratory experiments, an oxidative stress protein was activated, indicating that hydrogen peroxide caused stress to the cells.

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