Hydrogen Peroxide for Acne

By Abby Vinas Acne Treatment

Hydrogen Peroxide for Acne

Hydrogen peroxide is one of the popular at-home remedies that you may encounter when researching how to get rid of pimples and how to treat acne scarring.

We all have that brown bottle of hydrogen peroxide hidden somewhere in the house. Its uses have seemingly no end: antiseptic, bleach, disinfectant—some even use this agent as a mouth wash. The solution has gained a reputation as a powerful acne fighter, and many use hydrogen peroxide in some form in their skin care routine.

Proponents of using hydrogen peroxide for skin care have some valid arguments. This solution is inexpensive, readily available, and it also has proven infection-fighting capabilities. These aspects combine in what some say is the perfect acne treatment option. Studies have even shown it's ability to help with mild to moderate acne. 

What is Hydrogen Peroxide?

You’ve likely seen hydrogen peroxide in your bathroom cabinet, but what is actually contained in that distinctive brown bottle? This solution is the simplest peroxide, and comes as a clear, viscous liquid. This form of hydrogen peroxide is a strong oxidizer, and an antimicrobial agent.

Ever wondered why hydrogen peroxide is stored in those brown containers? When exposed to light or heat, it disintegrates and loses its extra oxygen atom—the brown coating keeps the light out, helping the solution remain stable.

Generally, hydrogen peroxide is sold at a strength of 3 percent, and health care professionals recommend anyone using this solution on their skin shouldn’t use any strength higher.

How Does Hydrogen Peroxide Work on Acne?

Does hydrogen peroxide work on acne?

Hydrogen peroxide is often considered as an acne treatment since it can kill bacteria (which leads to acne). It can also dry out the oils present on the skin, which may play a role in preventing future breakouts.

Many people who are desperate for new acne treatments ask themselves "is hydrogen peroxide good for acne?".

Hydrogen peroxide can have an immediate effect on the appearance of acne blemishes, but it’s important to understand what contributes to a breakout to determine the role of hydrogen peroxide for pimples and acne.

The sebaceous glands, hidden right underneath the surface of the skin, produce a substance known as sebum. This oily substance is essential for keeping our skin smooth, supple, and moisturized, and is expelled through the pores connected to hair follicles. Should these glands produce an excess amount of sebum, the sticky solution can fill up the pores and combine with dead skin cells and P. acnes bacteria, causing a plug to form. Once infection sets in, a pimple is formed.

Hydrogen peroxide on acne can combat bacterial infection. The peroxide oxidizes when applied to skin tissue, meaning it releases its oxygen atom. This oxidization forms a volatile environment for any bacterium present; this means P. acnes cannot survive. As the bacteria dies off, the blemish is given the chance to heal.

Peroxides are peeling agents. They can remove the outer layer of the skin, serving as a chemical exfoliator by exposing a new layer of soft, clean skin, while simultaneously fading old acne scars and blemishes.

With all of these pimple-fighting features, it would seem hydrogen peroxide is the perfect solution for treating acne. Unfortunately, this isn’t the whole story.

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Skin Damage

There have been numerous studies that have observed hydrogen peroxide’s ability to damage skin cells through oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress is an imbalance between the production of free radicals and your body’s ability to detoxify and counteract their harmful effects. It has also been linked to numerous illnesses and diseases, including skin damage.

Several lab experiments saw researchers place hydrogen peroxide solutions on skin cells.

Researchers observed that this application activated an oxidative stress protein, meaning that the hydrogen peroxide was a direct cause of stress to the skin cells.

It is also not uncommon that using hydrogen peroxide for face treatment can result in skin bleaching.

What’s the Difference between Hydrogen Peroxide and Benzoyl Peroxide?

Many acne products list benzoyl peroxide as a key ingredient, and this agent is a close relative of hydrogen peroxide. Both are bleaching agents, and both are used in the treatment of acne, but they do have significant differences. While hydrogen peroxide is water-soluble, benzoyl peroxide is not and forms a film.

Both can be harsh on the skin, especially for acne patients that have dry or sensitive skin types. While they work by drying out blemishes and ridding the skin of excess sebum, they can strip surrounding areas of essential oils. This can cause the skin to become dry, cracked, and inflamed. While spot treatment can be used on blemishes to avoid damaging surrounding skin, both peroxides can cause damage to skin cells.

Hydrogen Peroxide Acne Scars

Hydrogen peroxide for acne scars

In an ironic twist, while many believe hydrogen peroxide can be used to brighten darkened skin and diminish the appearance of scars, use of this solution can actually cause scarring.

Hydrogen peroxide visibly bubbles when applied to wounds, cuts, and open blemishes, and during this process it kills the bacteria. Unfortunately, it also kills what are known as fibroblasts, which are the cells tasked with repairing your wound and creating new skin. When your body’s ability to heal is impaired, your skin can’t form new cells as easily, which increases the likelihood of scar development.

Another study, published in the International Journal of Dermatology, found that when the body increases production of its own hydrogen, there’s a correlated increase in acne inflammation. That may indicate that the overuse of hydrogen peroxide as a topical treatment could cause inflammation and even worsen acne blemishes.

What Should I Use Instead?

Hydrogen peroxide on acne blemishes is a short-term solution that can have long-term consequences.

Instead of subjecting your skin to this harsh solution, use an acne treatment that both fights acne bacteria and soothes the skin.

Salicylic acid is gentle, yet effective exfoliator that clears the skin without damaging the cells.

Skip the hydrogen peroxide and maintain a consistent skin care routine to keep your skin looking and feeling its best.

Clearer skin in as little as two weeks.

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There are plenty of proposed at-home cures for acne woes, but some can do more damage than good. It can be tough to navigate which claims are true and which aren't.

Here are some related in-home treatments for acne you may be wondering about:

Abby Vinas

Abby Vinas

Abby Vinas has long been an active member of the holistic health community, advocating in favor of its benefits to both our physical and emotional well-being. Her commitment to leading a healthy lifestyle has made her an authority on self-care practices. Abby is passionate about fitness, nutrition, and proper skincare, and is also an avid lover of avocado toast and dog-petting.