Hydrogen peroxide is a bleach and an oxidising agent, which means that when applied to tissues, oxygen is released. It is active against a wide variety of microorganisms. There are no known disease-causing bacteria or fungi that develop resistance to hydrogen peroxide.
Uses of hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide at low concentrations has a variety of medicinal and domestic uses. At higher concentrations hydrogen peroxide has many commercial and industrial uses.
|Medicinal||1-5%||Antiseptic, topical acne treatment||
|Domestic||3-6%||Disinfectant, contact lens disinfectant||Hydrogen peroxide is active against bacteria, yeasts, fungi, viruses, and spores on inanimate surfaces. Contact lenses must be neutralised before use to avoid pronounced stinging and possible corneal damage.|
|Cosmetic||Up to 10%||Peroxide-based hair dyes, hair perming products, teeth whitening||Some teeth whitening products used by dentists (office-based only) contain up to 35% hydrogen peroxide. Over-the-counter teeth whitening products contain up to 6% hydrogen peroxide.|
|Commercial and industrial||Above 35%||Bleach for textiles, paper, and food; a component of rocket fuel; used in the production of chemicals and foam rubber; agricultural uses||Workers in these industries may be exposed to hydrogen peroxide through inhalation or contact with the skin. Hydrogen peroxide breaks down rapidly in water and soil so does not accumulate in the food chain.|
Adverse effects of hydrogen peroxide
Concentrated hydrogen peroxide can be toxic if taken by mouth, inhaled, or if it comes into contact with the eyes or skin. The main toxic effects of exposure to dilute solutions of hydrogen peroxide are irritation at the site of contact. Exposure to more concentrated solutions of hydrogen peroxide is most likely to occur in an occupational setting; personal protective equipment is recommended for workers likely to be exposed.
|Route of exposure||Effects|
Long-term adverse effects
Little is known about the long-term adverse effects of hydrogen peroxide. It is not known if exposure to hydrogen peroxide may cause cancer or affect reproduction in humans.
- Antiseptics on Wounds: An Area of Controversy: Hydrogen Peroxide – Medscape Dermatology
- Hydrogen Peroxide Cream in Acne Vulgaris: Summary and Introduction – Medscape Dermatology
- ToxFAQs™ – Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)
- Crystacide cream – Medsafe New Zealand Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Authority, manufacturer's data sheet
On DermNet NZ:
- Consumer medicine information – Medsafe
- Medicine data sheets – Medsafe
- Drugs, Herbs and Supplements – MedlinePlus
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