Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is used as a disinfectant or bleach. It’s cheap, easy to find, and known for having antibacterial uses. You probably already have a little bottle of hydrogen peroxide somewhere in the house.

According to some people, hydrogen peroxide also has amazing acne-fighting capabilities. Unfortunately, it may not be the miracle cure you’ve been searching for.

What the science says

The theory behind using hydrogen peroxide as an acne treatment is that it supposedly kills bacteria on your skin and helps to dry up sebum.

Hydrogen peroxide is an oxidizing agent. This means that it can effectively kill living cells, such as bacteria, via a process known as oxidative stress.

But it also means that it can damage your own skin cells, including your fibroblasts. Fibroblasts are cells that help make connective tissue and repair wounds. Fibroblasts play a critical role in wound healing. If your skin’s ability to heal is weakened, you are more likely to develop scars.

A recent study of fibroblast cells found that hydrogen peroxide may actually slow down the role of fibroblasts in the wound-healing process.

Another study found that hydrogen peroxide interferes with wound healing and leads to scar formation. This is not good news for people dealing with acne scars.

In the past, hydrogen peroxide was recommended by doctors to help clean out minor cuts and scrapes. While hydrogen peroxide has been shown to kill many different types of bacteria in a petri dish, there is actually little evidence that it can effectively kill bacteria inside a wound. It may even irritate your healthy cells.

Nowadays, doctors recommend merely rinsing minor wounds with water.

Another study actually found a link between the hydrogen peroxide naturally produced by the body and acne inflammation. In the study, people with acne inflammation had a significantly higher amount of hydrogen peroxide produced by neutrophils (a type of white blood cells) compared to healthy controls.

When people with acne were given a drug that inhibits hydrogen peroxide production by neutrophils, there was actually a decrease in the inflammatory activity of their acne lesions.

How to use it

You should talk to your doctor or dermatologist before trying hydrogen peroxide for your acne.

If you decide to try using hydrogen peroxide, make sure to dilute it before putting it on your skin. Most domestic bottles of hydrogen peroxide contain a 3 percent concentration.

To use hydrogen peroxide on your skin, you’ll want to dilute it to a 1 percent concentration. Be sure to read the label carefully.

For 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, all you have to do is mix the following:

  • three tablespoons of water
  • one tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide

Once your mixture is ready, apply a thin layer to your clean face using a cotton ball. Take care to avoid your eyes. Also try to avoid getting the solution on your eyebrows or your hair because it might bleach your hair.

Rinse your face after five minutes and pat dry. You can repeat the process a couple times a week. Use an oil-free moisturizer if your skin feels dry.

Side effects of using hydrogen peroxide on your acne

The most common side effect of topical hydrogen peroxide is irritation of the skin at the site of contact.

Higher concentrations of hydrogen peroxide can cause serious skin burns and blisters.

When injected into the body or an open wound, hydrogen peroxide can create oxygen bubbles that block flood flow and lead to embolisms. This can be fatal.

There is also a risk of having a serious allergic reaction to hydrogen peroxide.

Better products for acne

There’s no evidence that hydrogen peroxide can safely and effectively cure acne.

In reality, hydrogen peroxide may actually increase scarring on the skin by interfering with the wound-healing process. It can also cause skin irritation and burns if used at too high of a concentration.

It’s best to stick with using hydrogen peroxide as a cleaning product for household surfaces.

Benzoyl peroxide, on the other hand, is a similar compound that has been shown to be effective against acne. Benzoyl peroxide isn’t water-soluble and forms a film when applied to the skin. Products containing benzoyl peroxide can be found easily online and in stores.

If you’re worried about your acne (and let’s face it, most people are), see a dermatologist. A dermatologist will work with you to find a treatment or a combination of a few treatments that are going to work best for you.