8 Health Uses for Hydrogen Peroxide

Many of us remember having hydrogen peroxide around the house as a kid, with an adult applying it to our cuts. Hydrogen peroxide actually has several uses for health and beauty, yet it may not be the first-line response for those cuts and skin wounds as once was thought.

Hydrogen peroxide is a liquid chemical that’s just one oxygen molecule away from water. Its chemical name is H2O2. It’s a handy item to have around the house because you can use it in several different ways.

Household Uses for Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide uses include:

— As an alternative to bleach when disinfecting. It can help kill bacteria, viruses and other germs. Because of this, it’s been used to sanitize household surfaces. Although hydrogen peroxide is among the disinfectants proven to fight coronavirus, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America warns against breathing it in, or using it in a nebulizer to fight or prevent COVID-19. It can cause damage to the body if you inhale it or swallow it.

— To sanitize medical instruments and other instruments.

— To clean produce by diluting hydrogen peroxide with water. Rinse your produce with water afterwards.

[SEE: Top Pharmacist-Recommended First Aid Products.]

8 Health Uses for Hydrogen Peroxide

1. Treat or prevent mouth sores.

If you frequently get mouth sores, you can mix equal amounts of hydrogen peroxide and water. Swish it around the affected area. Make sure to spit it out — don’t swallow it, cautions Dr. Demetrios Paidoussis, a primary care physician at New York-Presbyterian Medical Group Queens in Forest Hills, New York. Similarly, it may help with gum irritation. Some mouthwashes also contain hydrogen peroxide.

2. Loosen ear wax.

Using a 3% concentration of hydrogen peroxide (this is what’s most commonly available and recommended for home use), you can use a dropper to apply just a couple of drops of hydrogen peroxide and water into the ear. This can help loosen ear wax for easier removal. Some over-the-counter ear wax removal drops also contain hydrogen peroxide. Ear wax removal drops are a safer route than cotton swabs, which can potentially irritate or injure the ear.

[READ: Vitamins and Minerals: the Essentials for Women.]

3. Treat new skin cuts or wounds.

Hydrogen peroxide is historically associated with cleaning skin cuts or wounds, with many people aware of the fizzing action that occurs after application. Now, health professionals know that there’s a better approach.

“The best cleaning method is gentle soap and water mixture on small cuts and scrapes and then using a bandage to protect the skin,” says Dr. Krishnan Narasimhan, a family medicine physician with Stamford Health in Stamford, Connecticut. If you’re somewhere without access to soap and water but happen to have hydrogen peroxide, you can use it.

Still, using too much hydrogen peroxide on a wound can actually slow the healing process, says Dr. Bethany Tennant, a naturopathic physician, certified nutrition specialist and founder of Natural Sports Medicine in Portland, Oregon. This could be especially bad if you have diabetes because wounds already tend to heal more slowly.

After you clean a skin cut or wound, apply antibiotic ointment and keep it covered with a bandage to speed up healing, recommends says Karen Mahnke, chief nurse executive at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital in Lake Forest, Illinois.

4. Cleaning dentures or mouth guards.

Hydrogen peroxide can help clean dentures, mouth guards and similar oral appliances if you don’t have a specialized cleaner.

Here’s what Evan McCarthy, CEO of the online dental store for retainers and mouth guards SportingSmiles, in Waukesha, Wisconsin, recommends : Fill a glass with white vinegar, enough to cover the dentures or mouth guard. Let it soak up to 30 minutes. Rinse well with warm water. Don’t use hot water as that can hurt the plastic material. Next, fill the same cup with enough hydrogen peroxide to cover the mouth guard. Let it soak for another 30 minutes. Remove and rinse once again with warm water.

5. Whiten your teeth.

Many teeth whitening gels contain hydrogen peroxide mixed with glycerin, McCarthy says. Stick with the formulations that teeth-whitening companies make rather than DIY. Follow the instructions on how often to use these gels, as overuse may irritate the gums, especially in sensitive teeth, he adds.

6. Treat seborrheic keratosis.

Also called liver spots or sun spots, prescription 40% hydrogen peroxide is available for doctors to apply to these spots with a special applicator tool. It’s a safe way to remove these spots, says Dr. Richard L. Torbeck III, assistant professor of dermatology and director of cancer surgery at Blavatnik Family Chelsea Medical Center, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York.

7. To bleach hair.

It’s not uncommon for hair dyes to include hydrogen peroxide. This is because it can actually dye your hair. Although you can dye your hair using hydrogen peroxide on its own, it can irritate your skin and damage the outermost protective layer of your hair, called the hair cuticle. That’s why using formulated products is better.

For dyeing hair as well teeth whitening, the hydrogen peroxide concentration may be higher than the common 3% for household use, says Dr. Alexander Zuriarrain, a board-certified plastic surgeon with Zuri Plastic Surgery in Miami.

8. To disinfect contact lenses.

Some contact lens cleaning solutions contain hydrogen peroxide to help get rid of germs and debris on the lenses. These solutions are specially formulated so they are safe for the eyes. Never place hydrogen peroxide directly onto your lenses as that can cause eye-stinging and burning, the Food and Drug Adminstration cautions. Always follow product instructions.

[See: On a Scale From 1 to 10: Most Painful Medical Conditions.]

Cautions With Hydrogen Peroxide Use

Make sure you safely use hydrogen peroxide by following a few tips:

Store the bottle in a dry, dark location, Paidoussis advises. This is because the chemical is light sensitive, which is why it’s usually sold in a dark bottle. In fact, it can be flammable or explosive when it’s highly concentrated, Tennant says.

Don’t ingest it. It can damage your digestive system, causing stomach pains and nausea, among other symptoms.

Keep hydrogen peroxide away from kids and pets. Since it’s dangerous to ingest, you may want to keep your hydrogen peroxide in a locked location if you’re worried about little hands getting ahold of it, Mahnke suggests.

Watch for signs of an allergic reaction. Contact a health provider if hives, a rash, skin blistering or trouble breathing occur.

Flush your eyes with water if hydrogen peroxide gets into them. Follow up with a health provider to check your eyes afterwards.

Less is more. When in doubt, use less instead of more hydrogen peroxide. Small doses are best to prevent overuse and any related side effects, Naraimhan says.

Seek professional help for nail fungus, eczema, vitiligo and other skin conditions. While there are many reports online of using hydrogen peroxide for nail fungus, most people find that it doesn’t resolve the problem and that they still require prescription-based medicine from a podiatrist, Zuriarrain says. Similarly, there’s no evidence to support using hydrogen peroxide for eczema, vitiligo and skin itching, Torbeck says. It may end up irritating the skin rather than helping it.

Check with your health provider before using it long term for any purpose, Zuriarrain says. Long-term use can break down your skin.

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8 Health Uses for Hydrogen Peroxide originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 07/25/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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