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Are you making this mistake when you wash your face?

Sherry’s peroxide predicament: I have extremely oily skin and have experimented over the years with several different face washes in an attempt to find one that cleanses deeply without over-drying. I have discovered that botanical based gel washes followed by a moisturizer rich in dimethicone work best in my case. I have also discovered that mixing in a little hydrogen peroxide with my face wash works even better. It completely removes any traces of excess oil and makeup without drying me out completely, and it’s completely eliminated my occasional breakouts. I’ve been using this cocktail with great results for a few years now with no problem. Is this safe for my skin?

Fore Brain’s free radical reply:

Sherry, it seems that most of the ingredients in your skin regimen are quite safe with possible exception of hydrogen peroxide. Although not totally conclusive, scientific evidence points to the fact that long term use of hydrogen peroxide on your face may result in skin damage. The quick answer is that if you are concerned about wrinkles and skin damage, hydrogen peroxide may not be for you.

A little about hydrogen peroxide

Hydrogen Peroxide (aka H2O2) is the liquid you get in a brown opaque bottle at the pharmacy, and for years has been used for all sorts of bleaching as well as an antiseptic to clean wounds. However, as of a few years ago, this practice has been discontinued since hydrogen peroxide was deemed too harsh for wound treatment. This is probably indication that it can’t be that good for your face either. The primary concern with hydrogen peroxide is its oxidative effect when it contacts other materials. The oxidation is what kills the bacteria; however, as per recent discoveries in free radicals and skin damage, it may also result in skin cell destruction and premature skin ageing. The free radical theories can get pretty complicated but I’ll try to explain it in simple terms.

Free radicals are just lonely

A molecule like hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is basically a water (H2O) combined with an oxygen (O) and it takes energy to hold that extra oxygen molecule onto the whole structure for several chemistry-related reasons that are too advanced for the scope of this article. The bottom line is, when the hydrogen peroxide molecule touches other materials, it gets a chance to fall apart to a more relaxed state of H2O (water) and the O (oxygen) that it nearly always takes. The problem however, is that oxygen molecules like to travel in pairs, and the newly released oxygen molecule will look for another oxygen to attach itself to. While the oxygen molecule is alone and looking for its pair, it is quite unbalanced, and can result in damage to the cells, DNA, as well as other cell components. The lone oxygen molecule looking for its partner is an example of a free radical.

Unfortunately, according to this theory, when we apply hydrogen peroxide to our skin, on a very tiny molecular level, it breaks down into water and the lone oxygen molecule that causes damage to the skin cells resulting in premature aging. (This kind of damage also happens normally with time from effects of the sun or the environment.)

The Beauty Brains bottom line

So is an acne spot treatment of hydrogen peroxide once in a while going to ruin your skin? Probably not. However, long-term use over large areas of skin (ie. your whole face), is something I wouldn’t recommend if you want your skin to stay healthy for a long time. If you do want some tips on how to manage your oily skin without the use hydrogen peroxide, check out this site.

Fun Fact: Highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide is often used in rocket fuel because of its oxygenating abilities!


Meneghini, R., (1991) Iron homeostasis, oxidative stress, and DNA damage. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 23, 783-792.

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