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Why You Shouldn’t Clean a Cut with Hydrogen Peroxide

Many people reach for the bottle of hydrogen peroxide to clean cuts and scrapes. Is this a good idea? You may be surprised.

Children look forward to the arrival of summer so they can spend more time outdoors. But, along with the fun in the sun come bruises, cuts, and scrapes – and it’s usually mom’s job to help clean them up so they don’t get infected. Many moms reach for a bottle of hydrogen peroxide to clean a cut or abrasion. Is this a good idea?

What is Hydrogen Peroxide?

Hydrogen peroxide is a combination of the elements hydrogen and oxygen. At high concentrations, hydrogen peroxide is poisonous when swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin contact – but at low concentrations, it causes no ill effects. Fortunately, the bottle of hydrogen peroxide in the medicine cabinet is only three percent hydrogen peroxide – with the remainder being water. 

Should You Clean a Cut with Hydrogen Peroxide?

Contrary to popular belief, hydrogen peroxide may not be a good antiseptic after all. A study published in the Journal of Family Practice in 1987 showed that hydrogen peroxide didn’t speed up wound healing and wasn’t very effective for killing bacteria either. In fact, hydrogen peroxide slows down wound healing by destroying white blood cells that are involved in skin repair. At the same time, it damages the tissue surrounding the wound – which is not what most people want.

The Dark Side of Hydrogen Peroxide

When you clean a cut with hydrogen peroxide, are you increasing your risk of cancer? Laboratory studies show that hydrogen peroxide is carcinogenic in some, but not all, animals. Of course, it’s highly unlikely you’re putting yourself at risk unless you use it frequently, but why take the chance? The same applies to using hair dyes that contain hydrogen peroxide at levels of around 5%.

What Should You Use to Clean a Cut?

Believe it or not, good old-fashioned soap and water is best. Gently wash with a mild soap and warm water and apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin to reduce the risk of infection. Keep the area clean by applying a Bandaid. Watch for signs of infection such as redness, streaking, warmth, swelling, or drainage that resembles pus. If these develop these signs, it’s time to see a doctor.

The Bottom Line

There’s really no benefit to using hydrogen peroxide to clean a cut. Stick with soap and water and antibiotic ointment.

References:

J Fam Pract 1987; 24:601–604.

BC Cancer Agency. “Hydrogen Peroxide”

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