Mind & Body

You Should Stop Using Hydrogen Peroxide on Cuts

Every kid knows the painful, weirdly satisfying fizz of hydrogen peroxide on a fresh wound. Maybe your dad, as he drizzled the stinging solution on your new cut, even went so far as to tell you that the pain "is how you know it's working." Well, take this one to your old man: Putting hydrogen peroxide on an injury will do more harm than good. Sorry, pops.


Turns out, the classic household remedy for cuts and scraps is a bad one. The idea behind this common cure is that the chemical will fizz up (the result of a chemical reaction between the hydrogen peroxide and bacteria) and kill the bacteria in your cut that could cause infection. That's not wrong, but key details are missing. Dumping hydrogen peroxide on a cut won't just kill the bad bacteria; it'll unleash an army of sizzle that targets the catalase enzyme in all cells it comes in contact with — not just bacteria. That means it will destroy your body's healthy cells, and slow down the healing process.

But that's not all. Oh yes, it worsens quite a bit. There have been instances where the oxygen bubbles created in a hydrogen peroxide reaction actually enter blood vessels. This causes what's known as an oxygen embolism, which blocks the flow of blood. If you think we're just fear-mongering, check out this 1994 study published in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology that outlines a few lethal cases of this exact thing.

Step Away From the H2O2

So what should you use when you get a minor cut or scrape? Just keep it simple. Experts recommend skipping the antiseptics and simply cleaning the lesion with mild soap and water or a saline solution. No, it won't tingle quite like the other stuff, but we promise it's working just fine. Once it's all clean, cover the wound with a sterile dressing. If you bleed through, leave the bandage in place and put more dressing on top.

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Learn about how your body keeps you healthy in "An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System: A Tale in Four Lives" by Matt Richtel. The audiobook is free with an Audible trial. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ashley Hamer September 15, 2016

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