Why Does Hydrogen Peroxide Turn Skin White?

February 14, 2024

Hydrogen peroxide is a common antiseptic used in cleaning wounds. It is also an ingredient in whitening facial products and skin whiteners. However, hydrogen peroxide can bleach or turn the skin white if it is used on a large area and at high concentrations. This happens because of a physiological process called capillary embolism that causes blood to stop flowing to the skin areas after they come in contact with hydrogen peroxide. This whitening effect is temporary and will fade when the blood starts flowing again to the skin areas.

When hydrogen peroxide comes in contact with a cut or wound, it breaks down to release water and oxygen. It bubbles on the surface of the wound because the enzyme catalase is present in that tissue. Catalase is a protein that supports many chemical reactions in the body and is able to break down peroxide into water and oxygen. This reaction is what makes hydrogen peroxide a mild bleaching agent.

Hydrogen peroxide is also good at killing germs like bacteria and fungi. It is so effective that hospitals use it as a disinfectant. It is especially effective against a bacterium that spreads through human poop called cryptosporidiosis. It may also help to kill norovirus, which is another hard-to-kill bacterium.

Despite its effectiveness against germs, high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide are dangerous to the skin and can cause a variety of adverse reactions, including blisters, burning, itching, irritation, discoloration, and redness. For this reason, it is best to use a dilute solution of about 3% hydrogen peroxide as a disinfectant for cuts and wounds.

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