What does hydrogen peroxide do?


Quick Answer

Hydrogen peroxide is a chemical compound that breaks down upon contact with most living cells to release oxygen and provide an antibiotic action by breaking down the cell wall of bacteria, according to Remy Melina for Live Science. Unfortunately, it also damages skin cells using the same mechanism.

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What does hydrogen peroxide do?
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Full Answer

The medical community began using hydrogen peroxide as an antiseptic in the 1920s. Most living cells, including bacteria, contain the enzyme catalase, which causes the breakdown of hydrogen peroxide. Reaction is observable by pouring hydrogen peroxide on a freshly cut potato, notes Martin. The oxidation reaction removes electrons from the cell walls, which begin to disintegrate. Most doctors and dermatologists recommend against using hydrogen peroxide as an antiseptic because it increases scarring and slows healing.

Hydrogen peroxide found in pharmacies is generally a 3 percent solution. However, food grade hydrogen peroxide is available in a 35 percent solution, according to Drugs.com. In 2006, the FDA warned consumers they should not buy or use this product. Ingesting the concentrated solution causes irritation of the gastrointestinal tract. Intravenous use sometimes leads to gas bubbles in the bloodstream; irritation of the vein and injection site; and dangerous allergic reactions. The FDA has never given approval of the concentrated solution for internal use and warns it has the potential to cause chemical burns.

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