Fiinding topical (applied to the skin) treatments that reduce psoriasis symptoms can be an ongoing challenge for people living with the condition. Some people report using hydrogen peroxide as a home remedy for psoriasis. However, there’s no scientific evidence that it helps. Plus, there’s a risk that hydrogen peroxide could make psoriasis worse.
Psoriasis is a condition that causes skin inflammation due to an overproduction of skin cells. Although researchers don’t fully understand why psoriasis develops, they consider it an immune-mediated or autoimmune disease, caused by an overactive part of the immune system attacking healthy tissue.
People with plaque psoriasis — the most common type of psoriasis — experience a range of symptoms, including a buildup of itchy, painful, and scaly skin that can become infected during flare-ups. Having psoriasis increases your risk of psoriatic arthritis, which causes painful, swollen joints and can be debilitating.
There is no known cure for psoriasis, but symptoms can be managed effectively with treatments that include:
Home skin care remedies include types of over-the-counter lotions and moisturizers, as well as cannabidiol (CBD) oil, apple cider vinegar, and tree tea oil. Some people with psoriasis use hydrogen peroxide to help with their symptoms — though there isn’t research to support using it this way.
Read on to learn more about hydrogen peroxide and psoriasis.
Hydrogen peroxide is a clear liquid chemical. It’s generally known to be a disinfectant or an antiseptic, a substance that kills microorganisms and germs. Hydrogen peroxide is sometimes used as a cleaning solution, particularly in bathrooms and kitchens, and it can be used to sterilize medical and beauty tools. It also has many industrial uses. However, its medical use, particularly on the skin, is controversial.
Researchers have studied hydrogen peroxide on the skin primarily in relation to wounds. They’ve found that hydrogen peroxide occurs naturally in the body on a microscopic level. When skin is wounded, hydrogen peroxide reacts and levels briefly increase. This natural process may signal the body’s immune responses that control bleeding, fight bacteria, and start the rebuilding of damaged cells.
Solutions with concentrations of 1 percent to 6 percent hydrogen peroxide were once considered an effective treatment for wounds, primarily because the chemical has been shown to kill microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, yeast, and fungi. But clinical evidence reveals that hydrogen peroxide treatment can also damage wounded skin tissue, and scientists have questioned its use for wound care over the past few years.
Even healthy skin can be irritated by hydrogen peroxide used in household or industrial settings. If you use it as a cleaner or disinfectant, you can protect your skin with rubber or latex gloves.
Currently, scientists don’t generally recommend hydrogen peroxide for the skin because it increases the risk of damaging skin cells. That said, skin cream with low concentrations of hydrogen peroxide is effective against seborrheic keratoses, which are noncancerous growths that can develop on people’s skin as they age. The cream may help slow the absorption of hydrogen peroxide and minimize the risk of cell damage. However, an in-office procedure using higher-dose hydrogen peroxide was discontinued in 2019 due to lack of demand.
Researchers may develop new hydrogen peroxide treatments for skin if they’re found to be safe in clinical trials (research studies on the effectiveness of treatments on people). In the meantime, health experts recommend that people avoid using hydrogen peroxide treatments on their skin without medical advice and supervision.
Hydrogen peroxide can be poisonous — never drink it. In small concentrations, the chemical can cause stomach cramps, vomiting, and throat irritation. In larger amounts, it can lead to serious injury or death. High-concentration hydrogen peroxide can also burn the skin.
Hydrogen peroxide may be dangerous for people who are exposed to it through vapors and fumes, especially those working in industries that use the chemical. Fumes can cause severe irritation in the eyes, nose, mouth, and throat. Risks increase with higher exposure.
Although hydrogen peroxide is not recommended for treating psoriasis, some MyPsoriasisTeam members have reported using it to reduce symptoms such as itching.
One member described how they use hydrogen peroxide to control psoriasis symptoms: “My poor feet flare up so bad. I scrub them, douse them with hydrogen peroxide, then lather in Vaseline, coal tar cream, or salicylic acid cream, and then pop a Benadryl.”
Another member wrote, “My meds work great for a while, then stop working. In between meds, I soak my feet and hands in witch hazel and hydrogen peroxide.”
A third member shared, “I use hydrogen peroxide on a Q-tip inside my ears. Just a suggestion.”
Talk to your health care team before using hydrogen peroxide for your psoriasis.
Some research has investigated how substances such as hydrogen peroxide affect oxidative stress in psoriasis. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between oxidants (which can lead to damage to cells) and antioxidants (which help prevent cell damage). Oxidation of cells can occur naturally or due to environmental toxins such as cigarette smoke or air pollution. It’s been linked to other diseases such as cancer.
Hydrogen peroxide consists of hydrogen and oxygen and is considered an oxidizing agent, a type of compound that is highly reactive. Oxidizing agents, or free radicals, sometimes fight pathogens like disease or bacteria, but they can also damage cells. Think of how rust can damage a car — that’s due to oxidation. Oxidative stress in the body has been linked to psoriasis.
One theory about the association is that psoriasis may cause an overproduction of natural hydrogen peroxide, which could be a factor in causing skin cells to reproduce abnormally. Although there is still much to be learned, this research suggests that future treatment for psoriasis might be found in antioxidants, rather than in oxidizing substances such as hydrogen peroxide.
Hydrogen peroxide is essentially water with an extra oxygen molecule and shouldn’t be confused with hydrogen water, which has an extra hydrogen molecule. These two compounds have very different properties. Hydrogen peroxide is oxidizing, and hydrogen water is an antioxidant.
Research on hydrogen water baths and psoriasis has shown impressive results in relieving psoriasis symptoms. Talk to your doctor to learn more about hydrogen water baths.
Your dermatologist can recommend topical treatment compounds that are considered safe for psoriasis with minimal risk of side effects. Many people with psoriasis have found that moisturizers containing salicylic acid and coal tar helpful in reducing psoriasis symptoms. These ingredients can be found in numerous products, including lotions, bath solutions, shampoos, and foams.
The National Psoriasis Foundation has a directory of over-the-counter products with its Seal of Recognition. You’ll find listings for different types of topicals used to treat psoriasis.
Before trying a new product, be sure to discuss it with your dermatologist. Always test a small amount of a new product on an affected area of your skin to find out whether it works for you or if you have an unpleasant reaction.
MyPsoriasisTeam is the social network for people with psoriasis and their loved ones. On MyPsoriasisTeam, more than 115,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with psoriasis.
Do you have questions about hydrogen peroxide? Have you discussed hydrogen peroxide with your doctor? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.