Hydrogen Peroxide

Safety Information

The Expert Panel for Cosmetic Ingredient Safety reviewed available scientific data supporting the safety of hydrogen peroxide in 2018 and concluded that it is safe in cosmetics in the present practices of use and concentration.

The Expert Panel determined that the available data – assessing genotoxicity (i.e., potential for damage to cells genetic material), potential skin and inhalation effects, carcinogenicity (i.e., cancer-causing potential) and reproductive/fetal developmental toxicity – were sufficient to support the conclusion that hydrogen peroxide is safe in cosmetic products in the present practices of use and concentration.

The Expert Panel noted that hydrogen peroxide is synthesized in the body (e.g., oral cavity, urinary tract, respiratory system). The natural production and clearance of hydrogen peroxide in the body further mitigated any concern for potential toxicity from its use in cosmetics.

The potential for skin absorption of hydrogen peroxide was noted but was considered negligible due to the low concentrations used for cosmetic products and the negative skin developmental and reproductive toxicity studies. The Expert Panel also noted the positive genotoxicity studies, but determined the results are not relevant to cosmetic uses due to hydrogen peroxide’s bactericidal nature and its rapid breakdown by hydrolysis on the skin surface.


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes hydrogen peroxide as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) to treat food under specific conditions; maximum treatment levels range from 0.04% to 1.25% or as an amount sufficient for the purpose. Hydrogen peroxide may be used in several capacities in food preparation (bleaching agent, emulsifier, epoxidizing agent). It may be used in adhesives that come in contact with food. Hydrogen peroxide is also permitted to be used as an antimicrobial agent in bottled water (in a silver nitrate solution), to sterilize food-contact surfaces and in solutions to clean food-processing equipment and utensils. Due to the potential for allergic skin reactions when using hair dyes or relaxers, the FDA recommends that consumers follow all directions in the package, perform a patch test on the skin 48 hours before using the dye on hair, wear gloves, and rinse the scalp well with water after use. Consumers should not dye eyebrows or eyelashes or leave the product on longer than the directions say.

The FDA also allows hydrogen peroxide to be used in Over-the-Counter (OTC) first aid antiseptics. Hydrogen peroxide mixed with water in solution is safe up to 3% for use as oral wound healing agents, but there are inadequate data to establish general recognition of its effectiveness for this purpose.

The European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Products (SCCP) evaluated the safety of hydrogen peroxide in tooth whitening products. The SCCP concluded that use of products containing up to 1% hydrogen peroxide was safe. The SCCP also concluded that use of products containing up to 6% hydrogen peroxide could be used after consultation and approval of a dentist.

In the European Union, hydrogen peroxide may be used in hair care, skin care, nail harding, and oral hygiene products at maximum concentrations of 12%, 4%, 2% and 0.1%, respectively (See Annex III). Hair care, skin care and nail hardening products containing hydrogen peroxide must be labeled: “Contains hydrogen peroxide. Avoid contact with eyes. Rinse immediately if product comes in contact with them.” Hair products containing hydrogen peroxide must recommend that gloves be worn when the product is used.

European Commission’s Public Health Information on Tooth Whiteners Containing hydrogen peroxide.

More information about hair dyes.

Summaries of the safety information for Hydrogen Peroxide have been prepared by the World Health Organization as well as the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

The International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that hydrogen peroxide was not classifiable as to it’s carcinogenicity in humans.


Hydrogen Peroxide

What Is It?

Hydrogen peroxide is a clear, colorless liquid. In cosmetics and personal care products, hydrogen peroxide can be found in a wide variety of hair care products such as hair dyes, hair bleaches, conditioners, shampoos and rinses, hair bleaches and shampoos. It is also used in tooth whitening products. Hydrogen peroxide is also sold as an antiseptic at concentrations of 2.5-3%.

Why Is It Used?

Hydrogen peroxide is added to cosmetics and personal care products as an antimicrobial agent and as an oxidizing agent. The function of antimicrobial agents is to kill or inhibit the growth or reproduction of microorganisms. In cosmetics and personal care products, oxidizing agents are used to form dyestuffs during oxidative hair dyeing, and to oxygenate stains on the teeth to further whiten the teeth.

Scientific Facts

Hydrogen peroxide is widely used as a bleaching agent for food and textiles. It is also used as an antiseptic.

Hydrogen peroxide was first discovered in 1818. Solutions of hydrogen peroxide gradually deteriorate but can usually be stabilized with acetanilide or other similar substances. Agitation or contact with rough surfaces increases the rate of breakdown. Hydrogen peroxide decomposes into oxygen and water. Small amounts of hydrogen peroxide gas occur naturally in the air. Although it is not flammable, hydrogen peroxide is a powerful oxidizing agent and can cause spontaneous combustion if concentrated solutions come into contact with organic material.