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 in cosmetics and personal care products?

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.

Safety Information:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) includes Hydrogen Peroxide in its list of substances affirmed Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) for use in food. Hydrogen peroxide is used as an antimicrobial agent, an oxidizing and reducing agent, and bleaching agent in foods such as milk and cheese products, wine, vinegar, starch and instant tea. The FDA also allows Hydrogen Peroxide to be used in Over-the-Counter (OTC) first aid antiseptics.

More safety Information:

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.

FDA: Code of Federal Regulations for the GRAS listing for Hydrogen Peroxide

FDA: Information about the use of Hydrogen Peroxide as an OTC first aid antiseptic                  

FDA: Information about the use of Hydrogen Peroxide as an OTC wound cleanser for oral mucosal injuries                          

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

More Scientific Information:

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.


Find out more about the regulation of Food Additives by the Food and Drug Administration

Find out more about the regulation of over-the-counter drugs by the Food and Drug Administration