Hydrogen Peroxide and Alcohol May Actually Worsen Wound Healing
As a kid, scrapes and cuts we’re practically unavoidable for me. I loved to play games that typically took place on the concrete playground. So more often than not I would come home with some kind of scrape on my knee or elbow. Luckily, my mom knew just what to do. First step, was to convey her shock and compassion with a hint of anger towards my careless nature. Then came the dreadful black bottle of hydrogen peroxide. The agony as a kid seeing that bottle is indescribable. There’s a saying “like pouring salt on a wound”, well if you had to put peroxide on an open wound, you knew exactly what that meant. But there was no way around that, we had to disinfect the wound and then finally apply a band-aid to cover it up.
Kids now tend to do more activities in virtual environments and indoors, but that doesn’t mean scrapes and cuts don’t happen. But just recently, I found out that this process may not only may prevent proper healing but could also lead to more infections. Regardless, if you have kids or get an occasional scrape or cut yourself, you may want to pay attention.
Hydrogen Peroxide and Alcohol Use for Wound Care
First, let’s take hydrogen peroxide. Even today, it’s still one of the most used solutions for wound irrigation and and fresh wound infection prevention. However, it’s actual effectiveness is under heavy debate as far as wound antiseptics. More studies are finding that it may not only be ineffective in aiding wound healing but it may also slow down the process.
Hydrogen peroxide is effective in killing bacteria and preventing growth of disease-causing organisms. The pain associated with hydrogen peroxide is due to the peroxide activating the pain receptors in the area as it kills the bacteria. It’s also more effective than rubbing alcohol. So what’s the problem? Hydrogen peroxide isn’t able to distinguish between good and bad cells within your wound. It kills everything, including your white blood cells, which slows down healing.
So what about rubbing alcohol? While it’s still often used and it’s quite effective in minimizing the germ activity, it also instantly burns your skin. Skin cells can become damaged as a result, producing swelling and itching, which can be then misread as inflammatory symptoms.
More Wound Myths Debunked
Myth #1 Applying Vitamin E helps the wound heal faster
Vitamin E can actually slow down the healing process and cause allergic reactions. [source]
Myth #2 Leaving the wound in open air helps healing
While it’s true that oxygen plays a big role in healing, leaving a wound uncovered to “breathe” and dry can actually delay the healing by 50%. [source]
Myth #3 Sun exposure helps to blend your scar
People assume that sun can help hide anything from acne scars to injuries. The fact is, an injured area is weaker, and thus UV rays can affect it more. UV rays can interfere with new collagen production. Healed wounds should be protected with SPF 15 or higher sunscreen (just make sure it’s the healthier kind). [source]
Myth #4 Scabs are a great sign
The hardened fluid and debris that form your scar can actually interfere with healthy healing. It forms in an attempt to reduce fluid loss in a dry environment, but its presence signals a non-ideal environment for healing. [source]
Myth #5 Itching is a sign of healing
While it can be, it can also be a sign of an allergic reaction to the wound dressing or antibiotic ointment. It’s important not to scratch your your infected area even if it’s itchy. If itching gets worse in severity or continues past a few weeks, it may be time to see a doctor.
Best Way to Treat a Wound Naturally & Effectively
First, let’s get one thing clear. It depends on the situation. In an emergency situation with no access to clean water and a lot of possible contaminants, rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide combined with something to dress the wound, may still be your best way to prevent infection. But for optimal healing, when the situation allows, there are better ways. Cleansing the wound with cold water and natural soap is a great first step. One study has shown that Castile soap lowered the rate of wound complications. However, other common soaps may contain chemicals and other ingredients, which can actually slow down healing and increase chances of an infection. Thus, pure natural soap is usually your best bet. Your second step should be one that you are familiar with, it’s keeping the wound covered. Use an old-fashioned band-aid.
Finally, something else that is very important to your wound is moisture. Moisture helps create the best environment for your skin to heal. It also prevents your wound from scabbing and your skin will be less likely to scar. Research shows that a wound should be kept moist for at least 5 days. While antibiotic ointments can help keep the wound moist, they can also increase swelling and cause a localized infection.
So how else can you keep a wound moist? Vaseline is something that is effective and will keep your wound moist. Raw, unfiltered honey is also a great alternative. When doctors compared honey with antibiotics on 28 strains of drug-resistant bacteria associated with burn wounds, they found that only 3 strains were inhibited by 11 of the antibiotics. However, all 28 strains were inhibited by 25% concentration of honey. Honey is one of the oldest remedies available and its antibacterial properties are renowned.