Hydrogen peroxide and benzoyl peroxide may have similar sounding names, but are definitely two different chemicals with totally different uses in the medical and consumer related industries.
Hydrogen peroxide is an inorganic compound that consists of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to each other .Each oxygen atom is also bonded to a hydrogen atom. Hydrogen peroxide is commonly used to disinfect wounds.
Benzoyl peroxide is a complex organic compound. Like hydrogen peroxide it has two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to one another. Instead of hydrogen, each oxygen atom in the peroxide group is bonded to a carbon atom which is then double-bonded to another oxygen. It is commonly used in treating acne.
Hydrogen peroxide’s chemical representation is H2O2. It has uses in industry in its purest form but the product available to most of us over-the-counter is usually only 3% hydrogen peroxide and 97% water. It breaks down quickly when exposed to light so it generally comes in brown bottles that filter out the sun’s rays. It is known for its antibacterial qualities. The pure stuff is dangerous if not used correctly. There are also 30%-35% high strength solutions on the commercial market, typically found in health food stores but also sold as a disinfectant.
There is still a great deal of controversy in the use of hydrogen peroxide for either orally or through injection to treat a variety of internal ailments including arthritis and cancer. Proponents say that the oxygen released by the breakdown of the hydrogen peroxide is medicinal. Opponents say there isn’t good evidence of the health benefits and that there are circumstances in which hydrogen peroxide can be dangerous. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration have yet to approve high strength hydrogen peroxide products for internal use and considered them dangerous. In July, 2006, the FDA issued a warning about the high strength hydrogen peroxides, saying they could lead to serious health risks and even death. A warning from the BC Cancer Agency in Canada said that over a three year period 6 children were seriously poisoned and one died from drinking the high strength hydrogen peroxide. They report one near-fatal case of an adult ingesting high strength hydrogen peroxide.
Benzoyl peroxide is a common acne treatment. It is typically applied to the affected areas in gel or cream form, in concentrations of 2.5% increasing through the usually effective 5% to up to 10%. Research suggests that 5 and 10% concentrations are not significantly more effective than 2.5%, and 2.5% is usually better tolerated, though the majority of major studies comparing it to other treatments use the higher concentrations. Benzoyl peroxide commonly causes skin dryness and s irritation, although the skin develops tolerance after a week or so. A small percentage of people are much more sensitive to it and liable to suffer burning, itching, peeling and possibly swelling. The recommended method is to apply a low concentration and then build up a tolerance. Once the skin can tolerate the treatment, users can begin increasing the quantity or concentration and gain a higher level tolerance may give better subsequent acne clearance. The compound works as a peeling agent to increase skin turnover and clear pores. This reduces the bacterial count there as well as using an antimicrobial. It is often combined with salicylic acid, sulfur, erythromycin or clindamycin; this is known as a combination drug benzoyl peroxide/clindamycin. Benzoyl peroxide can also be given with adapalene, a synthetic retinoid, in adapalene/benzoyl peroxide, a unique formulation considering most retinoid are generally deactivated by peroxides and acids.
Other common uses for benzoyl peroxide include dyeing hair, and as an active ingredient in teeth whitening systems. It is also used in the preparation of flour, and can be used as an initiator and catalyst for polyester thermoset resins. Benzoyl peroxide is often used as an alternative compound instead of the more hazardous methyl ethyl ketone peroxide.
Typically a is 2.5% to 10% concentration of benzoyl peroxide is used for prescription and over-the-counter drug preparations acne treatments. Higher concentrations of benzoyl peroxide are also used for hair bleach and teeth whitening. Benzoyl peroxide, like most peroxides, is a powerful bleaching agent. Contact with fabrics or hair can cause permanent color dampening almost immediately. Even secondary contact can cause bleaching. For example, contact with a towel that has been used to wash off benzoyl peroxide-containing hygiene products. Another use is in the paint industry. Benzoyl peroxide is used as a hardener in order to start the polymerization process in resin. These PMMA resins can be polymerized with Benzoyl Peroxide.
Both of these natural compounds are exceptionally useful. Although their common names sound alike and they share similar chemical features, they are definitely used for different things. Each has their useful qualities and both can be dangerous to someone’s health if used incorrectly.