Are hydrogen peroxide soaks safe?
April 16, 2018 8:06 AM   Subscribe

I have recently been trying Hydrogen Peroxide feet soaks to cure a toenail fungal infection. I was trying vinegar soaks without much sucess until I found a blog where a woman was suggesting to use hydrogen peroxide soaks. I decided to give it a try and I was surprised to find out that the infection started to fade after a few soaks. I would like to continue the treatment but I just want to make sure that it is safe.

I have searched for information on the internet, but I have found contradicting information. Some think that hydrogen peroxide soaks are perfectly safe while others consider that regular contact with this chemical is not safe. They argue that although hydrogen peroxide is an efficent antifungal and antibiotic agent, it can also harm healthy cells. They also argue that it can kill healthy gut bacteria and might even be toxic.

So far, the only side effects that I have noticed are that my stomach is a bit upset and also, I had a few instances where my eyes started itch mildly. I am not sure these symtoms are related to the soaks though. I have been doing 60 or 90 minute long soaks and I have used 3% hydrogen peroxide.

I would appreciate any information on this regard. Thanks!
posted by Fromthesouth to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
So far, the only side effects that I have noticed are that my stomach is a bit upset and also

Well, you know you can't drink with your feet, so that's got nothing at all to do with this. (You definitely shouldn't DRINK the stuff. Or rub your eyes with peroxidey hands.)
And the skin on your feet is dead. Unless you've got open wounds, there are no living cells to harm.

Is what you're soaking your feet in TOTALLY hydrogen peroxide? Like, you're taking a whole bottle and soaking your feet in it? Or are you pouring it into water? Soaking your feet directly in 3% hydrogen peroxide isn't really going to hurt you any, but if you're diluting it even more when you're doing a soak, there's even less of a reason to care.
posted by phunniemee at 8:53 AM on April 16, 2018 [6 favorites]

Foot soak should be totally safe. I use the stuff as a mouthwash after brushing my teeth, and eventually my dentist cautioned me that I should cut back on it if I found it was irritating my gums, so now it's more of an every-other-day thing rather than daily, but I've already consumed more than you're going to get in a lifetime of foot-soaks and I'm fine.

The problem is it was touted as a "cure all" for everything from lethargy to AIDS for a while, and people DID drink it, and used it for everything, and really it's basically just a harsh chemical scrub-brush, so that's not great. Knew a guy who subscribed to this cure-all theory.

Fun fact: It is an excellent emetic for dogs! I keep a bottle in the car in case the dogs get into something really bad (like the time my doggo ate an entire bottle of Rimadyl)-- pour some down their gullet and await barfing within seconds.
posted by The otter lady at 8:59 AM on April 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

I dunno, submerging your feet in straight-up hydrogen peroxide for 90 minutes every day might not be the best idea. If it’s strictly a nail infection, could you soak cotton balls in the stuff and then use aluminum foil to bind them to your toenails (Like how they remove gel nails at a nail salon)?
posted by pintapicasso at 9:45 AM on April 16, 2018

Are you getting any patches on your feet that look like they have an opaque white film over them after the soaks? If not, then you are totally safe. (These would be freshly-killed skin cells.)

The eye irritation could be caused by the free (monatomic) oxygen released as the hydrogen peroxide does its thing. I'd suggest making sure you have decent ventilation during your soaks -- maybe keep a door or window open and run the bathroom fan.
posted by heatherlogan at 10:58 AM on April 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Snopes has a lengthy article on this, which includes the following:
As for killing foot fungus, putting the run on boils, curing canker sores, or cleaning out infections, it is not known if hydrogen peroxide is effective for these purposes. Soaking an infected wound in hydrogen peroxide several times throughout the day for five or ten minutes at a crack is probably not a good idea, though, because the solution can damage tissue if left in contact with skin for any length of time.
So it sounds like 90 minutes per day might be overdoing it.
posted by ubiquity at 11:03 AM on April 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

You might try a mix of hydrogen peroxide and iodine for your feet; when I was bitten deeply, the doc had me soak the bite in 50/50 iodine/H2O2 a couple of times a day, and we also used iodine to combat ringworm, so it must be antifungal.
posted by The otter lady at 12:20 PM on April 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

They argue that although hydrogen peroxide is an efficent antifungal and antibiotic agent, it can also harm healthy cells.

The way hydrogen peroxide kills stuff is by releasing oxygen as it breaks down (and that's almost entirely ordinary molecular oxygen, O2). Concentrated oxygen is pretty corrosive stuff, and kills indiscriminately; fungi, bacteria and your own cells will all get holes burned in them. But the only cells that get badly burned are the ones really close to where the oxygen is being released, and your skin can afford to lose a lot more cells than the average fungal hypha or bacterium before taking noticeable damage.

Hydrogen peroxide is not unique in this regard. Pretty much all the strong pre-penicillin antiseptics (povidone-iodine, potassium permanganate, mercurochrome, chlorhexidine, carbolic soap, alcohol and so on) are indiscriminate cell killers.

You'll feel stinging and see evidence of irritation way before you take enough damage from peroxide to cause a significant chemical burn. So if you start feeling that, or if your skin starts looking a bit bleached, just lay off the soaks for a while.

They also argue that it can kill healthy gut bacteria

If it got into your gut, I'm sure it would. No way would it do that from a foot soak. Your skin will keep the vast bulk of it outside you, and any tiny traces that do manage to diffuse in would break down before your bloodstream transported it any distance internally.

and might even be toxic.

Ingested in large quantities it would be. If you're soaking in a dilute solution of it, though, it's going to break down at or very near to the surface of your skin, and what it breaks down into is just water and oxygen, same as what's already in you and in the air.

It's the concentration of oxygen right where the bulk of the peroxide breakdown is happening (i.e. right where you see it bubbling and fizzing) that wields the little picoscopic light sabres.
posted by flabdablet at 12:21 PM on April 16, 2018 [12 favorites]

The real question here is: are your feet irritated from the soaks? Are you getting redness, itching, or any of the other signs that you'd normally associate with a chemical burn? If not, it's probably not doing enough damage to your cells for your body to notice.

Your skin is covered in lots of dead cells, such that you can take a surprising amount of chemical abuse before it actually starts to get to tissue where you notice the damage.

If the H2O2 soaks are effective on the fungal infection, and aren't irritating your skin, nail beds, or causing any other side effects, then I would continue them. Granted, I am not a doctor (and in fact am actually just a dog with particularly good typing skills), so take this as having exactly as much value as you are paying for it. But it's not like most of the treatments for fungus are exactly nice stuff. What you're balancing against is, assuming you don't just want to live with toenail fungus, the side effects of the next-most-effective treatment for the problem. Just something to bear in mind.

The "gut bacteria" thing is total woo, unless they mean if you drink the stuff. No H2O2 is making it into your gut via your feet; the stuff is too reactive to make it that far, even if you had a cut or something on your feet that would somehow admit it. (Now, if you were soaking your feet in colloidal silver or mercury or something, all of which have been used as antifungals at various times in the past—and currently, by quacks—then you'd have some reason for concern. But that's because they're actually toxic heavy metals, which by definition don't break down and have a tendency to bioconcentrate. H2O2 is an oxidizer and ends up as water and O2.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:45 PM on April 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

TLDR: It's almost surely not a problem if you don't think it's a problem.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:44 PM on April 16, 2018

Thanks a lot for all your answers and information. I haven't noticed any irritation on the skin of my feet so I will continue with the hydrogen peroxide treatment. So far it has worked wonders. Asides from the soaks, I have been putting some cocunut oil and tea trea oil on the toenails. I've been doing this for about a month and the fungus has almost completely dissapeared. Thanks a lot!
posted by Fromthesouth at 4:10 AM on April 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

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