What Is Hypochlorous Acid?

It benefits your skin and is also an EPA-registered disinfectant that works against COVID-19.

What is Hypochlorous Acid , Woman spraying facial mist on her face, summertime skin care concept
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You might be familiar with salicylic acid for acne, glycolic acid for exfoliation, and hyaluronic acid for hydration, but what about the ingredient hypochlorous acid? Thanks to its disinfecting properties, this ingredient gained traction at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The hype is real: Not only does hypochlorous acid act as an anti-inflammatory for skin conditions and wound care, but it also has been proven effective against COVID-19.

Curious to learn more about hypochlorous acid? Read on for what experts have to say about the versatile, good-for-your-skin ingredient.

What Is Hypochlorous Acid?

"Hypochlorous acid (HOCl) is a natural-occurring molecule in the body created by our white blood cells to fend off infection, bacteria, and injury to the skin," Joel Schlessinger, MD, dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon, and President of LovelySkin.com, told Health.

It works by supplying cells with oxygen to help the body's natural healing processes, Diane Madfes, MD, a New York-based dermatologist and Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, explained.

It is antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory and made of hydrogen, oxygen, and chlorine (HOCl). So, it's no surprise that this versatile ingredient with its healing properties has applications in skincare (more on that shortly) and in the healthcare industry.

How Can Hypochlorous Acid Benefit Your Skin?

Quick skin conditions lesson: "Skin that is susceptible to skin conditions, like eczema or acne, harbors more bacteria and therefore is prone to more infections," said Suzanne Friedler, MD, a dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology PC.

HOCl is effective against bacteria and other microorganisms that may be on the skin, which means it can be used to treat a variety of skin conditions, including acne and dermatitis. It breaks up the bacteria groupings, which can lead to fewer flare-ups and offer healing, Friedler added.

If you have sensitive skin and are cautious about introducing new ingredients into your routine, you don't have to worry about HOCl. Because hypochlorous acid naturally occurs in the body, it is non-irritating and an ideal treatment for all skin types, said Dr. Schlessinger. Not to mention, it can address itchiness and reduce redness and flaking of the skin due to eczema, psoriasis, or acne, added Dr. Friedler.

How Does Hypochlorous Acid Work Against COVID-19?

On top of skincare application, hypochlorous acid is used in hospital settings for wound care and as a disinfectant that can destroy bacteria and viruses. This makes it different than other skincare ingredients.

In fact, it is an effective disinfectant against COVID-19. It's on the United States Environmental Protection Agency's list of disinfectants that are effective at killing COVID-19.

"A unique property of hypochlorous acid is its ability to enter the cell wall of a virus and react with the cell metabolism, so the cell starts to die," Jeanne Breen, MD, infectious disease physician and researcher, said.

SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19 is known as an envelope virus because it has a protective outer shell. Hypochlorous acid attacks that envelope, entering the cell, then deactivating the proteins necessary for the virus to survive, explained Dr. Breen.

It is also one of the ingredients in bleach but is a safer alternative and common in many at-home cleaning products. Hypochlorous acid is made by electrically charging salt, water, and vinegar—a process called electrolysis—which is how companies are able to harness its disinfecting properties.

How Is Hypochlorous Acid Used?

Hypochlorous acid is a diverse substance that can be used in many different ways. HOCl can be used as a surface disinfectant, treatment for wounds, and facial sanitizer.

Surface Disinfectant

HOCl is effective as a disinfectant for surfaces. One study—that took place in an outpatient surgical office—found that rooms disinfected with HOCl had significantly lower bacterial counts compared to rooms that were disinfected using a standard disinfectant.

You can also use HOCl to disinfect the surfaces in your home. If you're looking for a household cleaner featuring the acid, the Force of Nature Starter Kit goes through the electrolysis process right on your countertop—it kills 99.9% of germs, doesn't need to be wiped away, and is safe to use around children, said Dr. Breen.

Treatment for Wounds

HOCl is effective against all common bacteria and fungi that can infect wounds. Since hypochlorous acid kills bacteria that lead to infections (like staph infections), it also speeds up the healing process, said Dr. Madfes.

There are many hypochlorous acid products used by doctors in hospital settings to keep surgery sites clean, pointed out Dr. Schlessinger. It's used as a disinfectant and as an irrigant in surgery—meaning as a solution to clean cuts, burns, or open wounds.

Facial Sanitizer

While HCOl can be used as a hand sanitizer, it is also safe to use as a facial sanitizer. HOCl can help to fight the bacteria on your skin and help improve skin conditions like acne or dermatitis.

Want to add HOCl to your current skincare routine? While there are cleansers, serums, and creams featuring the acid available through your dermatologist, there are a few over-the-counter facial sprays you can snap up, too.

Facial sprays are portable and convenient. They help cleanse your skin while on the go and can combat maskne—acne from wearing masks. A HOCl spray can be used on your skin, hands, and reusable mask.

A Quick Review

Hypochlorous acid is a substance that has multiple purposes. It can help to disinfect surfaces, provide treatment for wounds, and help to reduce acne and other skin conditions. HOCl is also effective against COVID-19.

While hypochlorous acid has been proven effective against COVID-19, know that doesn't mean skincare products are an alternative to staying updated with your COVID-19 vaccinations, which is the best way to prevent severe illness from COVID-19.

Think of HOCl as a backup line of defense. But if a face mist can help, it's worth carrying one more thing around in your bag.

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6 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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