What Is Hypochlorous Acid?
“Hypochlorous acid (HOCl) is a substance naturally created by our white blood cells that acts as the body’s first line of defense against bacteria, irritation, and injury,” explains Michelle Henry, M.D., clinical instructor of dermatology at Weill Medical College in New York City. It’s commonly used as a disinfectant because of its powerful action against bacteria, fungi, and viruses and is one of the only cleaning agents available that’s non-toxic to humans while still being lethal to most dangerous bacteria and viruses that threaten our health, says David Petrillo, cosmetic chemist and founder of Perfect Image.
So it’s not surprising that the extremely versatile ingredient is used in a number of different ways. HOCl has its place in skin care (more on that in a moment), but it’s also widely used in healthcare, the food industry, and even to treat water in swimming pools, adds Petrillo.
How Can Hypochlorous Acid Benefit Your Skin?
In a word (or two), a lot. The antimicrobial effects of HOCl make it useful for fighting acne and skin infections; it’s also anti-inflammatory, is soothing, repairs damaged skin, and speeds up wound healing, says Dr. Henry. In short, it’s a great option for acne sufferers, as well as those dealing with chronic inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis.
The bottom line: Hypochlorous acid is one of those rare, unicorn-esque ingredients of the skin-care world that pretty much anyone and everyone can benefit from in some way, shape, or form.
How Else Is Hypochlorous Acid Used?
As mentioned, it’s a medical mainstay. In dermatology, it’s used to prep the skin for injectables and help heal small wounds, says Dr. Chimento. In hospitals, HOCl is often used as a disinfectant and as an irrigant in surgery (translation: it’s used on an open wound surface to hydrate, remove debris, and aid in visual examination), says Kelly Killeen, M.D., a double board-certified plastic surgeon at Cassileth Plastic Surgery & Skin Care in Beverly Hills.
How Does Hypochlorous Acid Work Against COVID-19?
To that point, remember how I said that HOCl has anti-viral effects? Well, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is officially one of the viruses that HOCl can takedown. The EPA recently added the ingredient to their official list of disinfectants effective against the coronavirus. Now that this has happened, there will be a lot more non-toxic cleaning products coming out that contain hypochlorous acid, points out Dr. Henry. And, because creating HOCl is fairly simple—it’s made by electrically charging salt, water, and vinegar, a process known as electrolysis —there are many at-home cleaning systems that use the ingredient already on the market, adds Dr. Chimento.
Try Force of Nature Starter Kit (Buy It, $70, forceofnatureclean.com), which is an EPA-registered disinfectant & sanitizer made with HOCl that kills 99.9% of germs including norovirus, influenza A, salmonella, MRSA, staph, and listeria.
It’s also worth noting that the HOCl that’s found in skin-care products, cleaning products, and even operating rooms is all the same; it’s just the concentrations that vary. The lowest concentrations are usually used for wound healing, the highest for disinfecting, and the topical formulations fall somewhere in the middle, explains Dr. Killeen.
How Should You Use Hypochlorous Acid?
Aside from making it a staple in your cleaning protocol (both Petrillo and Dr. Chimento point out that it’s a much less harmful and non-toxic alternative to chlorine bleach), the new coronavirus normal also means there are plenty of ways to use it topically, too. (Speaking of non-toxic cleaning products: does vinegar kill viruses?)
“HOCl can be effective during the pandemic because it sanitizes the surface of the skin, as well as helps reduce skin conditions exacerbated by wearing masks,” says Dr. Henry. (Hello, maskne and irritation.) As far as skin-care products go, you’re most likely to find it in convenient and portable face mists and sprays.
“Toting one around is kind of like carrying a hand sanitizer for your face,” adds Dr. Henry. (Related: Can Hand Sanitizer Actually Kill the Coronavirus?)
Dr. Henry, Petrillo, and Dr. Killeen all recommend the Tower 28 SOS Daily Rescue Spray (Buy It, $28, credobeauty.com). Dr. Killeen says it works well for all skin types, while Dr. Henry notes that it’s especially useful in addressing maskne and refreshing skin.
Another expert-recommended option: Briotech Topical Skin Spray (Buy It, $20, amazon.com). This can help speed up healing and protect your skin, says Petrillo. Dr. Henry adds that the tried-and-true effective formula is also lab-tested for stability and purity. Another affordable option, Dr. Henry recommends Curativa Bay Hypochlorous Skin Spray (Buy It, $24, amazon.com). “For about the same price, you get double the amount as other options. It contains only the basic ingredients, and it’s 100 percent organic, making it even more ideal for sensitive skin types,” she explains.
When and how should you use your new spray? Keep in mind that to actually reap the disinfecting prowess of HOCl, the concentration of the ingredient needs to be 50 parts per million—higher than what you’ll find in topical products. So, you can’t assume that simply spraying your face will automatically kill any lingering coronavirus. And by all means, using hypochlorous acid on your skin is not—I repeat, is not—an alternative to the CDC-recommended protective measures such as wearing a mask, social distancing, and regular hand washing.
Think of it as an extra protective measure, rather than your first (or only) line of defense. Try misting it on your (masked) face while you’re out in public or on a flight. Or, use it to give your skin a quickie clean and to help ward off maskne or other mask-induced irritation once you get home. And Petrillo notes that a hypochlorous spray can also be a good option for cleaning your makeup brushes and tools, ensuring they aren’t riddled with germs that you’re repeatedly transferring to and from your face.
All you really need to know is that hypochlorous acid is one skin-care and cleaning—ingredient definitely worth seeking out during the time of coronavirus.
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