Can I Use Peroxide and Alcohol on My Incision?

Caring for your incision

Unless your surgeon tells you to use peroxide or rubbing alcohol—and they likely won't recommend either—you should never use these chemicals or any other harsh products on your healing surgical incision.

Man bandaging hand on staircase
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Think of your incision as skin that has to be treated as gently as possible, with the most gentle cleansers and lukewarm water. There is no need for hard chemicals, abrasive scrubs, lotions, or ointments unless they were prescribed. In fact, some lotions and ointments could increase the risk of infection or irritation, rather than soothing the area.

How to Treat Your Incision With Care

For the first few weeks of the postoperative healing process, you might be instructed to clean your incision at home. You should follow the directions you were given.

This usually means that you will take off your incision dressing and then use mild soap and water to clean your incision gently and rinse with plain water. Then you need to gently pat it dry and cover it with fresh dressing as instructed by your doctor. You might be told to do this once or twice per day.

You should not scrub the incision, and you should not use any ointments, alcohol, peroxide, powders, or scented products on your incision unless that's prescribed by your surgeon/doctor.

There are several reasons for this:

  • Alcohol and peroxide are too drying and irritating to the skin. This will slow your healing.
  • While most doctors will recommend you keep the wound moist, too much moisture or wetness may be harmful. Some ointments may keep the wound too moist, which makes a fertile environment for bacteria.
  • Body lotions and powders can increase the chances of infection and can cause irritation to the incision and surrounding skin. 
  • Scented products are highly irritating to the healing skin.

Clean and moist—but not wet—is your goal as you are healing.

There are many ways to close a surgical incision. Applications such as Dermabond and Steri-strips may fall off prematurely if they are exposed to alcohol, peroxide, lotion, or scrubbing.

In general, treat your incision with gentle loving care. Keep it covered with the dressing you were given after your surgery, and take a good look at it each day (right before you clean it) to make sure there are no signs of infection. It doesn't need any extra stuff applied to it unless you are directed to do so by your surgeon.

A Word From Verywell

When it comes to a healing wound after surgery, using extra over-the-counter products can be harmful. You will have special instructions to prevent infections and scars and to promote healing based on the type of surgery and your underlying medical condition. Make sure you follow instructions carefully. and if you have any concerns at all—such as redness, pain, draining, pus, or bleeding—call your surgeon's office so you will get instructions for what to do next.

3 Sources
Verywell Health 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.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Handling injuries: From small cuts to serious wounds.

  2. Fort Healthcare Wound and Edema Center. FAQs.

  3. Baxter J, Espinosa JA, Leinwand MJ. The EPIC procedure (Endoscopic-assisted Pilonidal Irrigation and Cleaning): a simple and effective treatment for pilonidal disease. Surg Endosc. 2021 Mar 15. doi:10.1007/s00464-021-08422-0

Additional Reading
  • Dry Skin. National Institutes of Health

By Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FN
Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FNP-C, is a board-certified family nurse practitioner. She has experience in primary care and hospital medicine.