Peroxygens are strong oxidizing agents that can be used as disinfectants or antiseptics. The most widely used peroxygen is hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), which is often used in solution to disinfect surfaces and may also be used as a gaseous agent. Hydrogen peroxide solutions are inexpensive skin antiseptics that break down into water and oxygen gas, both of which are environmentally safe. This decomposition is accelerated in the presence of light, so hydrogen peroxide solutions typically are sold in brown or opaque bottles. One disadvantage of using hydrogen peroxide as an antiseptic is that it also causes damage to skin that may delay healing or lead to scarring. Contact lens cleaners often include hydrogen peroxide as a disinfectant.
Hydrogen peroxide works by producing free radicals that damage cellular macromolecules. Hydrogen peroxide has broad-spectrum activity, working against gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria (with slightly greater efficacy against gram-positive bacteria), fungi, viruses, and endospores. However, bacteria that produce the oxygendetoxifying enzymes catalase or peroxidase may have inherent tolerance to low hydrogen peroxide concentrations. To kill endospores, the length of exposure or concentration of solutions of hydrogen peroxide must be increased. Gaseous hydrogen peroxide has greater efficacy and can be used as a sterilant for rooms or equipment.
Plasma, a hot, ionized gas, described as the fourth state of matter, is useful for sterilizing equipment because it penetrates surfaces and kills vegetative cells and endospores. Hydrogen peroxide and peracetic acid, another commonly used peroxygen, each may be introduced as a plasma. Peracetic acid can be used as a liquid or plasma sterilant insofar as it readily kills endospores, is more effective than hydrogen peroxide even at rather low
concentrations, and is immune to inactivation by catalases and peroxidases. It also breaks down to environmentally innocuous compounds; in this case, acetic acid and oxygen.
Other examples of peroxygens include benzoyl peroxide and carbamide peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide is a peroxygen that used in acne medication solutions. It kills the bacterium Propionibacterium acnes, which is associated with acne. Carbamide peroxide, an ingredient used in toothpaste, is a peroxygen that combats oral biofilms that cause tooth discoloration and halitosis (bad breath). Last, ozone gas is a peroxygen with disinfectant qualities and is used to clean air or water supplies. Overall, peroxygens are highly effective and commonly used, with no associated environmental hazard.
Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/microbiology