What is Hypochlorous acid and how is it used in skincare?

Published 20th Nov 2023 by Kezia

Hypochlorous acid may sound like a powerful ingredient, and it is, but it is also incredibly gentle. Often associated with its disinfectant properties, this super compound is making waves in the beauty industry. 

What is hypochlorous acid? 

The buzz around hypochlorous acid (HOCl) hit new heights in the past few years, following its proven power as a disinfectant against COVID-19.

However, it has been around for a while, first being discovered by French chemist Antoine Jérôme Balard and instrumental to healing soldiers' wounds during The Battle of the Somme. 

Popular formulas in the professional clinic and salon market include Clinisept and Hypo21.

HOCl is said to be 100 times more powerful than bleach when it comes to fighting bacteria. The hardcore cleaner, however, is also gaining hero status as a product for super-sensitive skin. 

Hypochlorous Acid (HOC1) is produced naturally by our very own white blood cells to fight off bacteria and viruses.

“It's literally part of us,” says Andrew Hansford, founder of ACH Aesthetics and ambassador for hypochlorous acid product Hypo21. “Hypochlorous acid is inside us in every single cell.” 

HOCl attacks invading pathogens, breaking down the cell walls before destroying unhealthy invaders. This process is called phagocytosis, meaning that living cells engulf or ingest particles or infected cells. 

“I always describe HOCL as like PacMan because of how it looks under a microscope,” adds Hansford. “It's running around eating all the bacteria, and that happens 24/7 inside us all the time.” 

So, what is this incredible compound made up of, you ask? It is simply salt water and electricity. 

How is hypochlorous acid used in skincare?

“By its very nature, HOCl is set to kill pathogens while being gentle on human cells, making it a safe option for various applications,” explains chemical engineer and Skin Masterclass founder Cigdem Kemel Yilmaz.

“It’s often used for wound care and as a disinfectant, thanks to its potent but gentle antimicrobial properties, and is additionally used to manage inflammatory skin conditions like atopic eczema and acne, for the same reasons.”

This wondrous electrolysed water is also considered a great ingredient for treating rosacea and dermatitis. 

Hansford, who has achieved impressive results with HOCl, believes that within health and beauty, it should be used pre and post anything and everything.

“Whether you are doing a manicure, waxing or microneedling… you need to get that skin clean first,” he says. “​​It doesn't matter what you're doing with your client, you have to make sure that when they are leaving your clinic, they are leaving bacteria-free.”

Hansford, who swears by Hypo21 – a pure HOCl created initially for pre- and post-operative care – also recommends using the solution as aftercare for a wide range of treatments, from mesotherapy to piercing. 

Not all HOCl is created equal

Hansford prefers to use HOCl in its purest form – a straight-up HOCl solution with nothing added.

However, the ingredient is added to some skincare cleanser formulations due to its effective, but gentle cleansing properties. “This is thanks to its ability to cleanse the skin without causing irritation or disrupting the skin’s natural barrier,” says Yilmaz. “It’s also found in some moisturisers to maintain skin hydration while being suitable for use on sensitive and inflamed skin.”

Hansford warns that due to difficulties keeping HOCl fresh and stable, other ingredients are often used which are not so beneficial to the skin. 

“Sometimes, hypochlorite is added into formulations,” he explains. “This makes it very stable and cheap to make, but hypochlorite is bleach.

“With HOCl in its purest form, nothing can go wrong because the ingredient simply mimics what the body already has,” adds Hansford.

“But when you've got a secondary ingredient like hypochlorite, then of course it can be a little bit more irritating at times.” 

What can hypochlorous acid be combined with?

HOCl is a super=flexible ingredient that often pairs well with moisturising agents says Yilmaz. “Pair it with hyaluronic Acid, glycerin, and squalane, as well as anti-inflammatory ingredients such as allantoin and colloidal oatmeal,” she says.

“It also works amazingly with antioxidants such as niacinamide and vitamin C, emollients such as shea butter, skin barrier enhancers like ceramides, and acne management ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide by addressing both bacteria and inflammation.”

Do you use hypochlorous acid in your salon, clinic or spa? Let us know how you use it below.



Published 20th Nov 2023

Kezia Parkins is the deputy editor of Professional Beauty. She has a background in medical journalism and is also as trained nail tech. As such, she is particularly passionate about all thing nails, as well as the science behind beauty products and treatments. Contact her at [email protected]

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