Solar-driven water splitting to produce hydrogen may be an ideal solution for global energy and environment issues. Among the various photocatalytic systems, platinum has been widely used to co-catalyse the reduction of protons in water for hydrogen evolution. However, the undesirable hydrogen oxidation reaction can also be readily catalysed by metallic platinum, which limits the solar energy conversion efficiency in artificial photosynthesis. Here we report that the unidirectional suppression of hydrogen oxidation in photocatalytic water splitting can be fulfilled by controlling the valence state of platinum; this platinum-based cocatalyst in a higher oxidation state can act as an efficient hydrogen evolution site while suppressing the undesirable hydrogen back-oxidation. The findings in this work may pave the way for developing other high-efficientcy platinum-based catalysts for photocatalysis, photoelectrochemistry, fuel cells and water–gas shift reactions.