When your skin unexpectedly breaks out, you might think of using toothpaste as an over-the-counter acne spot treatment, as it’s a popular home remedy that supposedly works overnight 🌙. But read on.
What Does the Research Say?
Toothpaste on pimples has been medically reviewed and the research demonstrated that, at best, toothpaste has little to no impact. At worst, it can actually contribute to further breakouts. So why do people think toothpaste on pimples is a cool trick at all? Well, it does have some properties that, at first glance, seem to promise help in reducing acne, but when you take a closer look, it becomes clear that it was really just meant for cleaning teeth.
The easiest way to explain why toothpaste is such a bad idea is to look at the ingredient list on the package. Most toothpaste formulas include the following ingredients:
- sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)
- sodium hydrogen carbonate/bicarbonate of soda (baking soda).
But Putting Toothpaste on a Pimple Has Worked Before…
Perhaps, but how sure are you it will still help them go away? The ingredients in toothpaste 🦷 have changed, and this over-the-counter remedy is actually not that effective any longer.
In the U.S., many products for personal care, including toothpaste, used to contain triclosan. Triclosan is a strong anti-bacterial agent that has been medically reviewed to work well against many pathogens, including acne causing bacteria, called P. acnes 🦠. In fact, triclosan has been shown to effectively get rid of four strains of these acne causing bacteria; it’s even more effective than benzoyl peroxide. This might account for the fact that many people preferred toothpaste as a spot treatment.
However, triclosan was banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2016 due to medical data that demonstrated its potential harmfulness to humans in the long term. Apparently, the antiseptic is a hormone modulator, and it can encourage bacterial resistance. The use of antiseptics has furthermore been medically reviewed, and, according to Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, “Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water.”
If, after this, you’re still a fan of toothpaste as a pimple fighter, don’t get too comfortable. It has more side effects, mainly ones that can irritate the skin, and cause pimples to increase.
Glycerin and Sorbitol
Glycerin and sorbitol are alcohol-based compounds, which means they have a drying effect 🌵. This means that for people whose pimples are largely caused by excess oil, toothpaste can help as a spot treatment if you need one to go away in an emergency. However, its safety in chronic, long-term use has not been medically reviewed.
Also, glycerin and sorbitol can cause real problems for sensitive or dry skin. One of the side effects of harsh, alcohol-based ingredients is irritation, especially of these skin types, and this can lead to a bigger pimple problem.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
SLS is a surfactant, which is a chemical that binds to something, then foams up in order to remove it. In toothpaste, SLS binds to plaque, then foams up to lift it from the teeth 🦷. It works well and goes a long way in keeping our teeth healthy, but even if you don’t actively use toothpaste for your acne, it can still cause breakouts around the mouth.
If you’ve noticed persistent acne in this area, even after your other pimples have cleared up, you may want to change toothpaste. The foam often makes its way to the corners of the mouth 👄 during brushing, and if SLS stays in contact with your skin too long, it can start to cause irritation.
Some websites recommend using toothpaste for skin problems because it contains fluoride, which is known to kill bacteria. Since bacteria are one of the main causes of acne, this could make sense, but only if the bacteria in your mouth and the bacteria 🦠 primarily associated with pimples were the same.
Fluoride has shown action against some microbes in the mouth, but it does not kill acne-causing bacteria.
Another Old Wives’ Tale
Bicarbonate of soda is another common toothpaste ingredient that can affect acne negatively. Don’t ever use it on its own on your skin; it almost definitely won’t work and can even be harmful to pimples.
Many websites claim that this chemical compound is an effective acne treatment because it has a basic pH level that prevents the skin from becoming too acidic and causing acne. Thing is, the skin is supposed to be slightly acidic.
Bicarb Is Actually Too Alkaline
On the pH scale, which measures how acidic or alkaline (AKA, basic), a substance is, bicarbonate of soda has a pH around 9, which is mildly alkaline, and the skin has a natural pH around 5, which is mildly acidic. The difference is definitely enough to cause problems.
Also, acidic substances in the right concentrations tend to be more helpful in treating acne, like salicylic acid or lemon juice.
How To Get Rid of Acne Without Toothpaste
Exposed Skin Care 🏆 really takes care of your skin while fighting acne. We have carefully developed products that combine scientific and anti-inflammatory ingredients in order to give your skin everything it needs to fight acne, and stay healthy at the same time. These include essential oils such as tea tree oil, green tea extract, and the natural astringent, witch hazel.
Our Expanded Kit is a full acne treatment system that can kill bacteria🦠, reduce oil, and moisturize all at the same time. Key acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid, tea tree oil, and benzoyl peroxide are combined with soothing ingredients like green tea extract and aloe vera for effective long-term treatment.
Great Home Remedies for Spot Treatments
If you want to supplement your daily routine with fun, DIY spot treatments, there are a few legitimate options, like tea tree oil, honey, lemon juice 🍋, and green tea. Which option is best for you will depend on your skin type and what kind of acne you’re dealing with.
- Our first DIY recommendation is always honey because it can help with any acne in any skin type. It fights bacteria, reduces inflammation, and speeds up wound healing—it can do it all. Honey 🍯 typically isn’t strong enough to be used as an acne treatment on its own, but it is an excellent addition to a consistent routine.
Tea Tree Oil
- You’d be far better off using tea tree oil than toothpaste as a spot treatment. In fact, its pimple-fighting abilities have been medically reviewed 🩺, and it has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties.
- Tea tree oil is also very well tolerated. However, be sure to use only diluted forms of this essential oil, and preferably, always with a carrier oil. On its own, the oil can be too abrasive.
- Use with care on sensitive skin for the same reason. For probably the most effective natural spot treatments, combine honey and a few drops of tea tree oil 🍃.
- If you don’t want to make your own pimple remedy, you can, for instance, invest in a tea tree oil gel.
- Lemon juice can also be effective in treating pimples, but it is far less universal than honey. The only skin type that should try pure lemon juice is oily skin. Lemon juice can cut through the excess oil and break up the oil and dead cells that clog pores. Because of this, it is usually most effective in treating blackheads and whiteheads.
- If you have combination skin, we recommend mixing lemon juice 🍋 with a bit of honey rather than using the lemon juice straight. The honey will dilute the acidity, plus it’ll give the lemon juice an added antibacterial boost. We do not recommend lemon juice for dry skin because it may cause counterproductive irritation.
- If you have dry or sensitive skin, or if you’re dealing with some painful pimples or cysts, we definitely recommend adding green tea to your diet and/or routine. Drinking green tea can reduce overall inflammation 🔥, which can be very helpful if your skin is sensitive and easily irritated, but it can produce more immediate results when applied directly.
- Some recipes suggest adding green tea leaves to honey and applying the mixture to the skin, but our favorite green tea treatment recipe is green tea ice cubes. These are perfect for dealing with last-minute breakouts. All you have to do is brew some green tea ☕, let it steep and cool, and pour it into an ice cube tray. Then, simply apply a green tea ice cube to the affected area for five to ten minutes, and it should reduce redness, visibility, and pain. It can be helpful to keep a few of these in the freezer for emergencies.