Toothpaste for acne is one of the most popular home remedies out there, but it can actually have the opposite effect. If you’re looking for a way to get rid of acne fast, there are definitely better methods.
When your skin breaks out the night before picture day, or prom, or a big meeting at work, you might think of using toothpaste for acne because it’s a popular at-home solution that supposedly works overnight. But the science shows that at best, toothpaste has no impact on acne, and at worst, toothpaste can actually contribute to further breakouts. So why do we all think toothpaste for acne works? Toothpaste does have some properties that, at first glance, might help reduce acne, but when you take a closer look it becomes clear that toothpaste was really just meant for teeth, not for skin.
The easiest way to explain why toothpaste for acne is such a bad idea is to look at the ingredients list on the package. Four common toothpaste ingredients are glycerin, sorbitol, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), fluoride, and sodium hydrogen carbonate (baking soda). Each of these ingredients can help clean your teeth, but when applied to your skin, they typically do more harm than good. Baking soda can stir up trouble by messing with the pH balance of your skin, but the other ingredients are a problem because they can cause irritation.
The three main causes of acne are inflammation, bacteria, and oil production, and irritation stimulates two out of the three. When you scratch or pick at your skin, or when an irritating chemical like SLS comes into contact with the skin, your body reacts in two ways: it triggers the inflammation response, and it produces excess oil. Both of these reactions are designed to protect your skin from whatever is causing the irritation. An extra boost of oil can provide a layer of protection between the surface of the skin and the irritant, and inflammation can prevent the irritant from reaching deeper into the pores and isolate it to prevent it from spreading to other areas of the skin.
The trouble is, when these reactions occur at the same time, the extra oil that is produced rarely reaches the surface of the skin where it’s meant to go because the pores start to constrict due to the inflammation. Now the oil is trapped in the pore, and blackheads or whiteheads are likely to form.
Although it’s impossible to prevent all forms of irritation, you can prevent unnecessary irritation caused by applying the wrong kind of products to your skin. We all want a miracle product that can zap our zits overnight, but toothpaste is not that product.
What if Toothpaste Has Worked for Me Before?
Any time research finds that a certain product is bad for acne, some people get confused, because that product has worked for them in the past. This makes some people think the research is rigged or wrong or irrelevant, but we believe there’s a different explanation, especially when it comes to using toothpaste for acne.
Glycerin and sorbitol are alcohol-based compounds, which means they can dry out the oil on your skin. For people whose acne is largely caused by excess oil production, an alcohol-based product applied occasionally could go a long way in clearing up acne. If toothpaste has worked for you in the past, you may be one of those people. This still doesn’t mean we recommend you continue using toothpaste for acne though.
Although glycerin and sorbitol can help reduce acne in especially oily skin, they can cause real problems for sensitive or dry skin. Harsh alcohol-based ingredients are likely to cause irritation, and lead to more acne. But even if you do have an oily skin type, glycerin and sorbitol are not the only ingredients in toothpaste. SLS, fluoride, and baking soda are also present in most toothpastes, and they provide little to no possible benefit for the skin.
If you have had success with using toothpaste for acne in the past, try to think about your acne three or four days afterwards. Did your acne clear up quickly, only to return with a vengeance a few days later? If so, the drying ingredients in toothpaste may have worked to get rid of acne fast, but the other ingredients could have irritated the skin and brought on another breakout. It’s possible that toothpaste works for some people and their acne, but generally, toothpaste for acne is just an old wives’ tale.
SLS and Fluoride Were Not Meant for the Skin
Both SLS and fluoride are excellent cleaning agents for the teeth, but when applied to the skin, they can cause irritation. Sodium lauryl sulfate (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 pull that plaque away from the teeth. It works very well and goes a long way in keeping our teeth healthy, but even if you don’t actively use toothpaste for acne, it can still cause breakouts, especially around the mouth.
If you’ve noticed persistent acne around your mouth, even after your other acne has cleared up, you may want to change toothpastes. Because SLS foams up, it 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.
There are some toothpastes that don’t include SLS that still keep teeth clean, but if you don’t want to switch your toothpaste, you can always brush your teeth before washing your face. Rinsing your face with a gentle cleanser should clear away any SLS left in the corners of the mouth and prevent toothpaste-related breakouts.
Some websites recommend using toothpaste for acne because it contains fluoride, which is known to kill bacteria. Since bacteria are one of the main causes of acne, this could make sense, if the bacteria in your mouth and the bacteria primarily associated with acne were the same. Fluoride kills s. mutans bacteria, which typically live in the mouth, but it does not kill acne-causing bacteria, known as p. acnes. Studies are unclear on whether or not fluoride causes skin irritation, but it definitely doesn’t provide much benefit.
Baking Soda—Just Another Acne Wives’ Tale
One other common toothpaste ingredient that can have an actively negative effect on acne is baking soda. Baking soda is similar to toothpaste, in that is it a very popular home remedy for acne that almost definitely does not work.
Many websites claim that baking soda is an effective acne treatment because it has a basic pH level that prevents the skin from becoming too acidic and causing acne. The biggest issue with this is that the skin is actually supposed to be slightly acidic. Everything has a ranking on the pH scale, which measures how acidic or alkaline (AKA, basic) it is. At the most acidic end are things like battery acid which have a pH of 0-1, and at the most alkaline end are things like lye, which have a pH of 13-14. Water has a pH of 7 and is considered neutral.
Baking soda has a pH around 9, which is mildly alkaline, and the skin has a natural pH around 5, which is mildly acidic. Neither one deviates too far from neutral, but there is a 4 point difference between the pH of baking soda and that of the skin, which is definitely wide enough to cause problems.
It’s true that the baking soda in toothpaste can make the skin less acidic, but this is not actually a good thing. In fact, more acidic substances tend to be more helpful in treating acne, like salicylic acid or lemon juice.
Why is Toothpaste So Popular?
If toothpaste for acne is such an overwhelmingly bad idea, why do we all believe it can help treat it? The most probable answer is that there is still some confusion about drying vs. moisturizing acne.
For many years, people believed that you could “dry out” acne. This is why some people recommended tanning for acne treatment as well. Acne was seen as a direct result of oil and p. acnes bacteria, which feed on the oil, so the best solution was to dry out the skin. Now we know that there are far more risks associated with tanning than benefits, and we’ve learned that inflammation is actually at the heart of acne. This means preventing irritation is much more important than previously thought.
Toothpaste for acne may have been a popular solution when people believed oil was the biggest problem, but now that we know it’s more important to keep our skin protected from irritants, toothpaste doesn’t make any sense for getting rid of acne. Instead, moisturizer could be the missing ingredient to your skincare routine. Many acne treatment products are far too harsh for our skin because they are still designed exclusively to dry out oil and kill bacteria, not to protect our skin. These products might produce quick results, but they end up leading to more acne in the long run.
So if toothpaste for acne doesn’t work, and even some acne products could cause problems, what are your options?
How to Get Rid of Acne Without Toothpaste
Unlike many acne brands (or toothpaste), Exposed Skin Care really takes care of your skin while fighting acne. It is a common myth that stinging or burning sensations mean that an acne product is working. Stinging and burning are signals from your skin saying it is being damaged, and we don’t think damaged skin is healthy skin. Instead, Exposed has developed products that combine scientific and natural ingredients in order to give your skin everything it needs to fight acne and stay healthy at the same time.
Our Expanded Kit is a full acne treatment system that can kill bacteria, reduce oil, and moisturize skin all at the same time. Key acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid, tea tree oil, and benzoyl peroxide combine with soothing ingredients like green tea extract and aloe vera to create a long-term acne treatment solution. No more last-minute toothpaste cures or endless internet research, just a simple skin care routine you can trust.
Are There Any Real DIY Acne Solutions?
If you want to supplement your daily skin care routine with fun, DIY remedies, there are a few legitimate options, like honey, lemon juice, and green tea. Which option is best for you depends 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, and any skin type. It fights bacteria, reduces inflammation, speeds 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 skin care routine.
- Lemon juice can also be effective in treating acne, but it is far less universal than honey. The only skin type that should try pure lemon juice for acne is oily skin. Lemon juice can cut through the excess oil and break up the oil and dead skin 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 it 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 or skin care 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 to the skin.
- Some recipes suggest adding green tea leaves to honey and applying the mixture to the skin, but our favorite green tea acne 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, then pour it into an ice cube tray. Then, simply apply a green tea ice cube to the affected area for 5-10 minutes, and it should reduce redness, visibility, and pain. It can be helpful to keep a few of these in the freezer for emergencies.