- Toothpaste is a common, popular home remedy some people use to treat acne
- Although some ingredients in toothpaste can fight acne by drying skin, other ingredients can cause irritation
- Applying toothpaste to pimples and acne lesions is not recommended, and may in fact cause further inflammation
Toothpaste on acne is a popular DIY treatment that some people believe can treat acne and help pimples heal quickly – possibly overnight. This belief stems from the fact that many of toothpaste’s active ingredients are also found in over-the-counter (OTC) acne medication. However, other ingredients present in toothpaste can irritate the skin, increase inflammation and worsen acne.
Why Is Toothpaste Used to Get Rid of Pimples?
Toothpaste is commonly used as a topical treatment for pimples because it can dry the skin, which speeds up the exfoliation process. In the past, many toothpaste brands also included triclosan in their ingredients – an antibacterial chemical beneficial in killing acne-causing bacteria. However, this ingredient is no longer included in today’s brands.
Ingredients such as peppermint and spearmint can cause a tingling sensation which is thought to temporarily alleviate swelling and pain associated with acne. In reality, this tingling can mean the product is irritating the skin.
Other toothpaste ingredients such as hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and alcohol can also dry out pimples and lesions, but they are also known to be very irritating to skin.
However, one study found the use of specific toothpastes was effective as an inexpensive spot treatment – but for whiteheads only. They recommend it be applied up to four times per week for at least two hours or overnight. For individuals with sensitive skin, they advise that toothpaste be left on the skin for only 15–30 minutes.
Does It Really Work?
Using toothpaste on acne could work for some people, although most evidence is anecdotal. Toothpaste’s drying ingredients may cause a pimple to dry up and peel away, but it may also aggravate skin unnecessarily. Inflammation and overdrying of skin could lead to worse acne symptoms in the long run.
Conventional acne treatments designed specifically for acne are far better options and have been well studied and tested on skin. Toothpaste, on the other hand, is formulated for cleaning plaque and tartar from tooth enamel – not for topical skin application.
Can toothpaste treat acne scars?
No, there is no evidence to suggest that toothpaste can treat acne scars. Toothpaste may help to encourage exfoliation and peeling because it dries the skin, but there is no guarantee it can treat scars. And scarring may become worse if the skin becomes irritated.
OTC skin care products contain ingredients to gently and effectively treat acne scars by encouraging cell turnover and lightening the skin.
Side Effects of Using Toothpaste on Acne
Using toothpaste on acne can cause some side effects associated with its abrasive ingredients and include:
- Skin irritation
Using toothpaste on your skin can also alter the pH balance of the skin’s surface as the pH of toothpaste is more alkaline. Baking soda, another common ingredient, is alkaline as well, and may cause further irritation.
Other common ingredients in many toothpaste brands are foaming agents such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium fluoride – both known to be harmful to skin.
Should You Use Toothpaste on Acne?
While it’s possible that applying toothpaste to a whitehead may help an acne blemish heal faster, other ingredients in toothpaste are more abrasive and can wreak havoc on skin. Further, there is no evidence that toothpaste is more effective for acne than OTC acne medications specifically formulated for the skin.
There is a wide assortment of OTC medications and home remedies that have been proven to effectively treat acne and are a much safer bet.
Alternative Acne Treatments
There are a number of acne medications available to you in the form of facial washes, ointments, gels and creams; they are formulated to treat acne and are proven to be effective. You can choose a product that is suitable for your skin type as well as the severity of your acne symptoms.
Look for specific ingredients that have been proven to target, treat and prevent acne outbreaks. These are readily available in OTC acne medications that are formulated to be safe for use. Should you find a product to be overdrying or too harsh for your skin, stop use and opt for another treatment. Check the package label for one of the following:
- Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) such as glycolic acid, exfoliate and encourage healthy cell turnover, and new collagen production
- Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) such as salicylic acid, is a commonly used treatment for noninflammatory acne (pimples, blackheads and whiteheads). Salicylic acid is effective in penetrating and dissolving blocked pores and reducing oil production
- Benzoyl peroxide is an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory medication that helps dry out and shrink pimples
- Niacinamide cream effectively smoothes the skin, regulates skin’s oil production and reduces inflammation
- Topical retinoids (vitamin A) encourage cell turnover and clears pores
At-home remedies can be effective for those with mild acne who may prefer natural ingredients. Many of these home remedies have the same properties as OTC medications to help kill acne-causing bacteria, and reduce sebum production and inflammation. These include:
- African black soap: a natural exfoliant with antibacterial properties can help kill the bacteria that causes acne
- Aloe vera is an antibacterial, anti-inflammatory agent that effectively treats mile-to-moderate acne
- Apple cider vinegar is a natural exfoliant that kills the bacteria that causes acne and helps balance the skin’s pH level
- Aspirin, an anti-inflammatory, is said to reduce acne breakouts when used as a spot treatment
- Green tea has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, and can reduce sebum (oil) production in the skin
- Tea tree oil is an essential oil that is as effective as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid
- Vitamins such as vitamins A and C can be used orally or topically to reduce breakouts
- Witch hazel is an antioxidant that can soothe inflammation, reduce oil and tighten skin
- Zinc is effective as a topical or oral treatment to boost the immune system and fight inflammation
Toothpaste is a home remedy that some people believe can cure acne lesions quickly. While it may work to clear acne in some people, it will likely irritate the skin in others. Toothpaste is formulated for the teeth, not for skin.
While some ingredients in toothpaste encourage drying and exfoliation, the balance of ingredients are abrasive and may worsen irritation and acne symptoms.
Conventional OTC acne medications are formulated to treat acne and are therefore better, safer choices for treating pimples and lesions.
There are multiple skin care products available to suit your skin type and type of acne. Effective OTC treatments include AHAs, BHAs, benzoyl peroxide, niacinamide and topical retinoids. While home remedies for acne may not be strong enough to treat moderate or severe acne, there are some popular, inexpensive home remedies that are effective for mild acne.
Should OTC or home remedies fail to address your acne symptoms, it’s important to see a dermatologist to discuss a treatment plan for your particular situation.
- Del Rosso, J. (2008). What is the Role of Benzoyl Peroxide Cleansers in Acne Management?: Do they Decrease Propionibacterium acnes Counts? Do they Reduce Acne Lesions?. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 1(4), 48–51. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3016935
- Dharmik, P., & Gomashe, A. (2014). Anti-Acne Activity of Toothpaste–An Emerging Pimple Treatment. Int J Chem Pharm Anal, 1(4), 149-53. http://www.ijcpa.in/abstract.php?article_id=6535&title=Anti%20Acne%20Activity%20of%20Toothpaste%20An%20Emerging%20Pimple%20Treatment
- Leyden, J., Stein-Gold, L., & Weiss, J. (2017). Why Topical Retinoids Are Mainstay of Therapy for Acne. Dermatology and therapy, 7(3), 293–304. doi:10.1007/s13555-017-0185-2
- Lazic Mosler, E., Leitner, C., Gouda, M. A., Carter, B., Layton, A. M., & KhalafAllah, M. T. (2018). Topical antibiotics for acne. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2018(1), CD012263. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD012263.pub2. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6491308
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- Weatherly, Lisa M, and Julie A Gosse. “Triclosan exposure, transformation, and human health effects.” Journal of toxicology and environmental health. Part B, Critical reviews vol. 20,8 (2017): 447-469. doi:10.1080/10937404.2017.1399306