- Toothpaste is a common, popular home remedy some people use to treat acne.
- Although some of the ingredients in toothpaste can fight acne by drying skin, others can irritate the skin.
- Applying toothpaste to pimples and acne lesions is not recommended and is considered an off-label use by dermatologists.
Toothpaste on acne is a popular beauty hack that some people believe can treat acne and help pimples to go away quickly–possibly overnight. Many of toothpaste’s active ingredients are also found in over-the-counter acne medication. However, other ingredients present in toothpaste could actually irritate the skin, making inflammation and acne worse.
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 to speed up exfoliation and clear a pimple. In the past, many toothpaste brands also included triclosan in their ingredients–an antibacterial chemical also found in many hand soaps.
Ingredients like peppermint and spearmint in toothpaste could help to alleviate swelling and pain associated with acne. It might also make the skin tingle. Some people associate a tingling sensation with a product’s effectiveness. In reality, though, tingling often means the product is irritating the skin.
Other toothpaste ingredients such as hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and alcohol can also dry out pimples and lesions. However, they are also known to be irritating to some people’s skin.
Some research has shown that whiteheads respond best to topical toothpaste application. White pastes were more effective than gels.
The same study recommends that those who choose to use toothpaste for acne should do so after washing their face, and should only do so up to four times per week for at least two hours per application, up to overnight. For individuals with sensitive skin, the study recommended that toothpaste only be left on the skin for 15-30 minutes.
Does It Really Work?
It’s possible that using toothpaste on acne does work for some people, though 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 over-drying of skin could lead to worse acne symptoms in the long run.
Conventional acne treatments that help to dry the skin are a better option because they have been studied and tested on skin. Toothpaste, on the other hand, is formulated for cleaning plaque and tartar from tooth enamel. It isn’t formulated for topical application to the skin.
Can toothpaste treat acne scars?
Toothpaste isn’t likely to help reduce acne scars. While some people may choose to try using toothpaste to treat acne scars, there is no evidence that it’s an effective approach. Some over-the-counter skin care products treat acne scars by gently encouraging cell turnover and lightening the skin. However, the ingredients in toothpaste may be too harsh.
Toothpaste may help to encourage exfoliation and peeling because it dries the skin, but there is no guarantee it can treat scars. Scarring may become worse if the skin becomes irritated.
Side Effects of Using Toothpaste on Acne
Using toothpaste on acne can cause some side effects associated with its abrasive ingredients. Common side effects include:
- Skin irritation
The pH of toothpaste is more alkaline than the skin’s surface. Applying toothpaste to your skin could alter the pH level on your face. Baking soda is alkaline as well, and may cause further irritation.
Foaming agents like sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) are known to irritate some people’s skin. SLS is used in many toothpaste brands. Sodium fluoride content in toothpaste might also be irritating to the skin.
Should You Use Toothpaste on Acne?
While it’s possible that some toothpaste ingredients could speed up the clearing of acne, other ingredients in toothpaste are more abrasive and may cause skin irritation. There is no evidence that toothpaste is any more effective for acne than over-the-counter acne medications formulated for the skin.
Medications that have been proven to effectively treat acne are a safer bet. It’s recommended that people with acne use those medicines rather than unproven methods like toothpaste that could cause more irritation.
If you do choose to use toothpaste for acne, here are some general guidelines:
- Wash your face with a gentle cleanser and pat dry with a soft washcloth.
- Use your toner and moisturizer of choice.
- Patch-test a tiny amount of toothpaste on a discreet patch of skin to make sure you aren’t allergic.
- Apply a small amount of toothpaste directly to the pimple.
- Leave on overnight (15-30 minutes only for sensitive skin).
- Wash off in the morning.
Alternative Acne Treatments
Over-the-counter acne medications that have been formulated to treat the skin and proven to work are the best choice for treating acne. These treatments are less risky than using toothpaste on your skin.
A variety of over-the-counter topical acne medications are commercially available and formulated to be safe for use on the skin. Some of these include:
- Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) such as glycolic acid, which exfoliates and encourages healthy cell turnover and new collagen production.
- Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) such as salicylic acid, a commonly-used treatment for non-inflammatory acne (pimples, blackheads and whiteheads). Salicylic acid is non antimicrobial and does not regulate overproduction of oil.
- Benzoyl peroxide, a popular OTC treatment that is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. It helps to dry out and shrink pimples.
- Niacinamide cream, which smoothes the skin, regulates the skin’s oil production and reduces inflammation.
- Topical retinoids (vitamin A), which encourage cell turnover and clear the pores.
- African black soap
- Aloe vera
- Apple cider vinegar
- Aspirin spot treatment
- Green tea
- Tea tree oil
- Vitamins such as vitamin A and vitamin C
- Witch hazel
Many home remedies for acne help to kill the bacteria that causes acne, reduce sebum production and reduce inflammation.
Toothpaste is a home remedy that some people believe can cure acne lesions quickly. While toothpaste may work to clear acne in some people, it may also irritate the skin in others.
Some ingredients in toothpaste encourage drying and exfoliation. However, other toothpaste ingredients are abrasive and may cause worse irritation and acne symptoms.
Dermatologists consider toothpaste for acne an off-label use. Toothpaste was formulated for the teeth, not for skin. Conventional over-the-counter and prescription acne medications are better, safer choices for treating pimples and lesions.
Over-the-counter alternative treatments include AHAs, BHAs, benzoyl peroxide, niacinamide and topical retinoids. Home remedies for acne may also successfully treat symptoms. Some popular home remedies include African black soap, aloe vera, apple cider vinegar, aspirin spot treatments, topical green tea, tea tree oil, vitamins, witch hazel and zinc.
It’s important to discuss the best acne treatments for your skin with your dermatologist.
- 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
- 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
- Poljšak, Borut, and Raja Dahmane. “Free radicals and extrinsic skin aging.” Dermatology research and practice 2012 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/135206
- 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