So we are here today with the help of a dermatologist to tackle one of these terrible, horrible, no good, very bad beauty beliefs once and for all, so we can all move on to a better state of skin enlightenment. Ahead, everything you’ve ever wanted to know/have personally asked me about putting toothpaste on pimples and breakouts.
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Toothpaste on pimples may
do more harm than good
Although it’s not clear exactly how and where this trend got started, some likely reasons are:
- Many toothpaste formulas once contained a chemical called triclosan that could work to kill the bacteria that causes and worsens breakouts.
- Some ingredients commonly found in toothpaste, such as baking soda, alcohol, and hydrogen peroxide, are known to be drying, which could help shrink a zit.
- According to Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, a board-certified dermatologist, the menthol in toothpaste can create a tingly feeling that may temporarily reduce pain and swelling.
So, it’s not totally out of left field to believe this home remedy could work. But there are several reasons why you shouldn’t use toothpaste as your go-to acne treatment.
Can toothpaste get rid of a pimple?
Here’s the gist: You get a zit, you slather it with toothpaste before bed, and then you wake up with clear skin. Wow, magical! Amazing! But not real. “Toothpastes are usually filled with drying ingredients like alcohol, which is probably where people first got the idea to put them on pimples,” says dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor at Yale University. But if you know even one thing about your face/your skin/your organs in general, you should already know that they DON’T LIKE ALCOHOL (hangovers, anyone?). Which brings us to…
Why is putting toothpaste on pimples so bad?
“Toothpaste can be an extreme irritant,” says Dr. Gohara. “Most formulas are filled with ingredients like alcohol menthol, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide—all things that, yes, can maybe dry out a zit, but at the risk of hardcore irritating your skin barrier at the same time.” And when your skin barrier is screwed up, “it goes into overdrive and overproduces oil to compensate, leading to clogged pores, breakouts, blackheads, and oily skin.” Fun, right?
So even if you’re just putting a little dab on your zit, that gooey blob can spread around, quickly irritating the rest of your skin and potentially causing even more acne in the end. Plus, “drying out” your zit doesn’t really make it go away—it just dries out the top layer of your skin without killing the bacteria inside. All in all, a pretty bad solution.
Toothpaste can be irritating to your skin
Remember, toothpaste is formulated for your teeth, not the sensitive surface of your face. So, while the strength of the chemicals in your toothpaste might be safe on your pearly whites, they could be too strong for your skin. “Toothpaste has a basic pH [level]… and can irritate healthy skin, which has a naturally acidic pH,” says Shainhouse. Upsetting your pH with too much baking soda could lead to rashes and burning.
Sodium lauryl sulfate, another ingredient often found in toothpaste, may be too harsh to be used on blemishes. It’s been known to irritate skin on some, depending on your sensitivity.
So how do you make pimples go away fast?
If you’re dealing with cystic acne (the sore, swollen, under-the-skin bumps), you unfortunately can’t do much for them topically. A dab of over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream can help with the inflammation, but only a cortisone shot can get rid of them overnight, while prescription medication can fully heal them over time (so seriously, go to a derm).
Otherwise, treat your zits by spraying on a thin layer of a spot treatment after applying your moisturizer. For classic whiteheads, use a formula with benzoyl peroxide (it kills acne-causing bacteria), and for little clogged pores and inflamed bumps, try salicylic acid, which dissolves oil and skin cells.
Bottom line, there are a few ingredients in toothpaste that can be effective in fighting acne on their own — but it also contains harsh ingredients that can irritate your skin and make your pimple even redder and angrier. Your best bet is to stick with skin care products that are made for the job.