There's no shortage of old beauty wives' tales out there: cold water will shrink your pores, shaving makes hair grow faster, pull out a gray hair and two will grow back in its place. We're sure you've also heard of putting toothpaste on a pimple to make it go away. But this is without a doubt one of those beauty hacks that need to be put to rest. In other words, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars, and do not, we repeat, do not apply toothpaste as a spot treatment!
Toothpaste for Acne
Primarily, using toothpaste as a breakout remedy plays into the whole "dry up a pimple to get rid of it" trope. Since acne lesions tend to contain oil, the myth likely started because a lot of people believe that drying out an acne lesion will help make it go away faster. And yes, there is some validity here because toothpaste does contain ingredients that are, in fact, drying. We're talking about things such as baking soda, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and sodium laureth sulfate, to name a few.
And if you're thinking that you've seen some of those ingredients listed on the labels of skin care products, you're right—many of them are. But the issue comes when you start to combine them in a formula that's definitely not intended for your skin. Keep in mind that your teeth are ranked amongst the toughest substances in your body, and we're using toothpaste to clean them. Your skin, in contrast, is incredibly delicate. Using a cleanser that's meant for teeth can disrupt the pH balance of your skin and irritate it greatly.
And when the pH balance of your skin is disrupted, conditions such as rosacea and eczema can start to flare-up, leaving you with more issues than just that one annoying zit! Yikes, no thank you!
The antibacterial nature of toothpaste also plays into the myth that it could be beneficial in fighting blemishes, but this is simply not the case. Toothpaste used to contain triclosan, an antibacterial agent that was thought to kill acne-causing bacteria. Sounds good in theory, right? Well, this is now a totally null and void point since beauty products are prohibited from using triclosan due to questions about its safety. (More on what are effective antibacterial ingredients that you could use instead in a moment.)
To the point of skin conditions, slathering toothpaste onto your face can also potentially lead to perioral dermatitis (POD), which is characterized by inflamed, red, rash-like bumps around your nose and mouth. The exact cause is unknown—though hormones may play a role because it's much more common in women—but certain topical ingredients are thought to be triggers. Among them? Flouride, an essential ingredient for dental hygiene, that's, you guessed it, a primary component in most toothpaste formulas.
Plus, in an ironic twist, POD often looks like bad acne.
Even if you're lucky enough to not be susceptible or prone to any of the aforementioned skin conditions, many of the ingredients in toothpaste can trigger actual allergic reactions when applied directly to and left on the skin. These include sodium lauryl sulfate, propylene glycol, cinnamic aldehyde (a flavoring agent), and the preservative sodium benzoate. (Note that signs of an allergic skin reaction include redness, itching, and swelling of the area where the product was applied.)
What to Use Instead
There are more than enough effective and safe spot treatments and skin care solutions out there that will help banish a blemish, stat—without the irritating side effects that are pretty much guaranteed to occur if you use toothpaste. Some of the well-known favorites are:
- Over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide options (which are antibacterial)
- Sulfur-based treatments, which are anti-inflammatory
- Salicylic acid, an oil-dissolving ingredient that works effectively to help gently exfoliate and unclog the pores
If you want a more natural alternative, then you have to try manuka honey, either as a spot treatment or by incorporating it into your skin care product purchases for more regular use (which allows it to work more routinely than spot treatments). If you didn’t know, manuka honey is a natural anti-bacterial, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory ingredient. It’s known for treating acne, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, and is anti-aging!