Please, Please Stop Using Toothpaste For Your Pimples
There were a lot of things I did in middle school that I thought were pretty smart—like using a code word when writing poems about my crush, having a different-colored binders for every single class, and dotting toothpaste on my fresh zits to make them go away faster.
Some things, like bad poetry, are best left behind in seventh grade. Yet for some reason, lots of us (myself included) still swear by a dab of toothpaste as a pimple treatment. Which begs the question: Is it even a legit way to deal with acne?
Turns out, it used to be, says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai hospital in New York. “Toothpaste has been used as a home remedy to treat pimples because many toothpastes used to contain an ingredient called triclosan, which is an antimicrobial that helped kill acne-causing bacteria on the skin,” he says.
But note how he said “used to,” there. That’s because triclosan is a controversial ingredient—it’s been linked to hormone disruption in a handful of studies, according to the FDA. As a result, many toothpaste formulas are ditching it these days.
That said, toothpaste might still help your pimple in a pinch, says Zeichner, since most formulas contain drying agents like baking soda and alcohol. “Toothpaste may have a drying effect on a pimple, and may in fact decrease the size of a red angry zit,” Zeichner says. Sounds promising!
One catch: The concentrations that work for your teeth are harsher than when these ingredients are formulated for your face—which might irritate or dry out your skin.
And that could create a really unpleasant chain reaction. “Acne-prone skin will react to dryness and irritation by producing more acne,” Kenneth Howe, M.D., at Wexler Dermatology, previously told Women’s Health. So ironically, by using toothpaste on one zit, you might get even more of them down the line.
Clean and Clear
“If you have access to a traditional acne medication, I advise using that product over toothpaste,” Zeichner says. Clean and Clear Persa-Gel 10 is a tried-and-true spot treatment—and it’s only $5 at Target.
If you’re REALLY desperate and toothpaste is your only option, make sure you’re using a formula that lacks added whiteners, mouthwash, or colors—all of which can irritate your skin and leave you with an angrier-looking red spot.
The bottom line: It’s not the worst thing you could do for your acne, but it’s best to use toothpaste as a last resort.
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