You’re washing your face before bedtime and spot the beginnings of an angry red pimple. What should you do?

The rumor mill might have you believing that dabbing some regular old toothpaste on your zit will help it clear up overnight. But, while it’s true that several ingredients found in toothpaste are drying to skin and might help shrink your pimple, this home remedy for breakouts isn’t worth the risk.

Plus, there are several easily available treatments you can try instead. Keep reading to learn why toothpaste doesn’t belong on your skin.

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.

Outdated information

First of all, most companies no longer use triclosan in their toothpaste formulas. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, some testing suggests that triclosan could negatively affect thyroid hormones. So even if you do find a toothpaste that still contains this chemical, using it on pimples may not be worth the risk.

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.

Overdrying could backfire

Even if you manage to avoid irritation, there are other possible bad reactions. For instance, if your skin becomes too dry from using toothpaste, that could cause more acne.

What to use instead

Although it might be tempting to dab toothpaste on a pimple in a pinch, there are better alternatives that you likely already have access to.

Acne-specific products

Shainhouse recommends using over-the-counter products to prevent and treat acne. These typically contain salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and topical retinoids. You can find products at your local drugstore in the form of:

  • face washes
  • moisturizers
  • masks

You can also get over-the-counter spot treatments that you can dab right on an existing pimple.

Other home remedies

There’s some good news for lovers of natural and home remedies. If you’re a fan of essential oils, you may already have a bottle of tea tree oil on hand.

Many studies, including a recent one published in the Australian Journal of Dermatology, suggest that using tea tree oil on mild or moderate acne can be highly effective. You can mix several drops of tea tree oil into your usual face products or apply a few drops directly to a blemish as a spot treatment.

Shainhouse says that those who prefer natural products could also try willow bark, a natural source of salicylic acid found in extract form. She also recommends products containing charcoal, sulfur, or clay. Charcoal masks, for example, have recently become very popular.

The bottom line

In some ways, it’s true that toothpaste could help dry and shrink pimples faster than doing nothing. But a bunch of negative side effects can come along with its use.

Products designed specifically for use on acne and facial skin are a much safer bet and don’t need to cost an arm and a leg. Instead of toothpaste, a dab of salicylic acid cream or tea tree oil will likely work better and help you sidestep the more serious hazards of using toothpaste on your face.

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