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Is Toothpaste the Secret to Clearing Up Acne?

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We’ve all been there: You’re washing your face and brushing your teeth after a long day, only to discover—could it be?—yup, a new pimple. Before you start panicking because you don’t have an acne spot treatment handy, there’s one thing you do have: toothpaste. And while we’re not quite sure where this at-home acne hack originated, there’s no denying the fact that this acne remedy has been around for decades. Plenty of us have reached for the toothpaste tube as a miracle cure-all to zap away a pesky pimple, so chances are you’ve tried this toothpaste hack at home as well (who knows, maybe you even swear by it as your go-to acne solution in your skincare routine). But since this home hack is so popular, we turned to an expert to finally clear the record (and your complexion, hopefully!) once and for all. Trust us, you’re going to want to read this before slathering toothpaste on your face.

About the Expert:

Bobby Awadalla, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and Mohs micrographic surgeon. He is also active in research and has authored numerous articles in the field of dermatology as well as seven books in the Skincredible series.

Does toothpaste on acne really help?

This is the burning question that probably brought you here—and we have an answer. “I have not seen any scientific data that toothpaste is effective in treating acne,” says Bobby Awadalla, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Skincredible Dermatology, who advises clients against using toothpaste as a home remedy for pimples. But although derms don’t approve of toothpaste as an acne treatment, there have been claims that sing its praises. Maybe you yourself have reached for it in a pinch as a spot treatment before going to sleep, and you’ve awoken to discover that your zit has significantly reduced in size. What gives? Well, there are a few reasons why many have found temporary relief from using toothpaste on a pimple. If you tried this home hack when you were growing up, there’s a good chance the toothpaste you used contained triclosan, which Dr. Awadall says has antibiotic properties. While the antibacterial ingredient may have once been commonly found in toothpaste, many brands have stopped using it in their formulas in recent years after studies conducted by the FDA linked triclosan to hormone disruption.

But although triclosan-containing toothpaste has been pulled off the shelves, many toothpaste formulas today still contain alcohol, menthol, hydrogen peroxide, and baking soda, which can all have a drying effect. So while it may look like your pimple is getting smaller, don’t be fooled: All the toothpaste is doing is drying out the top layer of the zit, and not actually killing the bacteria below the skin barrier which caused the zit to pop up in the first place.

What are the side effects?

Toothpaste may provide temporary relief, but using it on a pimple comes with a whole host of unwelcome side effects that include redness, skin irritation, and flaking. OK, that’s bad, but this is worse: Toothpaste could also exacerbate your acne down the line and lead to more breakouts. “The thick paste consistency may actually clog your pores,” says Dr. Awadalla.

Although the drying ingredients in toothpaste may temporarily minimize your pimples, they’re also extremely damaging to the surrounding skin and can wreak havoc on your complexion by irritating your skin barrier. When this irritation happens, your oil glands kick into overdrive to compensate for the dryness, which leads to excess sebum production. This creates a vicious cycle that could be the culprit behind your breakouts and oily skin. “If you over-treat your skin with abrasives or harsh chemicals, you can cause it to break down, which can delay healing and cause scarring,” says Dr. Adawalla.

So how can I get rid of my acne?

If you need help erasing an unwanted zit, you’ll have better luck with a spot treatment that’s specifically formulated to treat acne. “There are plenty of acne treatments that have scientific evidence, are applied more elegantly, and work well,” says Dr. Adawalla, who tells his patients to reach for a benzoyl peroxide spot treatment. “It’s a safe and effective way to deal with individual acne spots but can also be used regularly on the face to keep acne away,” he says. In addition to incorporating an over-the-counter acne treatment into your skincare routine, you should also use a cleanser for your skin type and make moisturizer a must. Without a moisturizer, you risk drying out your complexion and leading to excess sebum production.

From salicylic acid to benzoyl peroxide to tea tree oil, there are a variety of skincare ingredients that offer up major benefits. The right treatment can break up acne-causing bacteria, reduce redness and inflammation, and also improve your complexion over time—which are things toothpaste certainly can’t do. To help you banish your pimples instead of reaching for the toothpaste tube, we’ve rounded up our favorite acne spot treatments based on glowing IPSY reviews.

1. GOODNDOC Acne Control Blemish Spot Treatment

This gentle, cream-based spot treatment uses a potent combination of broccoli, tea tree, soybean extracts, and squalene to erase pimples without causing irritation. Together, these ingredients work as an anti-inflammatory to reduce redness and discoloration and soothe and protect your skin barrier, making it ideal for those with sensitive skin. “Results overnight! I put it on after I shower and leave on overnight, in the morning, my skin is clearer, softer and feels so healthy. It's a must have for everyone,” raves one Ipster.

2. MURAD Rapid Relief Acne Spot Treatment

Breakouts (even cystic acne!) won’t stand a chance against salicylic acid, the hero ingredient in this acne treatment. Salicylic acid exfoliates and clears out pores, leaving you with a smooth, clear, and calm complexion. “I was pleasantly surprised at how well this reduced my acne induced swelling and redness,” raves one Ipster. “This stuff really does work, basically overnight,” says another.

3. Z SKIN COSMETICS Acne Spot Treatment

This fast-acting spot treatment relies on 100% organic ingredients like apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil, and almond oil to disinfect your pores and clear out the bacteria responsible for blackheads and white heads. The result? Your skin is totally fresh and clean. Ipsters rave over the results they’ve seen after incorporating this spot treatment into their routine: “Best spot treatment I've ever used!! Definitely does the job!”

The bottom line? Save your toothpaste for your teeth, and opt for a treatment that’s specifically formulated for acne if you want to banish breakouts without causing more harm to your complexion—and always ask your dermatologist before trying any DIY at-home hacks, regardless of how popular they may be.

Want in on all the IPSY Glam Bag fun? Take our Beauty Quiz now to get started. Already an Ipster? Refer your friends to earn points, which you can use toward products. Either way, don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and Twitter @IPSY.

About the author
Katrina Mitzeliotis Lanza
Katrina is a freelance writer and on-air correspondent with over a decade of experience covering beauty, fashion, and entertainment. When she isn't freelancing, you can catch her on QVC or chasing after her two-year-old son.
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Article Last Updated October 12, 2020 12:00 AM