Is there anything worse than finding a new zit? Um, yes — finding a new zit and immediately realizing you ran out of spot treatment. And you know you’re not supposed to pick pimples, so… is there anything you can do to get rid of that zit ASAP?
You’ve probably heard that a dab of toothpaste can clear a pimple when you’re in a pinch, which sounds like a pretty sweet life hack — after all, you can pretty much find toothpaste anywhere, anytime. (Not to mention it’s a lot cheaper than most spot treatments.)
But none of that matters if it doesn’t actually work, so is there any truth to this home remedy? Here’s what you need to know.
There *is* some science behind putting toothpaste on pimples.
The idea of using toothpaste to treat acne isn’t totally baseless. Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai hospital in New York, said to Women’s Health, “many toothpastes used to contain an ingredient called triclosan, which is an antimicrobial that helped kill acne-causing bacteria on the skin.” But this ingredient turned out to be pretty controversial — the FDA suggests that triclosan could “negatively affect thyroid hormones.” Therefore, many toothpastes nowadays don’t contain triclosan. But it’s probably safe to ignore these types of toothpastes altogether.
However, a few other common ingredients in toothpaste — like baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and alcohol — can help dry out a pimple. Plus, according to Healthline, menthol in toothpastes “can create a tingly feeling that may temporarily reduce pain and swelling.” So, yes, the tube of toothpaste on your bathroom counter does have ingredients that can help with pimples. But there’s a catch…
Toothpaste isn’t meant for skin.
That’s not a dealbreaker on its own, since plenty of beauty products can pull double duty. (I mean, lip balm on cracked cuticles = total lifesaver.) But your skin is a teensy bit more delicate than your teeth, and some ingredients in toothpaste — like fluoride and methanol — can cause skin irritation, especially if you have sensitive skin.
“Toothpaste can irritate the skin and cause allergic contact dermatitis, especially if it’s flavored — which most are,” says Lauren Ploch, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Georgia Dermatology & Skin Cancer Center.
Stick with the real deal.
Sure, you may be able to find a brand of toothpaste that’s free of harsh ingredients and doesn’t irritate your skin — but it’s better to wait until you can get to the drugstore and restock your spot treatment. Dr. Ploch recommends looking for one that contains benzoyl peroxide, an antibacterial ingredient that will help dry out the pimple and unclog blocked pores. (In a serious pimple emergency — say, the day before you take your yearbook photo — your derm can inject the zit with an anti-inflammatory steroid to shrink it, Dr. Ploch says.)
Until then, stick with regular cleanser, and dab the zit with an ice cube to ease any painful inflammation.
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.