Good or Bad Idea? Putting Toothpaste on a Pimple.

You might be tempted to dab toothpaste on a pimple in a pinch, but doing that can cause more trouble than its worth

toothpaste squeezed out of tube on pink background Photo: Andrey Cherkasov/Adobe Stock

Gigi Hadid does it. Selena Gomez and Amanda Seyfried do, too. Olivia Munn also used to apply toothpaste to her pimples but has since wised up to this acne treatment hack. The stars, they’re just like us—at least when it comes to falling for old beauty tales. 

Putting toothpaste on a pimple might have sufficed way back in the day but it also irritates the crap out of your skin. And today we have safe, scientifically proven spot treatments designed to tackle acne—more specifically, bacteria-busting benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. They’re sold in the same stores you buy your toothpaste. Just keep them away from your fancy towels.

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The idea behind putting toothpaste on a pimple isn’t completely unfounded. “Many toothpastes contain ingredients that can target bacteria and help shrink and dry pimples, such as alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and baking soda,” says Shadi Kourosh, MD, MPH, assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School and a board-certified dermatologist at Sadick Dermatology in New York. “It’s understandable that people may have tried this as a home remedy, especially in the days before we had better options for acne spot treatments.” 

However, part of the antibacterial effect of toothpaste may have been due to triclosan, an antiseptic that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently banned due to its potentially negative health effects.

“There are also other ingredients in toothpaste, such as fluoride, sodium lauryl sulfate, and flavoring agents that could irritate the skin and cause allergies,” says Kourosh.

“It’s much better and more consistent to use something that actually has a mechanism of action, has been studied, and is based on data, not anecdotes,” says Joel Cohen, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and director of AboutSkin Dermatology in metropolitan Denver, Colo.

“An acne-targeting product, such as benzoyl peroxide will not only help kill the bacteria in your pimples but also function as an anti-inflammatory to tamper the swelling and redness,” Cohen says. He says salicylic acid will also help open up the skin’s follicles, remove dead debris on the pores, and reduce some of the oil production. Can your toothpaste do that? No, no it can’t. “These products cost just a few dollars and all the major skincare companies make them.”

You’ll find spot treatment products containing benzoyl peroxide in amounts ranging from 2.5 to 10 percent. If you have sensitive skin, Kourosh says to start on the lower end and increase as needed. Most salicylic acid spot treatments are 2 percent. Apply either product to pimples twice a day and moisturize the surrounding skin, not the pimple itself. “The drying effect is helpful to treat the acne spot,” she says.

If you are hellbent on avoiding acne products and still want a home remedy, consider something like tea tree oil over toothpaste. In a 2014 comparative study, researchers found that this herbal extract was as effective in treating acne as a solution containing 5 percent benzoyl peroxide.

@consumerreports Should you put toothpaste on a pimple? Doing so could cause allergies and irritate your skin 😬. Learn more at #skintok #skincare #acne ♬ original sound - Consumer Reports

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Perry Santanachote

I cover the intersection of people, products, and sustainability, and try to provide humorous but useful advice for everyday living. I love to dive deep into how things work, and debunking myths might be my favorite pastime. But what I aim to be above all else is a guiding voice while you're shopping, telling you what's a value, what's a rip-off, and what's just right for you and your family.