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Toothpaste On Acne: It Doesn't Work, But Here's What Does

Kristin Hall

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 11/30/2020

People do weird things in the name of skincare. But as if spending way too much money on products that may or may not work isn’t weird enough, some put toothpaste on their face. 

Getting toothpaste on your face isn’t weird in itself. You likely do it every morning, if you’re a sloppy brusher. 

But intentionally applying toothpaste as an acne spot treatment might seem a little strange. Nevertheless, it’s an increasingly popular at-home “remedy.” But does it really work? What does the science say about putting toothpaste on acne? 

Acne 101

We won’t spend a ton of time here, but understanding what causes acne can help you understand how various treatments work to combat it. 

Acne is the most common skin disorder in the United States. 

Four factors are responsible for acne: oil (sebum) production, the overgrowth of skin cells (hyperkeratinization), the presence of bacteria (Propionibacterium acnes), and inflammation. 

Treatment approaches target these factors — some are better at targeting certain aspects and others work only on one.

Generally, a dermatology practitioner or healthcare professional can help determine your acne severity and then suggest the treatment approach best suited to your situation. 

But, many folks wait to get a medical professional involved, preferring instead to roll their dice on over-the-counter and at-home solutions — like toothpaste.

Toothpaste 101 

You know what toothpaste is — hopefully you use it daily to keep your mouth clean and free of cavities and food particles. Various forms of toothpaste have been used for thousands of years. Sticks, incense and even sand have been used to clean the teeth over the years. But in 1950, the first modern toothpaste was invented. 

Now, big box stores have an entire aisle dedicated to toothpaste, and while the formulas are more similar than different, you wouldn’t know it by looking at the numerous varieties. 

Toothpastes generally contain the same “functional” ingredients, including: abrasive materials to scour your teeth, surfactants to make foam, sweeteners, flavor, color, buffering and stability agents, humectants, thickening agents, hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and detergents.

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Effects of Toothpaste on Acne: The Research 

So you put toothpaste on a zit or blemish, and what happens? Believe it or not, there isn’t a whole ton of research on this widely cited home remedy. Actual scientific research, that is. 

We located one study, published in the International Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Analysis in 2014, which found some toothpastes to be effective in “white-headed pimples.” 

The researchers studied five well-known toothpaste brands and determined Colgate® could aid in the reduction of white heads when used as a spot treatment. 

However, the researchers concluded the solution would heal an acne lesion in a week’s time, which isn’t groundbreaking. 

Further, the study only included 10 people, so it may be ambitious to say this study is definitive and conclusive. 

Far more than scientific proof of toothpaste’s effectiveness in the treatment of acne, we found reputable sources cautioning against it. 

For example, the American Academy of Dermatology has clearly cautioned against putting toothpaste on a pimple. Their research noted the ingredients can clog pores, irritate skin and actually worsen your skin condition.

Johns Hopkins Medicine shares that sentiment, and notes toothpaste can make your skin redder, more irritated and make your pimple more noticeable.

And there is some evidence that toothpaste could actually cause acne. 

A dermatologist’s letter to the editor in 1974 printed in the journal Archives of Dermatology, cited numerous cases of women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, who presented with acne on one side of their chin. 

The author hypothesized that saliva containing the remnants of toothpaste was draining out of their mouths during sleep and causing breakouts. The doctor suggested the patients rinse with a mouthwash after brushing, and many saw their acne clear up.

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The Bottom Line

While the research regarding using toothpaste as a spot treatment for acne is still very limited, it seems the risks of using toothpaste on your skin outweigh the potential benefits. 

If you’re searching for a spot treatment to dry pimples, consider other over-the-counter remedies designed for this purpose, such as benzoyl peroxide. 

And if you’re subject to regular break-outs, consider seeing your healthcare provider about the best course of acne treatment, which may include acne medications like retinoids, antibiotics, and more.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.