There are a few things that make me, the resident skin-obsessed beauty editor, gasp a horrible gasp in my cold, dead heart: when someone admits to sleeping in their makeup (stop), when someone tells me they only use makeup wipes to “wash” their face (seriously, stop), and when someone talks about putting toothpaste on their pimples (I actually can’t). Unfortunately for me, I hear these confessions weekly from coworkers and friends (see: my recent text exchange), and thus I am always in a state of death…and explanations.
So I’m here today with the help of a dermatologist to tackle one of these terrible, horrible, no good, very bad beauty beliefs once and for all, so we can all move on to a better state of skin enlightenment. Ahead, everything you’ve ever wanted to know/have personally asked me about putting toothpaste on pimples and breakouts.
Can toothpaste get rid of a pimple?
Here’s the gist: You get a zit, you slather it with toothpaste before bed, and then you wake up with clear skin. Wow, magical! Amazing! But not real. “Toothpastes are usually filled with drying ingredients like alcohol, which is probably where people first got the idea to put them on pimples,” says dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor at Yale University. But if you know even one thing about your face/your skin/your organs in general, you should already know that they DON’T LIKE ALCOHOL (hangovers, anyone?). Which brings us to…
Why is putting toothpaste on pimples so bad?
“Toothpaste can be an extreme irritant,” says Dr. Gohara. “Most formulas are filled with ingredients like alcohol menthol, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide—all things that, yes, can maybe dry out a zit, but at the risk of hardcore irritating your skin barrier at the same time.” And when your skin barrier is screwed up, “it goes into overdrive and overproduces oil to compensate, leading to clogged pores, breakouts, blackheads, and oily skin.” Fun, right?
So even if you’re just putting a little dab on your zit, that gooey blob can spread around, quickly irritating the rest of your skin and potentially causing even more acne in the end. Plus, “drying out” your zit doesn’t really make it go away—it just dries out the top layer of your skin without killing the bacteria inside. All in all, a pretty bad solution.
So how do you make pimples go away fast?
If you’re dealing with cystic acne (the sore, swollen, under-the-skin bumps), you unfortunately can’t do much for them topically. A dab of over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream can help with the inflammation, but only a cortisone shot can get rid of them overnight, while prescription medication can fully heal them over time (so seriously, go to a derm).
Otherwise, treat your zits by dabbing on a thin layer of a spot treatment after applying your moisturizer. For classic whiteheads, use a formula with benzoyl peroxide (it kills acne-causing bacteria), and for little clogged pores and inflamed bumps, try salicylic acid, which dissolves oil and skin cells. Use just one, every single night, and wait for your body to do its thing—i.e., destroy that zit fast.
And look! All of these spot treatments are actually proven (by science! And dermatologists! And faces!) to be effective, so you’ll never have to put toothpaste, or think about putting toothpaste on a pimple ever again. Thank you for coming to my TED talk.