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Can toothpaste get rid of pimples? — Beauty myths busted!

Waking up and finding a pimple that needs to go—fast. But can toothpaste really get rid of a pimple, or is it just another beauty myth? Let’s look at the science and find out how to get rid of acne in a hurry.

What does toothpaste do to pimples?

woman brushes teeth with toothpaste

Toothpaste is often recommended for spot treatment because it’s very drying. It can help reduce the appearance of pimples by shrinking them down. However, that's where its usefulness ends. Toothpaste doesn’t contain any antibacterial ingredients that can work on your skin, so it won’t treat the underlying cause of a breakout. Worse, it can even harm your skin.

Why do people think toothpaste is a good treatment for acne?

woman examines pimple in mirror

Toothpaste—and skincare ingredients—have changed a lot over the years. Toothpaste used to contain an ingredient called triclosan. This is an antibacterial ingredient that was used in a lot of products that tackled germs. Everything from toothpaste to hand soap used to contain it.

In toothpaste, triclosan is very effective at treating gingivitis and preventing tooth decay. Studies also showed that triclosan can kill P. acnes, the bacteria that causes acne.

However, studies linked triclosan exposure to low thyroid hormone levels. Long-term exposure could also be linked to skin cancer. And the widespread use of antibacterial ingredients contributes to the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

For all these reasons, the FDA began regulating triclosan more closely. In 2016, triclosan was banned from hand soaps and body washes. Many companies had already begun to remove triclosan from their products. The only major toothpaste brand that still contained triclosan, Colgate Total, was reformulated in 2019 to remove triclosan from its ingredients.

Without triclosan, toothpaste doesn’t contain any ingredients that could be beneficial for acne.

What does toothpaste do to skin?

toothpaste on toothbrush

Although toothpaste doesn’t contain triclosan anymore, it does contain lots of other ingredients that can shrink pimples, but at a cost. Calcium carbonate, sodium lauryl sulfate, and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) are common toothpaste ingredients that can leave your mouth fresh and teeth pearly white, but have unwanted effects on your skin.

Calcium carbonate is very drying. Direct contact can cause localized irritation, and prolonged contact can trigger atopic dermatitis (eczema). It’s also very drying, and this can increase oil production as your skin tries to compensate. And that just increases your odds of getting even more pimples.

Sodium lauryl sulfate is a foaming agent found in many skincare products. However it’s also an irritant, especially with long-term use. Like calcium carbonate, it’s very drying, and can cause inflammatory reactions like itchy skin and contact dermatitis.

Baking soda in small quantities can be beneficial for your skin. It has natural antiseptic properties, but it can also be an irritant. Baking soda raises the skin’s natural pH level, disrupting its protective acid barrier. This leaves your skin vulnerable to infection, increases the risk of UV light damage, and triggers oil production.

What should you use to get rid of pimples?

tea tree oil

If you suffer from regular breakouts, using skincare products designed to treat oily, acne-prone skin is the best solution. Many contain salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid that can break down oil buildup in pores.

There are also many over the counter treatments available to tackle individual pimples. These often contain benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, or charcoal, all of which can minimize the appearance of a pimple without increasing skin irritation.

Some natural remedies can also get the job done without harming your skin. Witch hazel and tea tree oil can both rapidly shrink a pimple, and won’t cause another breakout in its place.

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