Back in high school, I definitely dabbed toothpaste on a zit or two before bed in hopes it would erase them by morning, and most of the time it did nothing except leave my face feeling sticky and smelling minty-fresh. However, knowing what I know now, I should have put the toothpaste on my toothbrush where it belonged and instead, treated my skin with actual acne ingredients that are clinically proven and backed by decades of research. These are six products you shouldn’t put on your face, according to experts—despite what TikTok says.
This is one we’ve known about for decades, but it’s recently starting making the rounds on social media: using toothpaste as a spot-treatment on pimples. “What’s the basis for thinking toothpaste would help with acne pimples you may wonder?” says New York dermatologist Snehal Amin, MD. “Toothpaste contains ingredients that can dry out pimples, such as baking soda, peroxide and alcohol. Many of them also contain antibacterials that work against bacteria in your mouth, and menthol, the ingredient in toothpaste that gives it the tingly sensation, can reduce swelling and pain. So it sounds like a great hack for treating acne right? Not so fast. Ingredients in toothpaste are optimized for teeth, not skin, and many of them are actually irritating and too harsh for the skin. Sodium lauryl sulfate, for example, can cause irritation and redness when used on the skin, and overdrying the skin can actually make acne worse. Additionally, the pH of toothpaste is basic or low, which disrupts the skin barrier since the skin’s natural pH is slightly acidic.”
San Diego dermatologist Azadeh Shirazi, MD finds it ironic “that people use toothpaste for acne when it can actually cause a type of acne called perioral dermatitis or fluoride dermatitis. Historically toothpaste has been used to treat everything from burns to breakouts, mainly due to triclosan, an antibacterial ingredient, which has now been removed by the FDA. Colgate Total was the last brand to remove triclosan from its toothpaste—there’s no reason to use it.”
Toothpaste for acne is a “hard no” for The LA Facialist Candace Marino as well. “First of all, the only way to speed up the healing of a pimple is by reducing inflammation,” she says. “Once you have a pimple, the acne process is over, which means topical spot treatments containing acids and clays aren’t doing much good. The most valuable way to deal with acne is to manage it, which means preventing breakouts by using ingredients to resurface the skin daily. The only true effective ways to spot-treat a pimple is to either occlude it or ice it—both methods will encourage healing by reducing inflammation. So instead of applying toothpaste, which can sensitize skin and cause further issues like perioral dermatitis, grab a pimple patch like ZitSticka or Starface and use ice to calm the breakout.”
Hemorrhoid cream to help with under-eye bags? Dr. Amin says it’s not as crazy as it may seem—even some top makeup artists have used it on their clients—but it’s not a wise idea. “Current-day hemorrhoid creams contain hydrocortisone and phenylephrine: Hydrocortisone works against itching and inflammation; phenylephrine is a vasoconstrictor that can reduce swelling. That’s the theory behind why some people are using it as an eye cream for dark circles and puffy eyes. However, I don’t recommend trying it. Hydrocortisone applied over longer periods of time to the fragile skin of the eyes will lead to thinning and atrophy. This will ultimately lead to skin that is fragile and susceptible to aging. Acne and rosacea will also worsen with chronic application. Additionally, the claims that Preparation H improves wrinkles is based on a banned compound, LYCD, which is no longer used in hemorrhoid creams made in the USA.”
Phenylephrine is also not intended for long-term use. “This ingredient could potentially cause white discoloration or rebound redness if overused,” says Reston, VA dermatologist Morgana Colombo, MD.
Instead of using Preparation H, Tucson, AZ dermatologist Sheila Farhang, MD recommends opting for an eye cream made with caffeine. “Caffeine—green tea is good, too—is also a vasoconstrictor and helps crease eye-bag puffiness.”
Last fall, one of the most viral skin-care trends on TikTok was using silicone-based lube as face primer to help makeup “glide on” smooth. However, Englewood Cliffs, NJ dermatologist Naana Boakye, MD says this is a no-no. “Personal lubricants contain several ingredients that could possibly cause skin irritation. For example, chlorhexidine is an antimicrobial agent that is used in skin prep procedures in dermatology and other medical specialties, but should be avoided in certain areas of the face.” Chlorhexidine can be especially harmful if applied around eyes or ears, adds Dr. Colombo.
Dr. Farhang says this is likely trending because the glycerin in the lube may help give skin a smoother surface for makeup application. “However, I recommend using actual facial products with glycerin, as this is a known primer and it’s already in many products formulated for the face. Also, make sure your skin is moisturized before applying makeup, as this really helps with makeup application and finish.”
“I’m appalled at people crushing aspirin to make face masks or use as an acne spot-treatment thinking they are getting a salicylic acid chemical peel,” says Dr. Shirazi. “Aspirin contains acetylsalicylic acid and it’s not the same as salicylic acid. This can be irritating to the skin and shows no evidence of clearing breakouts or brightening the skin.”
Using glue to remove blackheads? Are masks, peels and strips not enough anymore? Celebrity aesthetician Natalie Aguilar says the popular “glue blackhead removal” trend—applying glue to your nose and letting it dry in hopes of removing skin impurities like blackheads—is not a good idea for several reasons. “It could cause harm if it damages the skin barrier, it can alter the skin’s pH, and for those with sensitive skin, it can actually peel off the skin and possibly leave behind irritation or a rash. Glue was not made for the skin—it’s best to stick to blackhead strips and products formulated specifically for the skin.”
Vaseline (for slugging)
Marino isn’t anti-slugging, but prefers using another product instead of petroleum jelly. “I just can’t fathom putting Vaseline on my face—I find the texture to be disgusting. Plus, I like my products to go to work for me. Instead, I love an ingredient-focused balm that will provide multiple benefits for the skin. I’m a big fan of the Furtuna Replenishing Balm [a two-time NewBeauty Award winner], which is loaded with antioxidants and medicinal botanicals to deeply nourish the skin while locking in moisture. This is a great option for anyone with chronically dry skin, redness or inflamed acne. The ingredients will actually help calm, soothe and heal versus Vaseline, which will just lock in moisture, and isn’t ideal for acne-prone skin.”
However, in some cases, Dr. Amin says Vaseline can be really helpful. “If you’ve recently had ablative fractionated CO2 laser resurfacing, yes absolutely slather your skin with Vaseline or Aquaphor. These occlusive substances lock existing moisture into the skin, forming a protective seal that is important when the skin barrier has been disrupted. They are also useful for chapped lips, scrapes and psoriasis. In general, I recommend against using Vaseline as a facial moisturizer because it will trigger acne breakouts and leave skin greasy. It can also aggravate sunburns due to its heat-locking effect on skin.”