Turns out, putting toothpaste on spots isn't the most effective treatment—here's why

You'll be surprised at what this old wive's tale trick can do to your skin...

Toothpaste on tooth brush
(Image credit: Getty Images/Tatiana Maksimova)

When it comes to finding the best acne treatments, trust us when we say we've put more time into the task than most. We've sussed out the best skincare routine for acne, rounded up the best spot treatments, tried and tested the best acne patches and we've even reached out to Dr Pimple Popper herself to talk us through how to pop a pimple

And yet, despite all of our hard work, we're still faced with a huge amount of people that want to know whether putting toothpaste on spots actually works. Look, we get it. Trying to clear up spots and breakouts is time consuming. Whether you've got forehead acne, chin acne or even back acne (yes it's a thing), it's totally understandable to want to take the quickest, easiest route of getting rid. So does putting toothpaste on spots really work to treat them? We've got expert insight.

Why do people put toothpaste on spots?

Putting toothpaste on spots has become a treatment passed down by generations, it seems. While we never really see any expert advice on the matter, whenever a juicy spot crops up, there's a part of us that wants to grab the nearest tube of toothpaste and slather it on. But why?

"People think that toothpaste works as an effective treatment for spots as it contains drying and antibacterial ingredients," says Dr Susan Mayou, Consultant Dermatologist at the Cadogan Clinic. Ingredients such as baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, menthol, essential oils and triclosan can all contribute to the drying out of a spot.

Does toothpaste get rid of spots?

The answer to this question isn't straight forward. In theory, yes, putting toothpaste on a spot will help to dry it out. However, that's not to say it's advisable. "Applying toothpaste can lead to irritation of the surrounding skin and redness. Despite containing ingredients which are beneficial to dental hygiene, the formulation is not conducive to skin health," adds Dr Mayou. 

Naturally, as a product designed to clean teeth, toothpaste doesn't contain ingredients that lend themselves to topical application on the skin. In fact, Dr Mayou says that putting toothpaste on a spot is particular cause for concern if your skin is dry, sensitive or acne-prone as the drying ingredients can exacerbate your issues.

What is the best alternative?

In short, it's always better to use tried and tested, expert-approved ways of getting rid of spots. First of all, it's important to ensure you're using the right products for your skin in order to avoid exacerbating your breakouts—everything from the best acne face wash and the best moisturiser for acne-prone skin to the best sunscreen for acne-prone skin and the best foundation for acne-prone skin will help.

"Acne requires a management strategy; everybody is different, has different requirements and will respond differently to treatments or treatment combinations. There is no 'one size fits all' but dermatologists are experts in treating acne and have a vast understanding about the medication options," says Dr Mayou.  Her top tips? The below should help:

  • Cleaning the skin is very important. Buy an over-the-counter skin cleanser for oily/spot prone skin. She recommends Bioderma Sebium, Neutrogena and La Roche-Posay Effaclar (below).
  • Topical treatments can be applied directly onto the affected area of the skin. Notably, benzoyl peroxide can be bought over-the-counter, without a prescription, and is a particularly effective spot treatment.
  • If you have acne that you are concerned about, you can see your GP. When the acne is mild and superficial, you are likely to be prescribed a topical antibiotic such as Dalacin T or benzoyl peroxide, retinoids (tretinoin, isotretinoin and adapalene), azelaic acid or a combination antibiotic with benzoyl peroxide, as in Duac. Oral antibiotics are prescribed for more severe acne with papules and pustules but are low dose and need to be taken for many months.
  • The anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties of aloe vera and tea tree oil may also soothe and calm the skin, but beware of applying anything greasy to already greasy skin.

Dr Mayou's top cleansers for preventing breakouts:

Shannon Lawlor
Executive Beauty Editor

Shannon Lawlor is the Executive Beauty Editor at Marie Claire. With nearly a decade of experience working for some of the beauty industry’s most esteemed titles, including Who What Wear, Glamour UK, Stylist and Refinery29, Shannon’s aim is to make the conversation around beauty as open, relatable and honest as possible. As a self-confessed lazy girl, Shannon has an affinity for hard-working perfumes, fool-proof make-up products and does-it-all skincare.

With contributions from