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Toothpaste for Acne

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Some people use toothpaste as an acne quick fix. Find out whether toothpaste works for acne and if it is safe to be used on the skin.

It is a popular belief that toothpaste can be used to clear acne. The reason for this belief is simple: toothpaste, an easily obtained oral hygiene product, already provides an antibacterial cover and cleanses the mouth.

However, toothpaste is a basic and stopgap remedy in the treatment of acne. It is not an ideal acne remedy and it is not effective for everyone.

Toothpaste can serve as a temporary treatment for acne especially where only spot treatment is needed and the acne lesions are only a few pimples. Toothpaste should not be used for a long time; it should not be used for sensitive skin types, and not all kinds of toothpaste can be used.

Why Toothpaste May Help Acne

Toothpaste contains some compounds that can help prevent bacterial growth. The most important, and the most common, of these chemicals is triclosan. Since toothpaste cleans gums and teeth by preventing bacteria growth, it may slow down the growth of acne-causing bacteria.

Toothpaste also contains other active ingredients such as menthol, sorbitol, and glycol alcohol.

These compounds can provide a local astringent effect by absorbing moisture from acne lesions and shrinking them too.

The paste-like nature of toothpaste makes them similar to acne masks. Therefore, they can absorb excess oil on the skin, and help remove sebum and other oil secretions when wiped off. This effect also contributes to the drying action of toothpaste on the skin.

Soap-forming active ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulfate are also found in toothpaste. They can generate some degree of lather to help cleanse the skin of accumulated dirt.

Lastly, toothpaste contains alumina and hydrated silica which are essentially microscopic beads for scrubbing the teeth. Therefore, these exfoliants can provide a microdermabrasion effect on the skin and help to remove dead skin cells and other dirt from the skin.

What is Triclosan?

Triclosan is a polychlorinated phenol commonly added to toothpaste to fight bacteria, prevent gingivitis and protect the toothpaste formulation from going bad.

Other hygiene products containing triclosan are soaps, deodorants, mouthwashes, and shaving creams. It is also routinely added to household products including mattresses, flooring, toys, kitchen utensils, and disposal bags.

Triclosan has antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties and it has been used for these properties for over 30 years. It is routinely used in hospitals for decontaminating hands and surfaces.

Triclosan is effective against multi-drug resistant bacteria and it is the agent of choice for combating methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in hospitals.

A 2% solution of triclosan is effective for completely disinfecting the skin of MRSA.

Even though there have been fears that bacteria will develop antibiotic resistance to triclosan, no less than 9 different studies have found no such resistance or even a cross-resistance with other antibacterial agents.

Still, some measures of bacterial resistance may develop against triclosan but currently, it is a safe and effective antibiotic.

A recent study has demonstrated that allergic reactions to triclosan may arise especially in people exposed to it too often. This allergic reaction is caused by the total hygiene provided by triclosan rather than toxicity.

By wiping out bacteria, fungi, and viruses, triclosan leaves the immune system with nothing to do and repeatedly unchallenged. Therefore, when it is withdrawn, the mildest bacterial attack produces exaggerated reactions from the immune system.

How Triclosan Works

Triclosan is bactericidal at normal concentrations and bacteriostatic at lower concentrations.

This means that it completely kills bacteria at normal doses by attacking multiple targets within bacteria cells and the cell membranes too. In lower doses, triclosan simply stops the growth of bacteria by interfering with their ability to synthesize fatty acids.

Triclosan is effective against most bacteria including the common ones belonging to Escherichia, Staphylococcus, and Pseudomonas families. Therefore, it may be effective against acne-causing bacteria.

There are two bacteria implicated in the development of acne lesions. These are Propionibacterium acnes and Staphylococcus epidermis. These bacteria feed on the excess sebum produced by overactive sebaceous glands and cause abnormal cycles of inflammation as well as increased clogging of skin pores.

Triclosan, found in toothpaste, can help decolonize the skin of these bacteria.

However, since toothpaste is only used in spot treatment of acne and triclosan is included in toothpaste in small amounts as a preservative and not an active agent, it is unlikely that the level of triclosan in toothpaste can provide marked improvements in acne symptoms.

At best, the triclosan in toothpaste can provide a bacteriostatic effect against acne-causing bacteria. This may be sufficient to “cure” mild acne but it cannot clear more severe acne.

Effects of Triclosan on the Skin

Triclosan can be degraded by microorganisms to a group of compounds called chlorophenols. Chlorophenols are specially produced when triclosan comes in contact with chlorinated tap water.

These degradation products are degraded further in sunlight to a group of compounds called dioxins.

While this degradation is negligible when triclosan is used in toothpaste to brush the teeth, it can be significant when triclosan stays on the skin for a significant period of time.

Dioxins are stable and dangerous compounds. Since both triclosan and dioxins can be absorbed through the skin, applying toothpaste on the skin may cause even more harm than good.

Dioxins interfere with hormonal balance when absorbed. By disrupting the endocrine system, dioxins may actually cause the kind of hormonal imbalance that triggers acne.

Since dioxins are eliminated very slowly in the body, this effect may not be apparent immediately but only present much later as recurrent acne. This is why long-term use of toothpaste in the spot treatment of acne is discouraged.

How to Use Toothpaste for Acne

Not all toothpaste can be used for acne. Usually, only certain types formulated as pastes and not gels can provide the most benefits.

Similarly, special kinds of toothpaste such as tartar-control are often too strong to be used on the skin and should not be used in the spot treatment of acne. As a rule of thumb, only white toothpaste should be used. Red or colored toothpaste may contain other ingredients that may react with the skin and irritate it.

Before using toothpaste on your skin, first, wash the area of the skin affected by acne. Then take a pea-sized quantity of your toothpaste with the tip of your finger and apply it to each pimple or acne lesion.

How long you let the toothpaste stand depends on your skin type. If your skin is sensitive, you may have to remove the spots of toothpaste after 2 minutes. Some experts advise leaving them on for as long as 2 hours.

Some users have reported leaving them on overnight although it is unlikely that this will add any more benefits. It will most likely cause skin irritation and too much skin dryness.

Remove the spots of toothpaste with a damp cloth and warm water.

You may apply sunscreen especially if you applied the toothpaste during the day.

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