A friend of mine who has an 11-year old daughter recently lamented that her child was growing up too fast. Her daughter was starting to develop pimples around her hairline and cheeks. Thinking that her child’s skin is still too delicate and sensitive for the harsh chemicals of pimple treatments, she resorted to what she considered were “safer and natural home remedies” like using lemon juice and baking soda on the zits.
You can probably guess what happened to her daughter’s skin. Needless to say, my friend realized her mistake in time and took her daughter to a dermatologist for proper advice and treatment.
The thing is, I once fell for these supposedly “effective and affordable” home pimple treatments, back in the days when I was quite ignorant about the causes and proper solutions for my adult acne. While I initially chalked it up to being a “late bloomer” (yeah, right), I soon realized that I wasn’t “blooming” at all by using these pseudo-remedies – I was making my skin worse.
What I Tried: Toothpaste
I tried applying toothpaste upon the recommendation of a friend who swore it worked on her spots. She said to just use plain white, fluoride toothpaste (not the special flavored ones, with stripes or little flecks) and dab it on the spot itself. Leave on for at least 10 minutes then rinse off.
What’s in it? According to the American Dental Association (ADA), toothpastes contain mild abrasives to get rid of surface stains and debris on and in between your teeth. Aside from fluoride to strengthen tooth enamel, there are also thickening agents or binders to stabilize the toothpaste formula, as well as detergents such as sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium N-Lauryl sarcosinate.
The Result: I never knew my pimples would feel so minty and refreshing! Sadly, the zit didn’t grow any smaller nor less red. On the upside, I’m pretty sure my pimples didn’t suffer from tooth decay. Simply put, toothpastes are designed to clean teeth, not cure pimples.
What I Tried: Red Lipstick
Apparently, for this treatment to work, it has to be RED lipstick. Not marsala, not burgundy, not vampy and not tomato red. It’s the red of your grandmother’s favorite lipstick, as my friend explained.
What’s in it? CompoundInterest.com, a website that provides educational graphics about chemical compounds we use on a daily basis, states that “waxes and oils make up the bulk of lipstick’s composition, with beeswax as a major constituent.” Aside from waxes, oils are another commonly used component in lipsticks, with castor oil primarily being used, while some manufacturers also use olive oil and mineral oil. Oils are by nature highly emollient, which means they help in softening the skin. In lipsticks, they make application easier and also add a hint of shine or gloss.
The Result: One dab of red lipstick on my zit was enough to scare me into looking like a clown so this trial didn’t last long. It was already bad that I had a cluster of stubborn spots on my chin, but dabbing super red lipstick on them was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Instead of concealing my spots, it did the opposite and had no effect. In hindsight, blocking my pores with the waxes and oils in lipstick was not helpful at all, and could have made my cystic acne back then even worse.
What I Tried: Listerine
The pitch for this brand of mouthwash is that it kills germs inside the mouth that can cause bad breath and gingivitis, among others. So I thought, “Hey, if it can kill those germs, it can kill the ones in my pimples!” Right? Riiight?!
What’s in it? On the Listerine website, the original gold version has a 26.9% alcohol content (classified as an inactive ingredient), along with water, caramel and sodium benzoate. Its active ingredients are eucalyptol, menthol, methyl salicylate and thymol.
Images: Listerine, Listerine.com; Listerine Gold ingredients, www.drugs.com
The Result: Dabbing my pimples with Listerine was akin to pouring even just a few drops of rubbing alcohol on a fresh wound. Yes, IT STINGS! Alcohol is a very strong chemical and this popular mouthwash brand has almost 27% alcohol content. I’m pretty sure that the bacteria in those zits of mine died an agonizing death, but applying it over the next few days irritated my skin so much that it caused new breakouts. Alcohol is a necessary ingredient in a lot of cosmetic products. However, just like with anything else, you have to know when you’re using (or drinking) too much of it. Also, if you’re allergic to any of the other ingredients in this mouthwash, it might only make things worse.
What I Tried: Lemon Juice
Lemon juice offers a lot of health benefits, among them, helping to neutralize acids in your stomach and aiding in detoxification. I’ve made it a habit to drink a glass of water with the juice of half a lemon these past few years and I can say that I certainly feel better for it. But as a skin treatment? My colleague Maureen wrote about Vitamin C treatments and one of the benefits she mentioned was that Vitamin C serums can heal acne.
What’s in it? Lemons contain both ascorbic acid and citric acid. Citric acid is responsible for the tart and sour taste of lemons while ascorbic acid is also known as Vitamin C and is used in a lot of cosmetic products, most especially serums. Citric acid is also considered an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and is an active ingredient in chemical peels. Ascorbic acid is known for its skin-brightening properties and high antioxidant levels.
The Result: Applying lemon juice on my acne yielded some really bad stinging. It didn’t help that when I did this, my acne was red, bumpy and really inflamed. One or two spots decreased in size but several new bumps formed (cystic acne is like the mythical Hydra, really). What’s worse is that, because lemon juice is highly acidic, I also ended up damaging my skin’s acid mantle, which is responsible for maintaining the skin’s water and oil balance. My face ended up being oilier, with parts of my cheeks becoming very dry and patchy. I resembled an oily-dry giraffe. However, Maureen is right about the powers of Vitamin C in fading hyperpigmentation. It’s true then: When life gives you lemons, and it doesn’t work on your skin, get the serum version instead and use it to fade the scars. Don’t forget to wear sunscreen all the time and just save the lemonade for later.
What I Tried: Eye Drops
Eye drops on pimples? Yes I’ve tried. On my desperate path to acne destruction, I took the advice of yet another “well-meaning” friend and bought a bottle of eye drops because she said it “really, really works.”
What’s in it? The main ingredient in eye drops is naphazoline hydrochloride that helps treat the redness when your eyes get irritated. Supposedly, this ingredient works to close down small blood vessels underneath the pimple, and thus reduce redness.
The Result: Redness reduced briefly, yes. Pimples, no. The eye drops trick came in handy when I had to go to a job interview before and my chin was an angry, red cluster. Dabbing the area with a few Q-tips soaked with the eye solution helped. But you know what? Dabbing an ice cube also worked to bring down the redness, but only temporarily.
I’m glad to say that today, I have put all that behind me, and that I’d like to think I’m now better informed when it comes to my own skin. It took a long time, a LOT of mistakes and my poor skin got worse before it got better. Never again!