We’re fairly sure that there has been no period in history where people actually welcomed or embraced pimples. They’re painful, they’re annoying and they’re a blemish on your face that sometimes won’t go away no matter what you do to it.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that over the years, all kinds of hacks and tips to quickly get rid of pimples have spread as old wives’ tales. Some were even taught to us by our parents, or grandparents. The age of the Internet, however, has made it even easier for more acne hacks to proliferate as gospel truth, and each new one only seems to get stranger than the last.
We’ve compiled a list of seven popular acne hacks and tips that we found on the Internet, and asked aesthetic doctors to give us their thoughts on the matter.
1. Using feminine wash to treat acne
Not too long ago, Daily Vanity covered a story about how a Malaysian vlogger had used feminine wash as a facial cleanser and she reported positive results with it. The theory behind it seems to make sense: acne is caused by bacteria, and some feminine washes contain anti-bacterial ingredients.
What doctors say:
The two aesthetic doctors we approached unanimously discouraged the public from using feminine wash as a facial cleanser. “The pH of our groin area is more acidic than that of our face,” said Dr. YX Lum from IDS Clinic. “Using feminine wash on the face can be too harsh, and may even result in undesirable consequences such as skin irritation.”
Dr. Georgia Lee from TLC Lifestyle added, “I discourage my patients from using feminine wash even for its commercial indication [for washing the genital areas], and will not encourage it for the face.” She agreed with Dr. Lum in that the pH of feminine washes may be too acidic for facial use.
2. Ice cubes and eye drops on the pimple for reducing redness
The hack states that you can place an ice cube on the pimple for 30 – 60 seconds, which already sounds like a painful task to us, before holding a tissue dampened with redness-reducing eyedrops over it for three minutes. The ice and the ingredients in the eye drops will cause blood vessels under the skin to constrict, which will reduce the redness of the pimple.
What doctors say:
Cold temperatures causes blood vessels to shrink, so there may be something in this hack. “Placing an ice cube gently on the pimple for a short period of time can decrease the inflammation and swelling over the area,” said Dr. Lum.
However, she also cautioned that the redness-reducing eye drops may contain ingredients too harsh for the skin, and which may also be inappropriate for acne treatment.
“This is a temporary measure,” says Dr. Lee. “Anti-redness eyedrops does contain vasoconstrictors (ingredients which reduce the size of blood vessels), but they usually only last for a few hours.”
She also added that upon prolonged usage of these vasoconstrictors, there may be a “reactive hyperaemia effect”, which means that the redness might even become worse if not treated.
3. Soaking zit in honey overnight
Another popular Internet acne hack is to dab a bit of honey on the zit, applying a plaster over it so that the zit can really soak in that honey, and then leaving it overnight. The pimple apparently should have disappeared with no scars by the next day.
What doctors say:
Honey is used because of its anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial properties, but expecting a zit to disappear with no scars within 12 hours is really too much of a stretch. As Dr. Lum says, “It is not a miracle treatment.”
The honey method apparently uses reverse osmosis, according to Dr. Lee, to “draw out fluid from the pimple to encourage drying”. If you have no other choice available, there’s nothing to lose in trying this hack.
However, Dr. Lee strongly advises everyone to use more professional products or seek medical help if the pimple does not abate in two days, as there is a higher chance of it leaving a pitted, depressed scar on the face if it is not treated sooner.
As an alternative to honey, Dr. Lum suggests using a topical product with probiotics, which are a good form of bacteria that can “calm down the inflammation or redness of the lesions.” It will also help to rebalance the natural microflora of the skin.
Topical vitamin C products are also a good option. “A good vitamin C antioxidant product can help to reduce the inflammation from the acne and protect the skin from environmental harm,” says Dr Lum.
4. Mixture of aspirin and water as spot treatment or face mask
This one is pretty famous, and with good reason. Since aspirin is known for being an anti-inflammatory medication, it stands to reason that a mixture of aspirin tablets and water can be used to treat pimples, which are inflammations of the skin. Using this mixture as a face mask is said to even reduce pore size and prevent breakouts.
What doctors say:
Dr. Lee acknowledges that this approach has some potential for efficacy. “Aspirin has anti-inflammatory effects,” she said. “But it has its limitations: it will not be useful if the acne is cystic and pus-filled.”
She also cautioned against this method if you have an allergy to aspirin, or any painkillers within the same family of drugs (ask a doctor or pharmacist if you’re not sure).
Dr. Lum is also hesitant about the safety of this method. “One needs to understand their skin condition well enough before putting any form of medications on their face,” she says. “It may be unsuitable and cause more harm than good.”
5. Applying hydrogen peroxide on pimple
Hydrogen peroxide is commonly used as a wound disinfectant, so we aren’t surprised that some people have also started using them as an acne treatment.
However, did you know that hydrogen peroxide is also used as a bleaching agent? That gives us an indication of how strong a chemical it can be, and not all preparations of hydrogen peroxides are suitable for a sensitive, inflamed condition like pimples.
What doctors say:
“No,” Dr. Lum says simply. “Hydrogen peroxide has a high risk of causing burns! There are other methods to treat acne that are kinder to your skin.”
Dr. Lee, however, believes that hydrogen peroxide may have its uses for acne, but only if it is appropriately diluted. “It can be used in suitable concentration for spot treatment, but it can also irritate the skin.”
6. Coconut oil and baking soda as a face mask
Baking soda seems to have a mild caustic nature which appears to be useful for getting rid of zits, and with coconut oil to prevent loss of moisture, this mask seems to have the best of both worlds. But does it really?
What doctors say:
“The pH of our skin is 4.5 to 5.5. The acidic pH of our skin helps to protect against the environmental dirt and bacteria,” explains Dr Lum. “The pH of baking soda is typically around 9, and this strong alkalinity will upset this, causing the skin to be less able to resist bacteria in the environment, and therefore causing more acne.”
Dr. Lum also added that while the lauric acid content of coconut oil is indeed anti-bacterial, the total oil content of coconut oil is comodogenic, which contributes to clogged pores and acne formation.
“Acne-prone individuals should instead look out for oil-free moisturisers,” she recommends. “They can also look for products that contain ingredients like dimethyl sulfone (a mild exfoliator that softens blackheads and whiteheads in pores), or witch hazel (for its anti-inflammatory and astringent properties).”
The method, however, seems to hold some water for Dr. Lee. She explains that acne is caused by the bacteria propionibacterium acnes, which colonises skin and hair follicles, and an overgrowth of the bacteria causes infected pimples.
“Baking soda releases carbon dioxide, which increases blood circulation and oxygen release in the skin, and which may have an indirect effect on the reduction of the bacteria as it is anaerobic (needing an environment with as little oxygen as possible to live),” she says. “Moreover, the indirect release of oxygen may help the healing process.”
7. Toothpaste on a zit
Come on, ‘fess up. How many of you are guilty of having tried to put toothpaste on a pimple before, especially in your younger days? The burning sensation of the minty toothpaste on our zit makes us feel like it is doing something, preferably burning the dreaded spot off your face forever. So what do doctors think about this hack?
What doctors say:
“It may miraculously (rarely, in my opinion) help occasional zits to disappear,” says Dr. Lum. “But it may contain ingredients like alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, methanol that may cause more skin irritation or even burn, worsening the skin condition around the pimple.” Dr. Lum added that she would not encourage anyone to try this hack.
Dr. Lee, however, was more open to this age-old practice. She says, “There are some ingredients in specialty toothpaste like triclosan (an anti-bacterial ingredient sometimes found in acne wash) and silica (a mattifying ingredient sometimes found in cosmetics) which might perhaps be used directly onto an inflamed pimple with a cotton bud, if you’re really desperate and have nothing else on hand.”
However, Dr. Lee also had the same warning as Dr. Lum, “Bear in mind that it can also irritate the skin.”
The experts we spoke to
Dr. Georgia Lee
Armed with extensive experience and credentials in dermatology and aesthetic medicine, Dr. Georgia Lee started her own practice in 1999 and has since earned a reputation for being a top celebrity aesthetic doctor.
She now practises at TLC Lifestyle Practice, and has also launched her own cosmeceutical skincare brand, DrGL. Dr. Lee also runs a combined spa experience, DrSkin and DrHair, located at Tangs Beauty Services on Level 4, which provides facial treatments and hair loss solutions entirely with DrGL products, or methods approved by Dr. Lee herself.
TLC Lifestyle Practice
Address: 9 Scotts Road, #11-04/05, Pacific Plaza, Singapore 228210
Opening hours: Mon & Sat 8am to 4.30pm, Tue to Fri 8am to 8.30pm, closed on Sun and PH
For appointments: [email protected]
Dr. YX Lum
Having graduated from Trinity College in Dublin with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degree, Dr. YX Lum went on to earn various graduate diplomas and certification for aesthetic medicine. Having once battled with acne and breakouts herself, Dr. Lum has since had a strong interest in acne treatment, and innovating products and treatments for the condition.
Dr. Lum is currently part of the team of doctors running IDS Clinic, specialising in skincare solutions from Botox® fillers, laser treatment, to simply acne prevention.
Address: 8 Sinaran Drive, #05-07 to 10, Novena Specialist Center, Singapore 307470
Opening hours: Mon – Fri 10am to 8pm, Sat 10am to 5pm, closed on Sun and PH
For appointments: Through the form on their website
Featured image from here.