You might keep baking soda in your fridge to get rid of odors, bake with it for leavening purposes, or even use it as a home remedy for acid reflux. But for acne? Sorry to break it to the home remedy enthusiasts out there, but dermatologists aren’t exactly sold on the idea of putting baking soda on your face when you’ve got a zit.
Why not? Welp, there’s unfortunately not too much in the way of scientific research looking into the use of baking soda for acne, says Marisa Garshick, MD, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. There are studies, however, on the importance of balancing skin’s pH when treating acne.
A little chem class refresh for you: The pH scale goes from zero to 14. Anything six or below is acidic, seven is neutral, and eight and above is alkaline. A healthy skin pH should be about 5.5, which is slightly acidic. When your complexion is at its optimal pH, it functions, looks, and feels better…meaning less breakouts.
And here’s the problem with baking soda: It has an alkaline pH of about nine. Using baking soda as a skincare treatment regularly can throw off your skin’s naturally acidic pH, disrupt its protective outer layer, and cause irritation, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. As an acne treatment, it can work…but dermatologists agree that there are better, more gentle solutions than baking soda.
Big into DIY skincare? Make sure you watch out for these other dermatologist no-nos:
pH aside, can baking soda actually help my acne?
Short answer, yes. But it does come with a few disclaimers other than pH issues mentioned above. People have been reaching for baking soda for years to treat acne because it does have powerful oil-absorbing and exfoliating properties (two things that are important when dealing with breakouts). But powerful is the key word here. Pure baking soda can be a bit harsh for your skin.
It easily dries out skin, says Dr. Zeichner, who advises those with very sensitive skin to avoid baking soda completely as an acne treatment, as it can be super drying and cause inflammation. Instead, he suggests sticking to traditional exfoliators with alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or gentle, gritty physical exfoliators.
Baking soda is better for oily skin types, but even those people should limit the use to prevent overly drying out the skin, says Dr. Garshick. If you aren’t sure exactly what your skin type is, it’s always a good idea to check with your dermatologist before getting crafty in the kitchen.
If you want to try baking soda to help acne, aim for one to two times per week max. Overuse can cause baking soda’s alkaline pH to interfere with skin’s acidic pH and strip the skin of its natural oils. And make sure to keep your skin well moisturized to help maintain your natural barrier.
I want to try—what’s the best way to DIY baking soda skincare?
It’s important to avoid prolonged contact with the skin, as it can lead to irritation, says Dr. Garshick. So rather than going with a face mask or spot treatment, both of which sit on skin for minutes at a time, try using it as a scrub or cleanser. Mix a few teaspoons with your normal facial cleanser to add exfoliating properties.
The other alternative: Buy a product that has done the mixing for you, like the Bioré Blue Agave + Baking Soda Balancing Pore Cleanser. This face wash includes natural blue agave that soothes skin to offset the deep cleaning properties of baking soda.
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