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Toothpaste and Other Home Remedies for Acne

Your toothpaste might be aggravating acne at the corners of your mouth. It happens more often than most people realize, due to the presence of a chemical called SLS in most oral care products.

Toothpaste and Acne
One way to fight acne is by eliminating toothpaste and other personal care products that contain SLS.


  • Toothpaste can cause a condition known as acne cosmetica, or acne caused by personal care and skin care products.
  • One clinic found that 80% of adult women who had acne were able to clear up their skin by eliminating toothpaste and other personal care products that contained the ingredient sodium lauryl sulfate (sodium dodecyl sulfate), also known as SLS.
  • Three other easily avoidable ingredients that many products include with SLS also cause breakouts.

What Is SLS?

SLS is an abbreviation for a chemical known as sodium lauryl sulfate, a chemical compound that is also known as SDS, or sodium dodecyl sulfate. Outside North America, the sulfur group may be referred to as a “sulphate.”

SLS is a versatile sudsing agent. Mixed with water, it creates big bubbles that lift grease and grime off living and non-living surfaces. It’s used in products that remove grease from heavy machinery, but it is also added to toothpaste to form bubbles that remove particles from teeth.

When SLS comes in contact with the skin or with the membranes of the mouth, these bubbles can dissolve the “glue” that holds skin and membrane tissues together. They dissolve ceramides and cholesterol so that individual cells are loosened from skin and mucous membranes. This kills the cells and damages the remaining tissue.

Sensitivity to SLS is genetically determined. There is a recessive gene on the X chromosome that determine the sensitivity of the skin and mucous membranes to SLS. Since the gene is recessive, it has to be inherited from both parents to be active. Since it is on the X chromosome, and women have two X chromosomes, it is primarily women (and men who have a condition known as Klinefelter syndrome) who are especially sensitive to SLS.

SLS Usually Mixed with Other Problem Ingredients

SLS is just one of several emulsifiers used in toothpaste. Many brands of toothpaste also contain butyl stearate or isopropyl myristate. Butyl stearate is a mild stimulant to the immune system. That sounds good, but in acne, the problem is that acne bacteria make surrounding tissues unusually susceptible to the inflammatory compounds that attack them. This causes the immune system to kill skin cells and let the bacteria flow to surrounding tissues or into the bloodstream. Butyl stearate makes acne more inflammatory.

The effects of butyl stearate are the same for both sexes. Storing personal care products in hot conditions (over 104°F/ 40° C) concentrates butyl stearate in the product. Butyl stearate is added to toothpaste to ensure that SLS does not make the toothpaste too foamy. Because of the way the ingredients work together, it is not always possible just to use less SLS and get the same result.

Isopropyl myristate is added to personal care products specifically to help them penetrate the skin, or to thicken them so they stay on them. In toothpaste, it’s added to make sure fluoride stays on enamel. If you use a product that contains isopropyl myristate and the other two chemicals, any effects on your skin are going to be a lot greater than if your product only contained the other two chemicals alone.

Toothpaste a Significant Contributor to Acne in Adult Women

Back in the 1970’s, a group of American researchers found that eliminating all personal care products that contained SLS, butyl sterate, or isopropyl myristate greatly reduced the number of women coming to their clinic for treatment of a condition they termed “acne cosmetica.” Before the doctors started advising their adult women patients to avoid products with these ingredients, 25% of women had problem blemishes. After the doctors started advising patients to avoid products with these ingredients, only 5% continued to have acne.

SLS and related compounds may be the single greatest cause of adult acne in women, affecting even more women than polycystic ovarian disease (PCOS) or other conditions that cause hormone fluctuations, such as changing brands of the contraceptive Pill. But how can one recognize whether a skin care or oral care product contains one of these acne-inducing ingredients?

Recognizing Emulsifiers in Personal Care Products

Almost any brand of toothpaste contains SLS and can aggravate acne, especially at the corners of the mouth. If you tend to get tiny red pimples around the mouth, or if your rosacea sometimes flare right after you brush your teeth, SLS may be the problem.

It takes a little effort to find brands of toothpaste that do not contain SLS and other problem ingredients, but there are many choices in almost all retail outlets that offer toothpaste. Most brands listed retail for US $5 to $20. Some choices include:

  • Tom’s of Maine toothpastes
  • Burt’s Bees Natural Toothpaste
  • Jason Natural Products Powersmile Toothpaste
  • Organix South Neem Toothpaste
  • Sensodyne Pronamel
  • Now Foods Xyliwhite
  • Biotène (but read the label to make sure)
  • Squigel Enamel Saver Toothpaste
  • Urtekram Organic Eucalyptus Toothpaste (made in Denmark)

These brands are also free of butyl stearate and isopropyl myristate. Of these products, the Organix South Neem Toothpaste is the only product that will help reverse and control inflammation caused by other toothpastes and personal care products. Before you use this toothpaste for the first time, however, you should try something that seems a little odd but that can save you a lot of grief: Put a dab on the inside of your forearm and wait 6 to 12 hours. If no redness develops, you are probably not sensitive to neem, and the product will help rather than hurt.

If you have problems with personal care products that contain SLS or any of the chemicals used with it, chances are you will also have problems with personal care products that contain a chemical called dithranol. The skin reaction to dithranol is not an allergy. Redness, itching, flushing, and tiny pimples result from chemical irritation of the skin. You will not encounter this coal tar derivative in many personal care products, but it is a standard treatment for psoriasis, which can make “toothpaste acne” much worse.

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