9 things you should never use to treat a pimple, and 2 you should

Ivana P. Nikolic/ShutterstockThere are some products that shouldn’t be put on your pimples.

Have a pimple and don’t know how to get rid of it? There are tons of different product recommendations out there – tea tree oil, toothpaste,apple cider vinegar, lemon juice – that all promise to clear up your skin in no time. But some of these treatments can actually do more harm than good when it comes to fighting acne. Using certain products can irritate your skin or even make the zit worse, so it’s important to know what’s safe to use and what you should be staying away from.

INSIDER spoke to board-certified dermatologists to find out which nine things you should never use to treat your blemishes – no matter how tempting it may be.


Your fingers shouldn’t be touching your pimple.

ShutterstockThey can spread bacteria.

The golden rule of acne? Hands off, said Charlotte Birnbaum, a dermatologist in New York. “Do not pop or pick your pimples,” she told INSIDER. “This can cause more damage since you’re introducing bacteria from your finger into the pimple and potentially driving bacteria deeper into the acne spot. Also, trauma from popping can lead to scarring, which requires expensive treatments to improve.”

If you feel like you absolutely need a pimple popped, go see a dermatologist, Birnbaum said. They will perform the extraction safely and quickly.


Essential oils won’t do any wonders for your skin.

ShutterstockThey will clog your pores.

Essential oils may be known for their healing properties, but they’re not the best choice for healing a breakout, Tennessee-based dermatologist Carley Fowler told INSIDER. “Essential oils are just that: oils,” she said. “Oils plug pores and can worsen acne.

They can also cause allergic reactions.” Fowler added that even using tea tree oil (a popular acne hack) can irritate your skin and worsen your blemishes. When it comes to treating your skin, it’s better to stick to dermatologist-approved products, she said.


Toothpaste will do more harm than good.

dejavu/ShutterstockIt’s an irritant.

It’s one of the oldest tricks in the books: Put some toothpaste on your zit, and it will be dried up by the morning. But Susan Bard, a New York-based dermatologist, told INSIDER that using toothpaste on your blemish can end up making things worse. “It can cause an irritation or allergic contact dermatitis,” she said. Allergic contact dermatitis is an allergic reaction to a product that usually results in a red, itchy rash.

To avoid all that, Bard recommended using an over-the-counter acne spot treatment. “But apply a tiny bit no more than once or twice a day. More can lead to skin breakdown, ultimately increasing healing time,” she added.


Trendy Instagram products might be all hype.

Charley Gallay/GettyImagesStick to what the pros know.

As you scroll through Instagram, there are plenty of ads for products that promise to zap your zit overnight. But Dhaval Banusali, a dermatologist in New York, told INSIDER that many of those products can be dangerous and unreliable. “I see a lot of patients get irritant reactions from trying strange things they see on Instagram,” he said.

It’s better to trust the pros when it comes to getting rid of a pimple and stick to tried-and-true products.


Baking soda can irritate your skin.

Flickr/Aqua MechanicalSkip the popular at-home remedy and go for a safer over-the-counter spot treatment.

Just like toothpaste, using baking soda on a pimple is a classic trick that pops up everywhere. But Bard told INSIDER that it’s just like toothpaste: super drying and potentially irritating. Drying out your pimple and the skin around can lead to even more problems and a slower recovery, she said.

If you’re still having trouble with your acne, Bard recommended seeing a dermatologist to get more effective treatments.


Coconut oil will clog your pores.

PixabayStick to non-comedogenic products.

Coconut oil has been touted as a do-it-all product. But it’s not very effective as a zit treatment, said Mariana Atanasovski, a dermatologist in Michigan. “It can clog your pores if you have acne-prone skin,” she told INSIDER.

She added that you should always make sure your skin-care products are labelled as oil-free and non-comedogenic (meaning they won’t clog your pores.)


Alcohol-based products will wreak havoc on your skin.

PixabayThey can lead to necrosis.

Although you might be tempted to dry out your blemish with a super strong product, using something alcohol-based will only upset your skin more, said New York-based dermatologist Lauren Levy.

“When these products are left on for long periods of time – like overnight – they can cause a chemical burn, which can lead to necrosis or death of the top of layer skin,” she told INSIDER. Necrosis can also result in permanent scarring, Levy added.


Apple cider vinegar is harsh.

Veganbaking.net/FlickrIt’s possible ACV will cause a rash.

Drinking ACV may be touted as a great way to start your morning, but it’s not a great way to treat a breakout, Levy said. It’s an extremely concentrated product that will seriously dry out your skin – or even cause a severe rash or burn, she added.

It’s better to skip over the harsh products when it comes to your pimples and stick with safer dermatologist-approved items.


Food items are best left in the fridge.

Ross Land/Getty ImagesGarlic should be eaten and only eaten.

The world of DIY beauty may be exciting, but it’s unsafe when it comes to treating pimples, Connecticut-based dermatologist Deanne Mraz Robinson told INSIDER.

“Stay out of the kitchen,” she said. “While food items like raw garlic, lemon, or cinnamon have touted anti-inflammatory effects, they are potential irritants to the skin and can cause severe irritant contact dermatitis and result in prolonged redness, blistering of the skin, and even temporary or permanent hyperpigmentation.”


Retinol products might actually work.

Sarah Schmalbruch/INSIDERSalicylic acid can help too.

Even though it may be convenient to just grab something from your home when you have a breakout, a trip to the drugstore is worth it when it comes to your skin.

Bhanusali recommended finding a retinoid or retinol to treat breakouts and added that products with salicylic acid can help as well. “Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that absorbs into oil glands and decreases secretion,” he said.

Read more: Everything you need to know about retinoids – the skin-care trend that can prevent acne and smooth your skin


Differin is recommended by some dermatologists.

cushyspa.com/FlickrIt’s a strong medication.

For a stronger option, Florida-based dermatologist Matthew Elias suggested Differin. “Differin used to be a prescription but is now available and it is very different than all other over the counter products in that it is a retinoid, the same strong medication Dermatologists use to clear acne, prevent blackheads, whiteheads, and unclog pores,” he told INSIDER.

If you’re still not having any luck, both Bhanusali and Elias said that you might need to see a dermatologist who can help you find a product that will work.

Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.

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