Illustration of woman with acne under magnifying glass with accompanying images of toothpaste, honey and egg.


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Dermatologists break down home remedies for skin care

Published on Saturday, July 1, 2023

By: Gary Pettus,

Photos By: Joe Ellis/UMMC Photography

Time was when people were ashamed to get egg on their face.

No longer. Instead, because the practice of medicine finds itself competing with a vast swirl of viral videos about complementary and alternative approaches to health care, the egg has become a treatment for acne.

Wearing raw eggs for the cause of healthy skin is only one of many suggested dermatological home remedies seeping across video hosting services like TikTok.

It seems that eggs, vinegar, green tea, honey, oatmeal and toothpaste are not just for putting in your mouth anymore.

But do these treatments work, and can some cause real harm? Experts at the University of Mississippi Medical Center know.

Toothpaste – for acne?

Portrait of Robert Brodell

“There are plenty of antibiotics out there for acne, including prescription and over-the-counter products, all of which would be more attractive than having these globs of ‘white stuff’ plastered on your skin or rubbing off on your bedclothes,” said Dr. Robert Brodell, professor and chair of pathology and the founding chair of the Department of Dermatology at UMMC.

“Toothpaste does contain antibiotics such as resorcinol – because bad breath is caused by bacteria. And bacteria can also get behind your blocked pores and cause acne. So, yes, anything with an antibiotic effect, such as toothpaste, could work.

“But why not use a cosmetically elegant benzoyl peroxide gel or cream that you can get over the counter instead?”

Apple cider vinegar – as a face wash, an acne treatment, a remedy for toenail and foot fungus?

“Who wants to walk around smelling like a French fry?” Brodell said.

“Vinegar contains acetic acid and we do use other acids – salicylic acid and azelaic acid – as over-the-counter ingredients in medications used to unclog facial pores and help acne.

“So, there could be something to that, but the distasteful smell would make it so much less palatable. I’ve had trouble getting patients, especially boys, to use traditional medications for treating acne; so, now, I’m going to tell them to put vinegar on their skin?

“I don’t think so.”

Raw egg yolks or egg whites – for acne?

“Egg yolk contains Vitamin A, which is necessary for healthy skin and hair, so there could be something to it,” Brodell said.

“But, again, we have so many excellent over-the-counter and prescription products for treating acne, so, I can’t imagine that someone would rather be sleeping with egg yolk or egg white on their sheets.”

Aspirin – for face masks?

“That seems a stretch to me,” Brodell said.

“You’re grinding up aspirin and putting it in a moisturizer that you apply to your skin without any idea what the concentration should be.

“Aspirin is an acid, so, I could imagine there could be burning, itching and worse if it’s too concentrated.

“The fact that aspirin can be used orally for many dermatological diseases doesn’t mean I believe it would be best for someone to mix it up themselves and apply it to their skin.”

Green tea – for cleansing scrubs, toners or masks?

“I would use a commercially available product instead,” Brodell said. “There are no studies that show the best way to use green tea for any given effect.

“It has been studied a lot of for anti-cancer properties, for instance. But, I would call this complementary and integrative medicine. I believe there is a potential for it to have an early, anti-pre-cancer effect, based on some studies.

“But, once again, I don’t think this is something people should be doing by themselves at home, mixing up who-knows-what concentrations.”

Honey – for wound care?

“So, the bee puts out honey and it sits there for months and doesn’t spoil. People noted this and thought, ‘Why not use it on infected wounds?’” Brodell said.

“And there are wound-care specialists who use it for its antibiotic effect. But it’s sticky and messy.

“On the other hand, leg ulcers, for example, are extremely difficult to care for. So, caring for something like this should be done under a doctor’s supervision, and after getting a proper diagnosis first.

“I have seen some patients with leg ulcers that were found to be basal cell carcinoma after a biopsy. No amount of honey in the world is going to make skin cancer better.

“But, if a doctor prescribes honey in conjunction with other medications for specific types of wounds, I believe that would be perfectly OK.”

Oatmeal – for eczema?

Colloidal oatmeal, made by grinding oat grain into a fine powder, has anti-itch properties – that is, a substance that softens and soothes the skin. Research has shown that it is safe and can be beneficial.

What does Brodell say? “Oatmeal in skin care products, like Aveeno Oatmeal Bath, has been around for decades. It’s a tried and tested approach,” he said.

“It’s certainly something many dermatologists believe is a good adjunctive treatment along with other things we know work well – topical medications with moisturizing and anti-inflammatory effects.

“But, there is a difference between using it that way – pouring it into your tub and sitting in your oatmeal. If you buy oatmeal at the grocery store and do it yourself, you would have no idea what is the true concentration, how finely it is ground up. That’s probably not wise. 

“Instead, use a product that has been tested. Otherwise, you are trying to be your own doctor, your own pharmacist and your own pharmaceutical company.”

Back to basics

Portrait of Stephen E. Helms

There are probably many more purported, if well-meaning, TikTok tonics out there; but Dr. Stephen Helms, like Brodell, is often skeptical of them.

“I am not one who uses a lot of home remedies,” said Helms, professor of dermatology at UMMC.

Still, there are old-fashioned treatments that do work, but don’t have that anti-establishment, TikTok-y edge. And one of those treatments is something you don’t (normally) have to go to the store to find: water.

“Plain water is great at healing,” Helms said. “It can help heal things like ulcers and poison ivy. You can also put salt in water for soaks to dry up blisters.

“A nice, cool water soak could be soothing for skin that is hot and itchy or stings like sunburn.”

Along those lines, a technique called soak and smear is effective for treating several common skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis.

“Soak and smear” means soaking the tormented body part, or even the entire body, in plain water, for 20 minutes; this is to be followed right away by smearing an ointment over the affected area – but without drying the skin. 

“You can use water to soak sores and boils,” Helms said. “Some people use bleach baths to help clear bacteria from the skin at a concentration that is similar to chlorinated swimming pools, but you have to be really careful with the concentration.”

So, it seems that, between milk and eggs, you could have the beginnings of healthier skin; or, at least, an omelet.

The above article appears in CONSULT, UMMC’s monthly e-newsletter sharing news about cutting-edge clinical and health science education advances and innovative biomedical research at the Medical Center and giving you tips and suggestions on how you and the people you love can live a healthier life. Click here and enter your email address to receive CONSULT free of charge. You may cancel at any time.