Is This Everyday Hygiene Habit Secretly Messing With Your Skin?

It's way more common than you think.

Is This Everyday Hygiene Habit Secretly Messing With Your Skin?
Is This Everyday Hygiene Habit Secretly Messing With Your Skin?

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When faced with a sudden bout of irritation, it’s easy to send blame to your skin care line-up and assess where you’ve gone wrong. And that’s a very good place to start—especially if you’re introducing a new exfoliator or heavy-duty active—but let’s not forget a few unsuspecting, everyday items can affect your skin in quite sinister ways. For example, towels can lead to over-exfoliation, as traditional terry cloth fabrics can scrape at the skin if you swipe with too much pressure. Pillowcases can harbor oil, sweat, and grime over time and lead to clogged pores (so experts say to change them at least once per week). And your trusty tube of toothpaste can lead to skin irritation, especially if you’re one to “drool” while you brush and smear the foam across your mouth. 

That last woe is way more common than you think—most of us use toothpaste at least twice a day, so that constant exposure can wreak havoc over time. Luckily, there are a few derm-approved fixes.

Is your toothpaste irritating your skin? 

“Toothpaste ingredients like alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and sodium laureth sulfate (SLS) can all be drying and irritating to the skin,” says board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, M.D. “These formulations are meant to clean the tough surfaces of our teeth, not to be left on the relatively delicate facial skin.” That’s why derms shudder at the idea of using toothpaste as a spot treatment—despite the long-standing rumor that toothpaste can “dry out” a pimple, it can actually lead to contact dermatitis and make matters worse (think: itchy, blotchy, flaky skin).  

So, says King, if you notice irritated, dry, or red areas soon after brushing your teeth, it might be a sign that your skin is not a fan of your toothpaste. Additionally: “Fluorinated toothpastes have been identified as a possible trigger for perioral dermatitis,” she says, which results in tiny bumps around the mouth area—these are easy to mistake for breakouts, but if you notice a flare shortly after introducing a new toothpaste, your fluoride-laced product might be to blame. 

Here’s how to get rid of that irritation, stat. 

1. Keep the toothpaste in your mouth. 

Trust, it’s harder than it sounds. The more you “drool” while brushing your teeth, the more the surrounding skin is exposed to those irritating ingredients. Sometimes revamping your brush habits is key. 

2. Apply a barrier balm before brushing. 

To avoid exposing the skin to the toothpaste, King recommends applying a barrier ointment to the mouth area before you brush. That way, if you smear some of your toothpaste, you have some sort of buffer layer between the harsh ingredients and your skin. Pipette's Baby Balm is a personal favorite, as it mimics the texture of a traditional jelly salve, sans mineral oil.

3. Swap your toothpaste. 

The oral beauty space is up-and-coming—now, you can find a variety of gentler toothpaste options with sensitive skin types in mind. (Find our favorites here.) If you aren’t sure which ingredient is giving you grief, “baking soda and water can serve as a toothpaste to minimize ingredients while you are trying to identify the culprit,” says King. Unless, of course, it turns out your skin reacts to baking soda—but then you’ll have found your culprit. 

4. Soothe irritated areas.  

While you’re waiting for the irritation to ebb, stow the AHAs, BHAs, retinoids, and other intense actives and focus on nourishing, hydrating ingredients to calm the skin. Our favorite MVPs include aloe, colloidal oat, shea butter, and hyaluronic acid.

You should also be mindful of your lip products for the time being, since that toothpaste-induced irritation is likely clustered around your mouth. Lip balms with plumping or exfoliating agents (like peppermint essential oil or salicylic acid) might only irritate the skin further, so make sure your salve is gentle and ultra-moisturizing. 

On a similar note, you might want to brush your teeth before jumping into your nightly skin care routine—so if you get some toothpaste on your skin, you can soothe the area with your subsequent products (again, maybe skip the exfoliators or retinol if you’re dealing with in-the-moment irritation). Not to mention, if you brush your teeth after applying your skin care, you could wash off those formulas when you rinse, wasting those precious actives.

Skin irritation can happen for myriad reasons, so it’s important to investigate your routine and lifestyle habits to determine what’s triggering your flare. But according to derms, toothpaste is a very common culprit, as many of the ingredients that secure a dazzling smile are not ones you want lingering on your skin. That doesn’t mean you must toss your trusty tube altogether: Either shift your brushing habits or find ways to soothe the area after-the-fact.

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