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These days DIY skin care recipes sound more like the foundation for baked goods than a rejuvenating treatment. With ingredients like cocoa, coconut oil, and baking soda, it’s hard to know what works and what doesn’t.
Baking soda is one standout ingredient that’s been getting more traction. Inexpensive, easy to find, and probably already stocked in your refrigerator, baking soda is often touted as a bit of a miracle worker.
Fans of using it as a DIY skin care product claim that it can help prevent and treat acne when used as a cleanser or an exfoliant.
It’s also supposed to be great at diminishing the appearance of pores, healing acne scars, soothing ingrown hairs and other irritations, and leaving skin glowing.
So, basically, why wouldn’t you grab that baking soda out of your fridge, mix it into a paste, and slather it all over your face?
Well, you can — but you should follow our guidelines first.
“While baking soda can be used as a gentle exfoliant, I would not recommend a DIY treatment with baking soda,” warns Dr. Michele Farber of New York City based Schweiger Dermatology Group.
Ominous, right? Keep reading to find out exactly why you need to be cautious about adding baking soda to your beauty routine.
Also known as the compound sodium bicarbonate, baking soda is alkalizing, so it helps manage pH levels and has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties.
One of the most effective ways to treat acne is to balance out the skin’s pH levels, which is what baking soda is supposed to do.
Board-certified dermatologist of Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery Centers, Marisa Garshick, says that while baking soda isn’t something she would typically recommend as an acne treatment, it does make sense why one would use it that way. “It has been shown to be helpful for some people with acne due to its ability to reduce inflammation, absorb excess oil, and have an exfoliating effect.”
Garshick notes that baking soda has been used as a cleanser, spot treatment, mask, scrub, and even as deodorant, thanks to its ability to absorb excess moisture.
Basically, it seems like it’s a quick and easy fix for acne, which many would prefer to try over spending hundreds of dollars on various treatments and dermatologist appointments.
While it’s true that baking soda can be an effective way to treat acne, that doesn’t mean it’s 100 percent safe to use.
“It can strip the skin by altering the skin’s pH to be alkaline rather than slightly acidic. This can cause a disruption of the skin barrier, irritation, and potential for burns,” explains Farber.
What does that mean, exactly? Farber says that if baking soda disrupts the skin barrier and causes a drastic change in pH levels, it can actually make you more susceptible to “infection, sensitivity, and significant irritation.”
There are specific instances where you really want to avoid the stuff. Some sites tout it as a treatment for sunburn, which Farber warns against, saying, “For sunburns, if your skin barrier is already broken, there is a much greater risk of bad irritation or burn.”
And if you have especially sensitive skin, you may want to avoid it altogether. Garshick says that it can be very irritating if it’s left on the skin too long, adding, “It’s especially important for those with sensitive skin to be cautious when using baking soda as it can be drying and strip the skin of its natural oils.”
All of that being said, baking soda for skin isn’t entirely off the table, you just need to be careful when using it.
1. First, talk to your doc
It’s always a good idea to speak with your own dermatologist or doctor before you put baking soda all over yourself. There may be a better option out there.
“There are more skin-safe ways to treat acne,” notes Farber. “In general, acids are better exfoliators and do so more gently and in a more controlled way than baking soda. I’d also advocate for other derm favorites like retinoids and benzoyl peroxide.”
Bottom line: Know your options.
2. Use in moderation
Farber and Garshick agree that it’s really important to use baking soda in moderation. Using it too often can leave skin dry, irritated, and even more susceptible to an infection you don’t want.
Avoid using it every day as your regular cleanser. A spot treatment once in a while may be better.
“There is little scientific research looking into the use of baking soda for acne,” stresses DGarshick. “There are studies showing the importance of balancing pH when treating acne, suggesting the importance of only limiting the use of baking soda to one or two times per week.”
3. Grab a fresh box
No idea how long that baking soda has been sitting in your fridge? You probably don’t want to apply it to your face.
Garshick says, “Be sure to use a fresh box of baking soda to avoid using a product that may have already interacted with other substances or been contaminated in some way.”
You can try using a small amount of baking soda as a spot treatment or occasional cleanser if you don’t have sensitive skin and you’ve spoken to your doctor about it.
Baking soda can easily irritate your skin if you use too much of it, so handle with care and really consider your skin type before you dive in.