What Common Household Items Can Do for Your Skin: Cheap and Easy Skincare

When purchasing cosmetics, many consumers question the price behind the product: do expensive skincare products work? Countless high-end skincare products claim to enhance common skin issues such as dryness, acne, and darkness; however, many of them contain chemicals that do more harm than good. Thus, consumers have turned to a cheaper alternative: replacing brand-manufactured substances with natural ingredients and household items. Some, such as witch hazel, toothpaste, lemon juice, and baking soda, that remain popular myths, merely exacerbate the skin; others, including coconut oil, apple cider vinegar, Aspirin, and rose water, enrich the skin.

One of the most effective natural ingredients is coconut oil. Virgin coconut oil enhances the epidermal tissue and acts as a sunburn protectant (Levy, 2017). In addition to having antimicrobial and antioxidant, it can treat xerosis, a skin condition in which an individual experiences dry and itchy skin due to defects in skin barrier function (Agero, 2004).

water loss mineral oil.PNG
Figure 1 from PubMed. Mean transepidermal water loss (TEWL) throughout treatment shows that coconut oil prevents water loss better than mineral oil.

Another recognized ingredient is apple cider vinegar has been found to have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties that can help improve acne (Levy, 2017). When tested on mice, it showed an improvement in protection against oxidative injury and a decrease in serum lipid levels, concluding that ACV promotes oxidative stress scavenging effects and antioxidant enzyme and vitamin levels (Nazıroğlu, M., Güler, M., Özgül, C. et al, 2014). The strong acidity of the vinegar can remove excess oil that may clog up the pores, but it is also the cause of a recommended dilution prior to its usage. It is best if diluted with water in ratios of either 1:4, 1:3, or1:2, depending on one’s skin type (Bergin, 2018).

Aspirin is another common household item that treats acne. The properties of acetylsalicylic acid, the chemical name for Aspirin, lead to decreased redness and inflammation of pimples. However, crushed Aspirin should only be applied occasionally on small areas, as excessive use can lead to dry skin (Dermatology UPMC, 2015).

A more subtle skin enhancement can be achieved with rose water. Extracted from roses, it contains antioxidants and antibacterial properties that can improve skin barrier function. Due to the lower content of active components present in contrast to essential oils, it strengthens the skin in a very gentle manner (Scardelli, 2018).

Meanwhile, some well-known skincare “hacks” may actually further irritate the skin. For example, witch hazel is commonly used as a toner for its antioxidant properties (Gohara, 2018). It contains anywhere from 8-12% tannins, which provides a temporarily constricting effect on pore sizes. However, if used long-term, it will irritate and dry the skin, and its 15% alcohol content can also damage the skin (Begoun).

witch hazel.jpg
Figure 2 from NDC. The ingredient information on the back of witch hazel indicates 86% witch hazel and 14% alcohol.

Numerous blog and social media posts claim that putting a small amount of toothpaste on pimples overnight will reduce redness almost entirely. What is not often mentioned, however, is that toothpaste is an artificially created product that includes ingredients such as hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, menthol, and triclosan. These chemicals promote dryness, irritation, peeling, discoloration, and burning of skin (Kitchens, 2012).

Likewise, a prevalent myth online states that lemon juice can brighten the skin. However, furocoumarins found in any citrous fruits react with UV rays to cause sunburns, darkened melasma, hyperpigmentation, and skin irritation. Also, the very strong acidity of lemon juice, which has a pH of about 2, can also kill good bacteria that is necessary for maintaining healthy skin (Watterworth, 2017).

On the other hand, baking soda has a pH of 9 and possesses alkaline characteristics. When used as an exfoliant, it can disrupt the natural skin pH, which is between 4.5-5.5. This results in sensitive skin that may be easily irritated by sunlight and a decreased ability to restore itself naturally (Anthony, 2017). Although infrequent usage can improve acne, consistent use will eventually cause more skin damage.

baking soda.jpg
Figure 3 from blog.kanelstrand.com. Baking soda and water solutions possess strong basic properties.

Ultimately, while it is not guaranteed that commercialized products can accomplish all of their respectively proposed goals, using natural ingredients and household items can also accompany risks. Being a smart consumer requires researching prior to usage to check the proven effects and false assertions of each method.

Edited by Jin Yoo.


Agero, A. and Verallo-Rowell, V. (2004, October). A Randomized Double-Blind Controlled Trial Comparing Extra Virgin Coconut Oil with Mineral Oil as a Moisturizer for Mild to Moderate Xerosis. Dermatitis : contact, atopic, occupational, drug : official journal of the American Contact Dermatitis Society, North American Contact Dermatitis Group. Retrieved September 29, 2018, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/8009961_A_Randomized_Double-Blind_Controlled_Trial_ Comparing_Extra_Virgin_Coconut_Oil_with_Mineral_Oil _as_a_Moisturizer_for_Mild_to_Moderate_Xerosis

Anthony, K. (2017, November 7). Baking Soda for Acne Treatment. Retrieved September 29, 2018, from https://www.healthline.com/health/baking-soda-acne

Begoun, P. (n.d.). Is Witch Hazel Good for Skin? Retrieved September 29, 2018,  from https://www.paulaschoice.com/expert-advice/skincare-advice/natural-skincare/is-witch-hazel-good-for-skin.html

Bergin, A. (2018, March 19). Best Toner for Oily Skin ~ Prevent Acne & Control Oil with Apple Cider Vinegar. Retrieved October 10, 2018, from https://hubpages.com/style/Best-Toner-for-Oily-Skin-Prevent-Acne-Control-Oil-with-Apple-Cider-Vinegar

Dermatology UPMC. (2015, November 7). Pimple Patch: Can Aspirin Aid Acne? Retrieved September 29, 2018, from https://share.upmc.com/2015/11/pimple-patch-can-aspirin-aid-acne/

Gohara, M., M.D. (2018, March 21). 9 DIY Skin Care Treatments That Do More Harm Than Good. Retrieved September 29, 2018, from https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/beauty/anti-aging/a34308/bad-diy-skin-care-treatments/

Kitchens, S. (2012, October 25). Toothpaste To Dry Out Pimples? Top Derms Clear Up This Home Remedy. Retrieved September 29, 2018, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/23/toothpaste-pimples-acne-dry-out_n_1994320.html

Levy, J. (2017, August 09). 13 Best Ingredients for Your Natural Skin Care Ritual. Retrieved
September 29, 2018, from https://draxe.com/natural-skin-care/

Nazıroğlu, M., Güler, M., Özgül, C. et al. J Membrane Biol (2014). Apple Cider Vinegar Modulates Serum Lipid Profile, Erythrocyte, Kidney, and Liver Membrane Oxidative Stress in Ovariectomized Mice Fed High Cholesterol 247: 667. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s00232-014-9685-5

Scardelli, L. (2018, February 16). The Uplifting, Hydrating Power of Rose Water Mists. Retrieved September 29, 2018, from https://www.healthline.com/health/beauty-skincare/rose-water-spray-benefits

Watterworth, M. (2017, June 14). Keep the Lemon Juice off Your Face! Retrieved September 29, 2018, from https://skinscience.md/keep-the-lemon-juice-off-your-face/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.