We could easily go down a veritable wormhole listing and discussing all of the bizarre beauty trends and treatments out there (anyone remember when breast milk or bird poop facials were a thing?) In the same vein of odd skincare hacks, the praises of using Desitin (or diaper cream) as an acne treatment can be found all over the internet and social media, with many proponents claiming that it's the be-all and end-all secret to a clear complexion. But, how can a cream made for the rash on a baby's bottom be good for your face? And, bigger question, are all the purported acne-fighting benefits of diaper cream legit? Here, New York City dermatologist Marnie Nussbaum, Nava Greenfield of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, and Michelle Henry, MD, Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at Weill Medical College explain. (Spoiler alert: It's all about zinc oxide, so we're going to focus on that ingredient for a minute, then get into the diaper cream part of things.)
Meet the Expert
Type of Ingredient: A mineral that acts as an anti-inflammatory and skin protectant.
Main Benefits: Reduces skin irritation and repairs the skin barrier.
Who Should Use It: While zinc oxide in and of itself can be beneficial for blemishes, none of the dermatologists we spoke with recommend using diaper cream as an acne treatment.
How Often Can You Use It: If you really do want to try it, use diaper cream only as a spot treatment (not on your full face) overnight, for no more than two to three nights in a row.
Works Well With: In diaper creams, zinc oxide is often paired with occlusive ingredients, such as petroleum, to help seal the skin, says Nussbaum. (Although this is exactly what can be problematic when it comes to using diaper cream for acne—more on that to come.)
Don't Use With: If you're using diaper cream as a spot treatment, be cautious not to use any harsh acids beforehand, as the occlusive nature can increase the acidic strength and cause irritation, cautions Greenfield.
What Is Diaper Cream?
Diaper creams typically have a two-fold purpose, to both calm inflammation (AKA diaper rash) and act as a skin protectant. "Many diaper creams are formulated with zinc oxide, an anti-inflammatory ingredient that helps to reduce skin irritation by repairing the epidermal barrier," explains Nussbaum. (If you recognize the ingredient, it's likely because you've seen it as the main active ingredient in mineral sunscreens.) Theoretically, diaper cream can be good for breakouts because it contains zinc oxide, adds Henry. But the key word here is "theoretically;" the situation isn't quite so cut-and-dried, so keep reading before you start using Desitin for acne.
Benefits of Diaper Cream for Acne
"Like a diaper rash, a pimple is an inflammatory condition, which needs to be quelled and healed," says Nussbaum. So yes, it makes sense, in theory, that you could use diaper cream as an acne treatment. And not only does zinc oxide help reduce inflammation and repair the skin barrier, it may also inhibit sebum production, reducing the excess oil that contributes to acne, says Nussbaum.
All of that sounds good, right? Yes, but it's worth pointing out that, while zinc oxide is sometimes used to manage acne as well as inflammatory conditions such as rosacea and acne, it's not FDA-approved to treat acne, Nussbaum tells us. Not to mention that it only works on the surface of the skin treating redness and inflammation, versus getting deeper and addressing the root cause of acne (bacteria and oil), like proven blemish-busting ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid do.
You also have to consider that it's not just the zinc oxide you're putting on your skin when you apply a diaper cream. Most diaper creams containing zinc oxide are formulated with occlusive ingredients, such as petroleum, which creates a water-protective barrier to seal the skin and help promote healing, notes Nussbaum. That's exactly what you want when you have diaper rash, but not what you want when you're dealing with a breakout; diaper creams are far too occlusive to use on the entire face, says Greenfield. Which brings us to our next point...
Side Effects of Diaper Cream
Using diaper cream as an acne treatment can potentially have the opposite effect and end up clogging your pores and triggering more breakouts, rather than helping heal them, cautions Greenfield. Henry adds that this is particularly likely if you already have oily skin to begin with, which, if you're battling blemishes on the reg, is probable.
How to Use It
Again, the big caveat here is that none of the dermatologists we spoke with think using diaper cream to treat pimples is a good move. That being said, if you're absolutely wed to the idea, there are a few things to keep and mind. First and foremost, if your acne is severe, it's always most important to consult a dermatologist rather than go the DIY route, advises Henry. If not, start by washing your face with a gentle cleanser to remove any excess dirt or oil, then apply the diaper cream as a spot treatment only, rather than slathering it on your entire face, says Greenfield. (She also suggests skipping it entirely on your T-zone, where you have more oil glands and are more prone to clogged pores.) Henry says you can use the diaper cream as a nighttime spot treatment, but discontinue use if you don't notice any results in two to three days. And while you're doing so, make sure you're not using any other heavy face creams so as to not further increase the chances of ending up with clogged pores.
The bottom (pun intended) line: Save the Balmex and Desitin for a baby's bum, and not your breakouts.
What does diaper cream do?
Diaper creams typically have a two-fold purpose, to both calm inflammation (AKA diaper rash) and act as a skin protectant.
Is diaper rash cream good for acne?
Using diaper cream as an acne treatment can potentially have the opposite effect and end up clogging your pores and triggering more breakouts, rather than helping heal them, cautions Greenfield.
What shouldn't you use diaper rash cream with?
If you're using diaper cream as a spot treatment, be cautious not to use any harsh acids beforehand, as the occlusive nature can increase the acidic strength and cause irritation, cautions Greenfield.
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Tan AU, Schlosser BJ, Paller AS. A review of diagnosis and treatment of acne in adult female patients. Int J Womens Dermatol. 2017;4(2):56-71.