I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for DIY beauty hacks. Throughout most of my teenage years, I spent weekends concocting my own mud masks or squeezing an obscene amount of lemon juice in my hair. If it involved household supplies and some vague promises of results, I was down to try. So when my TikTok For You page started filling with videos tagged #skincarehacks and #beautytips, I wasn’t surprised that the omniscient algorithm knew I would love SkinTok. And I’m far from the only one.
Skincare is one of the most popular topics on TikTok, and everyone on and off the app seems eager to find a quick solution to their skin concerns. No matter how many dermatologists duet the videos to debunk the latest skincare craze, another quick fix comes up to take its place. “The appeal of these trends is obvious—a sense that you are ‘getting something’ like a cool trick or hack,” Dr. Ranella Hirsch tells Byrdie.
But just because these acne fixes are gaining traction (and millions of views) on TikTok doesn’t mean they’ll change your skin overnight. According to the experts, as long as you’re treating the symptoms of your acne and not the root causes, you’ll end up disappointed. Read on to get a derm's take which viral acne treatments on TikTok work—and which ones you should skip.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Dendy Engelman is a board-certified dermatologist at Shafer Clinic Fifth Avenue and a member of Byrdie's Beauty & Wellness Board.
Dr. Ranella Hirsch is an expert in the fields of cosmetic and laser dermatology and a board-certified dermatologist.
Salt Water Spray
One of the latest skincare trends to take over TikTok touts the benefits of sea salt water spray to combat acne. Users claim that combining water and sea salt (in approximately the same ratio that you would find in the ocean, 2 teaspoons of sea salt to 1 cup of water) can curb breakouts and clear up your acne-prone skin. Your skin is always better at the beach, right?
But, according to Hirsch, that’s not really how it works. “While you’re on vacation, you’re presumably under less stress than when at home at work. Stress is known to exacerbate acne. Plus, you’re likely in the sun if on the beach, and we know that certain visible wavelengths of light can improve acne,” she explains. A spritz of saltwater spray can’t imitate these other factors.
Although there is “probably some minor benefit of saltwater spray as an exfoliant,” it’s “absolutely not a substitute for properly addressing acne,” Hirsch adds. Not to mention, according to Dr. Dendy Engelman, using a saltwater spray can actually make acne-prone skin worse. “Sea salt spray is not a targeted solution; spritzing it onto your face may dry up pimples, but it’s also drying up the rest of your skin (which could eventually lead to more acne breakouts!),” she explains.
Liquid chlorophyll nearly went out of stock when SkinTok first discovered it. Initially, it seemed like there were no downsides: the green drops make your glass of water more aesthetically pleasing, and they supposedly stop breakouts. “In theory, it sort of sounds plausible—chlorophyll is the green pigment that plants use in photosynthesis to create energy. It has antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, but there are no studies that show drinking it has any specific benefit for acne.” But, there is also some risk with joining this bandwagon. Hirsch adds, “There is a case report of a blistering skin response after ingesting liquid chlorophyll and exposure to light.”
As for why some people are seeing results, Hirsch and Engelman agree: it’s probably not the chlorophyll improving the skin, it’s the increased hydration. “If people are seeing any positive results from participating in this trend, it is more likely that the benefits have come from simply drinking more water,” Engelman explains. “Proper hydration helps flush out toxins and maintain a healthy skin barrier, which helps reduce acne.”
Taping potato slices directly on top of your breakouts might not be the first solution you think of when it comes to targeting pimples, but it’s actually a hack that’s been around for a while in India, according to Hirsch. And that’s because it works—at least, partly. “There is some evidence to support that potato slices can help reduce acne breakouts,” Engelman explains. “Potatoes contain lots of starches, which are oil-absorbing and anti-inflammatory. They also contain vitamin C and the enzyme catecholase, both ingredients that can help minimize dark spots.”
But, according to the experts, potato slices should not be the first acne fix you try, especially since there are so many other, effective options that are designed to combat acne. Also, FYI, it’s a good idea to stay away from this hack if you have sensitive skin or allergies. “There is a risk that raw potato can cause stinging and/or irritation to the skin, so be sure to patch test it first,” Engelman tells Byrdie. “People with latex allergies are more at risk for irritation because of the patatin protein, which is found in both latex and potatoes.”
Toothpaste is a pretty well-known acne hack, but that doesn’t mean it works (yes, even though Gigi Hadid swears by it). Back in the day, toothpaste was a popular acne treatment for its antibacterial and drying properties. Hirsch explains, “Some time back, most toothpaste contained an antibacterial agent called triclosan (whose goal in toothpaste is to prevent gingivitis). So it wasn’t too much of a stretch for some to think that an antibacterial could help with C. Acnes, a bacteria that is part of acne’s pathophysiology.” She adds that “toothpastes also contain baking soda and hydrogen peroxide which tend to be drying, also a logical leap to ‘drying out a pimple.’”
But using toothpaste on your skin—especially with TikTok’s version of this trend, which involves spreading toothpaste on your nose and then using a toothbrush to rub it in—is not a good idea. Full stop. According to Engelman, “the ingredients in toothpaste are not meant to be on the skin, and they can actually cause harm when applied topically. Ingredients like baking soda, alcohol, and hydrogen peroxide are known to be excessively drying, which can result in peeling and, in some cases, even burns.”
Ice facials, aka rubbing an ice cube on your face, is another popular skincare hack that found its way to TikTok. And although experts say ice does temporarily help acne, it’s not going to solve your skincare problems long-term. “There is some merit to icing your face for breakouts, but it is not a cure-all,” Engelman explains. “Since it doesn’t target the source of the problem or utilize acne-fighting ingredients, icing the skin alone won’t actually help blemishes heal faster or prevent future breakouts.”
What it can do is help your acne treatments be more effective. “There are studies to support that icing the skin actually helps your skincare products (serums, etc.) penetrate more deeply by constricting the blood vessels, which causes topical products to be drawn further into the skin,” Engelman adds. All in all, ice facials are a good addition to a derm-approved skincare routine. They’re just not a substitute for one.
Pimple patches are nothing new, but they can be pricey. And although investing in your skincare routine isn’t a bad idea, it’s not surprising some TikTokers were looking for a cheaper route—and they found one with hydrocolloid band-aids. They cost less than $4, and you can cut them into whatever shape you need, depending on the size of your breakout.
Besides being convenient and cost-effective, they’re also a pretty good treatment option. “Of all of the TikTok trends, this is probably the one that makes the most sense,” Hirsch says. “Hydrocolloid patches are made from gel-forming agents like pectin, gelatin, or sodium carboxymethocellulose, which work to draw fluid out.” Plus (and this is a big plus), they can prevent you from picking at the pimple, giving it the time it needs to heal.
Hydrocolloid band-aids might not prevent future pimples, but they can minimize the damage of current breakouts. Engelman adds, “The patch works by preventing further irritation to the pimple, and by delivering targeted ingredients within an isolated environment so the skin can heal itself.” To get the best results, she recommends looking out for patches with acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid, vitamin A, and tea tree.
The Bottom Line
These trends might make for a viral TikTok, but, for dermatologists, they present be a real problem. For one, many of these hacks are more complicated (and expensive) than a derm-approved acne treatment plan. Not to mention, they are less effective than a dermatologist’s visit. “When you visit your dermatologist, they will be able to examine your skin, talk with you to determine what the cause of your acne might be, and decide upon a treatment that’s targeted to you and your specific case of acne (and won’t further damage your skin!),” Engelman explains. No TikTok trend, no matter how viral, can mimic that level of personalized care.
And even the most harmless hacks can prolong your acne unnecessarily. “The greater thing that people like me see in practice is wasting time,” Hirsch says. “Living with acne, often not mild, when we could have treated it. This is especially unfortunate when it is causing long-term pigmentary marks and even scarring.”
TL;DR: If you have the option to go to a dermatologist’s office, that should be your first stop. In other words, you can put the toothpaste down.