Countless old wives tales feature it and one such tale is that it can cure your acne. Putting baking soda on your face can supposedly clear your face within minutes if you listen to the legends.
This certainly sound plausible as baking soda is useful for some things; for example it is fantastic for cleaning your teeth.
However baking soda is NOT a useful acne treatment, and here’s why.
How baking soda is supposed to work
The baking soda fanatics all agree that it can help your skin but they cannot agree on how. Some claim that baking soda is anti-inflammatory, some claim that it helps your skin by altering its PH balance, and some claim that it can suck the oil out of your skin and dry it out.
First let’s address the anti-inflammatory claim. It is entirely possible that baking soda does have anti-inflammatory properties, but there is no scientific evidence for it whatsoever. All we have are internet testimonials of baking soda reducing redness, which could indicate an inhibition of the inflammatory chemicals responsible for acne…
However this could easily have been caused by a dietary change, the natural healing of the spot, or the person could have even imagined it. Many acne patients are always looking for a treatment that’ll work and they often get excited when something has the slightest effect; therefore internet testimonials should only be used as a loose indicator. Next let’s address the PH-fixing claim.
Does baking soda improve your skin’s PH balance?
Anyone claiming that baking soda improves the PH of your skin does not understand the conditions that help your skin to thrive. Your skin has a natural acid barrier which is designed to keep infections and bacteria out; this has a normal PH of between 4.5 and 5.5 (this study estimates 4.7), whereas a neutral pH is 7 and alkaline is higher. Your skin relies on this PH to maintain its various barriers against bacteria and viruses, and the proper delivery of nutrients.
Children, for example, have a much higher skin PH, and that is one reason why they are more susceptible to infections and bacterial illnesses. Once you turn into an adult, the PH of your skin will drop substantially and infectious organisms will have a much harder time getting in.
The problem with baking soda is that it is strongly alkaline; it has a PH of around 9. Therefore if you put it on your skin, not only will it not improve it, but it will also damage the very barrier that is supposed to protect it. Putting baking soda on your skin can even encourage the growth of p.acnes bacteria. P.acnes can survive in your skin’s normal PH range, but they do a lot better when the PH gets higher.
Baking soda causes this and therefore, not only does baking soda not cure your acne, but it in the long run it can actually make it worse. P.acnes bacteria is highly damaging to your skin because it kick starts the inflammatory response, which is what makes your acne get so red and painful.
Baking soda also has several non-acne related skin side effects; alkaline products are notorious for irritating and burning your skin. This occurs for the same reason; the disruption of your skin’s natural acid barrier.
So even if baking soda does cure your acne for a reason that we don’t know about, the side effects will mean that your skin doesn’t actually look any better. There’s numerous other skin products that don’t have these side effects and are far more effective too.
Don’t fall for the alkaline gurus!
The whole baking soda phenomenon is a good example of a theme that you need to avoid in skincare – the idea that any alkaline treatment is instantly better. There’s a whole subset of people in the health world that subscribe to the “acid-alkaline” theory, the theory that every single problem in the body is caused by an excess of acid. They assume that because alkaline can cure a few other problems then it must be able to cure everything under the sun.
One common belief is that eating too many acidic foods causes your muscles to waste away and thus you need to eat loads of vegetables to get strong. Some also believe that an acidic diet is the main reason behind cancer.
Don’t get tricked by this dogma! There is no evidence for an acid imbalance being behind every single modern illness. The idea that baking soda cures acne is fuelled in part by this misguided theory. Proponents don’t rely on any evidence, they just instantly assume that because it’s alkaline it must be better.
This is far from the truth. Eating alkaline-rich foods can cure some ailments (like bad teeth) but certainly not every problem in the body, and definitely not your skin. A product is not instantly better because it’s alkaline, and don’t listen to the gurus who tell you it is. The theory is actually a very damaging one as you neglect the real causes of illness, and you will of course neglect the real causes of acne if you constantly put baking soda on your skin.
Always get informed, and look at the evidence, and don’t fall for the hype.
Can baking soda dry out your skin?
The final claim is that baking soda dries out your skin, and this might be true. However even if it is, it is not necessarily a good thing. Harsh drying of your skin can disrupt the delicate balance of protective oils, and in response, your sebaceous glands pump out more sebum to lubricate it.
A classic example is how hot water dries your skin out and then triggers a torrent of sebum production. Therefore even if baking soda does dry out your skin, this does not guarantee that if fixes acne. If this does help then it is not worth using baking soda just for this, because all the other side effects will negate the benefits.
Comparison to other topical treatments
To summarise, baking soda may have a few minor benefits, but they are contested and they are almost guaranteed to come with side effects. Instead of wasting your time with this you can use a treatment that is well-known to be excellent: raw honey. Raw honey has been shown to have massive antibacterial properties and is a fantastic way to calm your skin down.
Its benefits are far greater than anything baking soda can achieve and it also has no known side effects (unless you have a rare reaction to it). There’s plenty of other good treatments, including aloe vera, a highly effective and soothing plant, tea tree oil, and several more.
My recommendation is to not bother with baking soda at all. Even if you manage to use it without side effects, it is still less effective than superior treatments like honey and aloe vera.
Baking soda is also rather inconvenient to use, as you have to mix it with various carriers like water and oil to actually put it on your skin. Honey on the other hand, can simply be taken from the jar and applied to your skin, without the slightest effort.
Don’t waste your time with baking soda; it is almost certainly useless for clearing acne and can actually have side effects on your skin.
Don’t get the idea that baking soda is evil though. It may be rubbish for your skin but it has an excellent variety of other uses. It’s very useful for baking (of course), you can use it to clean your house, and it’s particularly great for cleaning your teeth. In your mouth the alkaline PH will actually be a benefit, as it helps to neutralise enamel destroying acids.
Thanks for reading!