NOTE: This article contains some inaccurate information. We no longer recommend the use of baking soda on your face because the high pH can disrupt the skin’s acid mantle.
Back by popular demand: here’s our newest member, Forebrain, with another reference-laden post. Enjoy!
Julie’s cleansing question: I’ve read a lot about using baking soda to clean and exfoliate your face. Do you have any evidence this works either instead of a cleanser or for an acne treatment? Is there any down side? This is obviously much cheaper than all the fancy treatments out there if it works.
Forebrain’s favorable response:
I’m so glad you asked this question Julie, I’ve been hearing many great things about all the uses for baking soda as well, it’s use in natural skin care and especially with respect to its exfoliant and cleaning properties! The quick answer is that baking does in fact work as a great exfoliant and may be useful in treating acne. Read on for more details and how you should use it.
Chemical and Physical Exfoliants
Although many of you already know quite a bit about exfoliating, let’s quickly go over the process and some differences between the chemical and physical methods.
The point of exfoliation is to slough off the cells from the top layer of skin and reveal the younger, healthier cells underneath. Some exfoliants contain mild acids such as Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA for short), which help renew the skin layer by burning off some of the skin. The effectiveness of these chemical exfoliants depends on the acid concentration, with too low being not effective enough, and too high being damaging to the skin. Physical exfoliants (like brushes or scrubs) on the other hand remove the skin cells from the top layer by physically scraping them off. With physical exfoliants, the level of irritation and potential damage to skin becomes an issue when coarser methods like hard bristled brushes are used.
Baking soda (aka sodium bicarbonate) falls under the category of physical exfoliants, and what makes it especially effective is that it is a fine, yet hard powder, making it highly effective at removing the dead skin cells without causing excessive irritation. Chemically speaking, baking soda is acid neutral, and acts a mild buffer which means that it has the ability to neutralize other substances it comes in contact with that are acidic (like vinegar) or basic (like soap). Many people also believe that baking soda has cleaning properties; however, scientific evidence has shown that this is due to baking soda’s physically abrasive nature, and it is not an effective anti-microbial agent.
Exfoliating with baking soda
To reap the benefits of exfoliating with baking soda, add a teaspoon of the powder to your facial cleanser, mix well, and massage into skin like you would with a commercial exfoliant. Do this 2-3 times a week or as per your regular exfoliation routine. If you notice that your skin is red or irritated afterwards, try putting in less baking soda and use the treatment at night so that your skin has a chance to get back to normal while you sleep. Remember to always moisturize afterwards!
Baking soda as an acne treatment
While there are numerous testimonials in which people claim that baking soda cleared up their acne when nothing else helped, please remember to take these statements with a grain of salt. We don’t know what else that person had changed in their skin regimen; it’s possible that besides using baking soda they also started drinking more water, switched their cleanser or moisturizer, or maybe even changed the number of times they cleanse their skin per day. Seasonal changes and stress levels also have a very strong impact on how much and how noticeable your acne may be. However, there is some evidence that baking soda may be beneficial in treating acne since just the exfoliating properties of baking soda alone lead to an increased skin cell turnover rate making your acne look less noticeable. Plus, baking soda’s neutralizing properties maybe reduce redness of the skin also reducing the appearance of acne. If you want to try using baking soda as an acne treatment, my recommendation is to use one teaspoon of it in your cleanser at night to exfoliate your skin, as well as make a thicker paste of just baking soda and water and apply it to the acne as a mask for 5-10 minutes or overnight (beware, when it dries the mixture will crumble so you might up wake up to a messy pillow).
The Beauty Brains bottom line
In summary, all signs point to baking soda being an excellent and cheap physical exfoliant. It is an acid neutralizer and a fine powder, which means that it will be gentle on your skin. Baking soda may also be useful in treating acne when made into a paste and applied to the affected areas although there is not as much scientific evidence to back that up. Please comment if you try out any baking soda treatments to let us know what they were and if they worked for you. And always remember to moisturize!
Fun fact: Did you know that baking soda was the primary cleaning agent in the restoration of the Statue of Liberty? Leave a comment and share your favorite statue and facial exfoliating tips wih the rest of the Beauty Brains community.
Parnes, C.A. 1997. Efficacy of sodium hypochlorite bleach and “alternative” products in preventing transfer of bacteria to and from inanimate surfaces. Journal of Environmental Health, 59, 14-20.