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Should You Be Using a Laxative...on Your Skin?

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There are a handful of unique "miracle" skin treatments available in medispas and as DIY options: sheep placenta, urine, blood—these are just a few of the more PG-rated ingredients. Just do a quick search and you'll see what I am talking about.

I am generally open to exploring the scientific legitimacy behind unusual options, and that is exactly what I did when it came to a relatively recent fad: the milk of magnesia (MOM) facial. MOM is indicated for use as a laxative/antacid combo. And it is touted by some online beauty pundits as a good primer option for those with oily, acne-prone skin. I tend to disagree. Not with the fact that it may be an effective degreaser, as it may be, but rather with the idea that it would benefit the skin.

After taking one look at the ingredients, I would not condone its use in a dermatologic context. MOM's active ingredient is magnesium hydroxide (the theoretical lipid buster) plus it also contains sodium hypochlorite (bleach), and it has an overall pH of 10.5. Our skin and its protective barrier, the acid mantle, operate best at a slightly acidic pH of 5.5. Anything that increases the pH to the basic end of the spectrum (e.g., soap, harsh astringents, and MOM) disrupts the natural equilibrium of our largest organ, potentially leading to irritation. (See: What Might Be Causing Your Acne to Flare Up.)

While it makes sense that something basic (that is, having a high pH) is beneficial in neutralizing the harsh acidic environment of the stomach, it does not operate the same way in keeping the biological milieux of our skin intact. Now, that being said, one application of MOM to an acne-prone complexion wouldn't necessarily wreak total havoc—although it may. And long-term use could certainly strip the barrier of essential lipids and proteins that lock good in and keep bad out. It boils down to this: Why risk it when there are so many healthier and safer options?

 

Mona Gohara, MD

Oberlin-bred feminist, Yale-trained dermatologist, mother, Virgo, and lover of all things Broadway, tulle, and 80's. Favorite TV show: the Mindy Project because beauty and brains are a wonderful thing. 

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