Does Milk of Magnesia Treat Acne?

Can milk of magnesia clear acne?. Photo: Chris Pelliccione / Getty Images

Beauty bloggers and internet makeup gurus are going to flog me for this one, but milk of magnesia isn’t good for acne. It doesn’t treat acne; it doesn’t clear acne. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to say it does much of anything for the skin.

I know, I know... many people are touting the benefits of milk of magnesia. But before you go hanging your acne-clearing hopes on milk of magnesia, let's take a look at the research.

What the heck is milk of magnesia anyway?

Milk of magnesia is an over-the-counter medication for constipation. Yes, it's a laxative. It's used to treat gas and indigestion, too.

The active ingredient in milk of magnesia is magnesium hydroxide. It also contains water and sodium hypochlorite.

What does the research say?

The idea that milk of magnesia clears acne probably comes from a letter that was published in the Archives of Dermatology back in the 1970's. The author of the letter said he had been getting good results with his acne patients by prescribing topical milk of magnesia along with 250 mg of oral tetracycline.

So, even though I find it intriguing, the letter just stated one dermatologist’s experience; it isn’t a formal study of any kind. It’s also very possible that the antibiotics alone were causing the improvement of acne, not the milk of magnesia.

There have been no formal studies done on milk of magnesia and its effects on acne. So, any source that claims milk of magnesia has been proven to clear acne just isn't accurate.

Can milk of magnesia reduce oily skin?

Another (rather old) study, published back in the '80s, shows that magnesium hydroxide is a darn good degreaser. It could break down the oil on the skin's surface, leaving your skin looking more matte.

Milk of magnesia doesn’t reduce sebum production, though. Meaning, it won't make your oil glands produce less oil.

It just removes oil on skin's surface.

But since acne isn’t caused by oil on the surface of the skin, that alone won't be enough to clear up acne. Acne is actually caused by a host of different factors. (To find out exactly why your skin is breaking out, check out this article: What Really Is Causing Your Acne.)

Try these milk of magnesia alternatives.

Are you going to harm your skin if you use a milk of magnesia mask? Probably not (although for some people it can cause contact dermatitis). It just isn't a great acne treatment. If it was, I’d personally hand out bottles of the stuff.

There are plenty of other options out there, though, that can deliver much better results.

  • Looking for an acne treatment that actually works? Instead of milk of magnesia, you'd be much better off trying an acne treatment that has some science behind it. Not sure what treatment is right for you? Here's a good place to start: An Overview of the Most Effective Acne Treatments.
  • Looking for an oil-absorbing mask? There are many options for oily skin. Get started with these options: 12 Splurge-Worthy Face Masks for Oily Skin.
  • Looking for an all-natural way to fight oily shine?  For the all-natural skin care junkie, you might like these DIY masks.
  • Looking for an oil-reducing makeup primer?  Leaving milk of magnesia on your face all day, under makeup, probably isn't the best idea. There are products that are meant specifically for that purpose, and since they’re designed for the delicate skin of your face they’re much less likely to cause irritation. Start with these favorite foundation primers: 9 Best Foundation Primers. You might also be interested in tips for choosing a primer specifically for your skin type.


Bayer Health Care Consumer Care.  (12 Sep 2014.)  Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia – Original.  Retrieved from .  Accessed 28 Mar 2015.

Sigal R.  Letter: Milk of magnesia treatment for acne.  Arch Dermatol.  1975 Jan; 111(1):132.

Stewart ME, Downing DT.  "Separation of wax esters from steryl esters by chromatography on magnesium hydroxide."  Lipids. 1981 May;16(5):355-9.

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