Despite living at a time when science (mostly) trumps tradition, some of us still believe in old home remedies — like, for instance, curing body odor with vinegar or soothing dry skin with olive oil. But do any of these supposed “grooming life hacks” actually hold any merit? We sat down with a dentist, a dermatologist and a barber to find out which home remedies work and which are just a bunch of hooey.
The Home Remedy: Curing Acne With Toothpaste
The Consensus: According to Dr. Herbert Allen, professor and chairman emeritus at the Drexel University College of Medicine’s Department of Dermatology, putting toothpaste on your pimples might dry them out thanks to harsh ingredients like alcohol and hydrogen peroxide, but that’s about it. “I wouldn’t expect much of an effect from [toothpaste],” he says. “It has none of the effective compounds that work against acne in it.”
The Proper Fix: A dermatologist-prescribed topical or oral acne medication. (Or our sweet new Acne Eraser.)
The Home Remedy: Bleaching Your Hair With Lemon Juice
The Consensus: Maggie Mustantig, hairstylist and cosmetologist at the Select Salon in Texas, says the citric acid in lemon juice may lighten your hair when exposed to sunlight, but it’s certainly not the safest way to get the color you’re going for. “Because the lemon juice is really acidic, it can dry out your hair,” she warns. In other words, you’re probably better off saving the lemons for lemonade.
The Proper Fix: Have your hair bleached at a professional hair salon — it’s really best not to try this at home, as over-bleaching can seriously fry your hair.
The Home Remedy: Whitening Your Teeth With Orange Peels
The Consensus: Dentist Ayham Nahhas says orange peels won’t only fail at whitening your teeth, the citric acid in oranges can also pose problems for your dental health. “Chewing orange peels isn’t recommended because citrus can wear down the enamel and cause sensitivity within your teeth,” he says.
The Proper Fix: A dentist-recommended teeth-whitening product or bleaching treatment.
The Home Remedy: Soothing Razor Burn With Milk
The Consensus: Milk baths date back to Ancient Egypt, when Cleopatra famously incorporated dairy into her grooming routine with the hopes of silky smooth skin. But Allen says its effectiveness at treating razor bumps or other types of inflammation is modest at best because “it doesn’t have any active ingredients necessary for soothing burns.”
The Proper Fix: Always shave gently with a sharp razor, and use a post-shave balm. If the razor burn is especially bad, use an anti-inflammatory product that contains corticosteroids, a drug that mimics the hormones in your adrenal glands, reducing burns and rashes.
The Home Remedy: Treating Dry Skin With Olive Oil
The Consensus: Treating your body the same way you’d treat a caprese salad may sound like a crazy idea, but it’s not a bad one, according to Allen. “The oil is very moisturizing, but it doesn’t have anything to do with olives,” he says. “Mineral oil works great, too, and it doesn’t have any odor.” That’s because oils strengthen the lipid bilayer of the skin, where nutrients like vitamin A and vitamin E promote the growth of new skin cells to prevent dryness.
The Proper Fix: In addition to moisturizing with oil, limiting warm showers to no longer than ten minutes, then immediately applying a moisturizer will help your skin hold onto its naturally moisturizing oils.
The Home Remedy: Treating Dandruff With Baking Soda
The Consensus: If your scalp is coated in hair gel, Mustantig says baking soda may help “slough the product buildup [which roughs up the cuticles and causes dandruff] off the hair and scalp.” Using baking soda to actually treat dandruff, however, is a waste of time and baking soda.
The Proper Fix: Zinc supplements can rejuvenate and strengthen the skin on your scalp, helping to prevent dandruff.
The Home Remedy: Eating Sesame Seeds to Whiten Teeth
The Consensus: Nahhas says the calcium in sesame seeds can strengthen your teeth, and their coarseness may help scrub away some of the plaque. “They definitely won’t whiten your teeth,” he says. “But they can help reduce the risk of cavities if chewed alongside proper brushing habits.”
The Proper Fix: Once again, a dentist-recommended teeth-whitening product or bleaching treatment.
The Home Remedy: Using Vinegar as an Antiperspirant
The Consensus: Dabbing your pits with vinegar won’t do much besides make you smell like vinegar, according to Allen. It does, however, work as a soothing antibacterial wash for irritated skin. To create the wash, Allen suggests mixing three tablespoons of salt, three tablespoons of vinegar and a pint of water. Then simply apply the mixture to any particularly dry or itchy areas.
The Proper Fix: Take a shower, clean your underwear and invest in deodorant. You can thank us later.
The Home Remedy: Whitening Your Teeth by Brushing Them With Salt
The Consensus Dentists often recommend rinsing with saltwater after surgery, as it kills off harmful bacteria, but can brushing with salt whiten your chompers, too? Not according to Nahhas: “Salt won’t whiten your smile,” he says. “Salt is used for healing of soft tissue, not teeth whitening.”
The Proper Fix: Again, have your dentist recommend a teeth-whitening product or bleaching treatment.
The Home Remedy: Repairing Damaged Hair With an Egg Wash
The Consensus: Mustantig laughs when asked if raw eggs can bring dry, dead hair back to life, which is pretty telling. “My guess is that people use an egg because they think the protein will heal their hair, but those molecules aren’t small enough to penetrate into the hair,” she says. “So it’s really not going to do you any good.” Worse yet: It will make your head smell like a two-day-old Denver omelette.
The Proper Fix: Conditioner works wonders by delivering hydrating lipids, fatty acids and nutrients directly into the hair. Damaged hair may also be a sign that you’re shampooing too frequently, so try skipping a wash every other day.
Turns out, these life hacks aren’t really hacks at all… well, except for the fact that they’ll hack your hair, your teeth and your skin to pieces.