Does Milk of Magnesia Treat Acne?

Beauty bloggers and internet makeup gurus alike have been touting the benefits of milk of magnesia for acne. But what is milk of magnesia? Does it really work to treat acne?

Before you go out and by a bottle, let's first take a look at the research.

Artistic shot of milk of magnesia splashing in spoon
Chris Pelliccione / Getty Images

What Is Milk of Magnesia?

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

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

Can Milk of Magnesia Treat Acne?

In a word, no. It doesn’t clear acne. In fact, the research shows it doesn't do much of anything for the skin.

The idea that milk of magnesia clears acne probably comes from a letter that was published in the Archives of Dermatology back in the 1970s. 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.

Even though this letter is very intriguing, it's just one dermatologist’s experience. It isn’t a formal study of any kind.

It is possible that the antibiotics alone were causing the improvement of acne and not the milk of magnesia. ​Oral antibiotics have been used as acne treatment staples for decades.

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

Can Milk of Magnesia Reduce Oily Skin?

One (rather old) study, published back in the '80s, shows that magnesium hydroxide is a darn good degreaser. So, hypothetically, 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 the 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. 

Try These 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, dermatologists would be personally handing out bottles of the stuff.

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

For treating acne, there are plenty of over-the-counter treatments available that will give you better results than using milk of magnesia. Look for an acne treatment that contains either benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. These have a long and effective track record for clearing minor breakouts and blemishes.

Prescription acne medications are a better choice for more serious or stubborn cases of acne. So, if you're not getting results from OTC products, try seeing your healthcare provider for a more powerful prescription acne treatment.

For reducing oily-shine, an astringent is a simple but effective choice. Foaming cleansers also do a good job of removing excess oil. If a facial mask is more your thing, look for products that contain clay; clay is good at removing surface oil.

If you are a dedicated DIYer, you could use milk of magnesia as a facial mask. Just do check to make certain it's not going to irritate your skin by only using a tiny amount on a small area of skin first. If you notice any redness, irritation, itching, or burning, don't use this on your skin.

While some claim milk of magnesia makes a good oil-free 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.

A Word From Verywell

So, milk of magnesia isn't the miracle acne cure that some claim it to be. Don't be disappointed, be glad that you're not going to waste time waiting for an acne treatment remedy that's not going to work. Instead, you can start on a proven acne medication and start seeing improvement sooner.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you put milk of magnesia on your face?

    Yes, with a caveat. Milk of magnesia can cause contact dermatitis in some individuals. Before using it on your delicate facial skin, do a spot test to check for a reaction. Apply a dab to a small patch of skin on the inside of your arm and leave it for 24 hours to check for redness or irritation. If an obvious reaction occurs sooner than 24 hours, wash it off and avoid using milk of magnesia on your skin. 

  • Can you use milk of magnesia as a face primer?

    Beauty bloggers sometimes recommend using milk of magnesia as a primer under makeup. It is unclear whether this works or if it is safe to leave milk of magnesia on your skin all day.

    The theory is milk of magnesia soaks up excess oil and helps set makeup, so it lasts for hours. This may be helpful for people with oily complexions, but if your skin is dry to normal, it could cause problems.

    If you want to try using milk of magnesia as a makeup primer, try it at a time when you don’t need to look your best in case it doesn’t work for you. You should also test the product on a patch of skin to check for reactions before using it on your face. 

  • Does milk of magnesia shrink pores?

    Possibly, depending on your skin type. Milk of magnesia (magnesium hydroxide) soaks up excess oil on the skin. If you are prone to oily skin, this may help pores appear smaller. 

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. NIH MedlinePlus. Magnesium hydroxide.

  2. Michigan Medicine. Acne: Treatment with antibiotics.

  3. American Academy of Dermatology. 10 things to try when acne won't clear.

  4. American Academy of Dermatology. What can clear severe acne?

Additional Reading

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.