Can You Use Calamine Lotion for Acne? We Asked Dermatologists

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Liz deSousa for ishonest

When a zit takes up residence on our face, we tend to rush towards the best and fastest path to clear it up, open to new products and treatments in the name of restoring a clear complexion. Though, sometimes we'll learn that a trusty method has been sitting right under our noses—and has been for ages.

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Enter: calamine lotion. If you’ve ever used the thick pink cream, you likely associate it with remedying mosquito bites and rashes from poison ivy. The anti- inflammatory properties that make it a go-to for itchy bumps has transitioned into it sometimes being recommended for acne, too. But does it actually work? We asked top dermatologists to weigh in on using calamine lotion as a spot treatment.

Calamine Lotion

TYPE OF INGREDIENT: Anti-itch medication and astringent

MAIN BENEFITS: Heals the itchiness and discomfort that comes with minor skin conditions like bug bites, sunburn, and poison ivy.

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WHO SHOULD USE IT: Anyone looking to soothe minor skin conditions.

HOW OFTEN CAN YOU USE IT: Apply to affected areas every 6 to 8 hours as needed.

WORKS WELL WITH: For best results, calamine lotion should be used on its own.

DON'T USE WITH: No drug interactions have been established with calamine and zinc oxide lotion.

Does Calamine Lotion Treat Acne?

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Dermatologists won't recommend calamine lotion as a first, second, or third line of defense (or reactive treatment) against acne, but they say it likely won’t hurt either. But in today's skincare landscape, there are simply better options. Let’s dive in.

Past generational use of calamine lotion on acne may have been more so out of convenience than efficacy. Calamine lotion dates back centuries—in fact, according to New York City-based board-certified dermatologist, Morgan Rabach of LM Medical, the "old school salve was one of the earliest creams we had for the skin," she explains. "Back then, we didn’t have all the good creams and medications that we do now, so people used calamine on everything,” Rabach says of the cream’s illustrious history. “It really doesn’t work as well as other over-the-counter medications that are readily available for acne like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and retinols,” she notes.

Calamine for Inflammation

While calamine lotion might not address the root causes of acne, it could potentially treat the symptoms of a blemish (read: redness and a raised bump).

“There are reports of calamine lotion helping to treat acne," explains New York City-based board-certified dermatologist, Joshua Zeichner. "It may be helpful in treating red, angry pimples because of its astringent properties in drying out the pimple itself." As a more effective measure, though, Zeichner recommends traditional acne treatments that contain ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.

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Rabach mirrors these sentiments: “Zinc oxide has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties and may be helpful in calamine if applied on active pimples (ones that are inflamed and filled with pus),” she notes, but it’s simply not as scientifically effective as other over-the-counter medications, so it’s best reserved as a last resort (think: your go-to spot treatment just ran out).

Using Calamine Lotion as a Spot Treatment

If you do choose to try calamine lotion for acne, Zeichner recommends using it like a mask to spot-treat. Due to the telltale pink hue, it’s best used at home (but do as you please, of course). In terms of makeup application, though, unlike more modern spot treatments, this isn’t one you can pop your concealer right on top of, so we recommend applying before bedtime.

Calamine Lotion For Minor Skin Irritations

Still, it’s worth keeping a bottle of the old-school pink potion around. “Calamine can help dry out itchy blistering skin disorders like insect bites, bee stings, jellyfish stings, poison ivy, poison oak and chicken pox,” explains Rabach. So while it might not reduce the lifespan of your pimple, it's a worthwhile mainstay for other skin issues.

Read more on: acne


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