There’s always a whisper or two around the skincare rumor mill about different, unexpected products being able to renew our skin’s health in one way or another. One of them has to do with Milk of Magnesia (MoM), a familiar antacid and laxative. Supposedly, MoM doubles as a great foundation, primer, or mask, especially for those with oily skin.
But is this really true? And is it worth the risk of whipping out a laxative from our medicine cabinets to find out?!
The answer lies in MoM’s chemical makeup. As you’ll see, this is one of those “home remedy” products for skin that may not be all it’s cracked up to be. At all.
Let’s Get Chemical: MoM
Milk of magnesia is known as magnesia hydroxide in the science world, because it’s made up of one magnesia molecule and two hydroxide molecules (Mg(OH)2).1
It’s commonly used as an antacid and laxative because it uses its antacid activity to our benefit. When we take MoM in low doses, the hydroxide ions help to neutralize stomach acid.2
In higher doses, MoM has a laxative effect on our bodies, as its hydroxide ions are able to move easily through the stomach. The ions attract and retain water, helping our intestines to get moving again, relieving any uncomfortable symptoms.3
When looking at the ingredients in your typical MoM, you’ll see sodium hypochlorite listed. Sodium hypochlorite (NaClO) is the scientific name for what’s usually referred to as household bleach.4
Before you panic, the sodium hypochlorite in MoM is in a such a low concentration that it shouldn’t harm the body. It breaks down in water, releasing its molecules – chlorine, oxygen, and sodium – which can possibly help adjust the stomach’s overall pH levels.5
How so? Sodium hypochlorite has a basic pH level, and our stomachs have an acidic pH level. Sodium hypochlorite + stomach acid = balance!
If you’re still not into sodium hypochlorite, that’s not a big deal either. There are some MoM brands that don’t use the molecule in their versions.
Suggested Skin Care Benefits
It’s been said that milk of magnesia may help to reduce the appearance of acne, while helping oily skin bounce back. Is there any proof?
Yes and no.
MoM has been suggested to help absorb surface lipids on the skin. It was believed to be efficient in facilitating absorption and separation of wax and stearyl esters. Wax and stearyl esters are similar to compounds found in sebum, the oily, waxy substance made of triglycerides, wax esters, squalene, and metabolites of fat-producing cells.6
Okay, so what does that mean? Well, sebum is a double-edged sword of the skin care in that too much sebum = acne, but not enough sebum = dry, rough skin.7
Knowing that MoM could possibly help regulate sebum, it’s possible that it could be used as a way to get rid of some extra oil. For MoMs with sodium hypochlorite, the breakdown of lipids could be even more frequent, as bleach can be a lipid degrader.8
The Verdict: It’s About the pH
Ideally, you wouldn’t use MoM on your skin because of the differences in pH levels.
For some perspective, a substance is considered the most acidic at zero, while 14 is the most basic.
The pH of household bleach is around 12, while our skin’s pH level is in the neighborhood of five. Milk of Magnesia has an overall pH of around 10.5 – way too high for the skin.9
Don’t mess around with altering your skin’s pH levels. Several issues can crop up, including atopic dermatitis, dry and scaly skin, diaper rash, and other skin irritations. Using MoM can cause damage, because the pH balance is totally thrown off, hindering skin’s normal routine of blocking bacteria.10
Well, What Now?
Here’s the easy part! Just stop using MoM on your skin – easy as that.
But just because MoM isn’t a recommended treatment for your face, doesn’t mean your oily skin problems go away. Try to look for gentle cleansers and exfoliants targeted for oily skin types. Other ingredients to keep an eye out for are:
Ingredients like dimethicone, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid can hydrate skin effectively, but aren’t believed to make skin oilier – meaning they’re perfect for hydrating oily skin without the backfire of too much moisturizer.11
Ginko biloba, green tea, aloe vera, allantoin, witch hazel, licochalcone, zinc, copper, and aluminum are just some of the known anti-inflammatories that sooth the skin. They are used in cosmetics targeted towards those with recurring acne.12
Making sure you not only cleanse, but also moisturize to keep skin hydrated and glowing. This will make for the best skin you could possibly achieve. Relegate MoM to the medicine cabinet…only for help with tummy issues.
The bottom line is, there’s no way of using MoM without accumulating some kind of eventual skin damage – the pH of MoM doesn’t play nice with our skin, and it’s just better to use other products to rid our skin of oil.
2 Pongparit K, Chularojanamontri L, Tuchinda P, Kulthanan K. Moisturizers for Acne: What are their Constituents?. PubMed Central (PMC). 2014. Accessed December 6, 2016.
3 Pongparit K, Chularojanamontri L, Tuchinda P, Kulthanan K. Moisturizers for Acne: What are their Constituents?. PubMed Central (PMC). 2014. Accessed December 6, 2016.
4 DailyMed – MILK OF MAGNESIA ORIGINAL – magnesium hydroxide liquid. Dailymednlmnihgov. 2012. Accessed December 6, 2016.
5 SODIUM HYPOCHLORITE | NaClO – PubChem. Pubchemncbinlmnihgov. 2016. Accessed December 6, 2016.
6 SODIUM HYPOCHLORITE | NaClO – PubChem. Pubchemncbinlmnihgov. 2016. Accessed December 6, 2016.
7 Salisbury M. Sebum Overview. HowStuffWorks. 2009. Accessed December 6, 2016.
8 Estrela C e. Mechanism of action of sodium hypochlorite. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbinlmnihgov. 2002. Accessed December 6, 2016.
9 Lambers H, Piessens S, Bloem A, Pronk H, Finkel P. Natural skin surface pH is on average below 5, which is beneficial for its resident flora. International Journal of Cosmetic Science. 2006;28(5):359-370. doi:10.1111/j.1467-2494.2006.00344.x.
10 Ali SYosipovitch G. Skin pH: From Basic SciencE to Basic Skin Care. Acta Dermato Venereologica. 2013;93(3):261-267. doi:10.2340/00015555-1531.
11 Pongparit K, Chularojanamontri L, Tuchinda P, Kulthanan K. Moisturizers for Acne: What are their Constituents?. PubMed Central (PMC). 2014. Accessed December 6, 2016.
12 Pongparit K, Chularojanamontri L, Tuchinda P, Kulthanan K. Moisturizers for Acne: What are their Constituents?. PubMed Central (PMC). 2014. Accessed December 6, 2016.