August 16, 2022 — A growing bandwagon of TikTok influencers has been using and promoting calamine lotion as a makeup primer under foundation. While this may work as a base layer for some people, dermatologists have concerns about this trend, particularly the risk of dryness.
As of Aug. 12, the # calamine lotion tag had more than 20.8 million views on TikTok, with hundreds of videos hailing the cream for its opaque pink tint and matte effect when used under foundation.
Calamine lotion has been used to treat itchy rashes, insect bites, and pain from chickenpox and poison ivy for years. It’s sold over the counter and is a common treatment for skin discomfort, says Doris Day, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. It is also on the World Health Organization’s list of essential drugs, she says.
“This is something that has been around for a long time. It’s recognized as a drug that has importance. So every now and then I guess somebody comes across it and says it’s a ‘new panacea’ for something, but it’s really not. It’s just an old-time simple product.”
Calamine lotion is made of ferric oxide and zinc oxide, which gives it its antiseptic and anti-itch properties, in addition to its characteristic pink color. Zinc oxide is also commonly used in mineral sunscreens, Day says.
Although these ingredients are safe with temporary, localized use, high concentrations and chronic use of calamine lotion can be irritating to the skin, says Pooja Sodha, MD, director of the Center for Laser and Cosmetic Dermatology at George Washington University in Washington, DC.
At these high concentrations, calamine lotion can be drying, which can cause skin clumping and can be abrasive, says Sodha. She also cautions that the astringent properties of the zinc and the high pH may disrupt proteins on the skin, which breaks down the skin’s natural defenses. Using calamine lotion all over the face daily can “potentially damage your skin barrier to a point where you’re going to have to do a lot of extra work … to bring it back.”
Day also worries about this trend resulting in dry skin. Even in situations where using calamine lotion is appropriate, like treating poison ivy, its drying effects can sometimes irritate the skin.
And dry skin can be more than an aesthetic issue: It can lead to breaks in the skin, which can result in infections and scarring, she says. While this may not occur in someone with extremely oily skin, most people don’t have extremely oily skin, says Day, so this will be ineffective at best and damaging at worst.
If someone is looking for a good makeup base layer, Sodha recommends something that’s non-comedogenic and non-sensitizing, like silicon-based primers.
“The great thing about these products is that they are non-comedogenic, so they won’t clog your pores. They’re synthetic, so they’re not going to cause some sort of allergy,” she says.
In general, both dermatologists warn their patients to be wary of the TikTok trends they see online and caution about possible effects with long-term use of calamine lotion on the face, even if it appears to work with one use.
“Consumers have to think about this like they do with any sort of product that they come across, just thinking about the long-term effects of something like this and how it works for their own skin,” says Sodha.