Q. My son has acne and seborrheic dermatitis. He has been treated with antibiotics that help somewhat but never completely clear it.

I have heard that applying milk of magnesia (MoM) to the face is a low-risk approach. How effective is it?

A. There are no scientific studies of milk of magnesia applied topically for acne or seborrheic dermatitis. Some people tell us it is ineffective while others sing MoM’s praises:

“My grandson had severe acne. I sent the column about milk of magnesia for acne to his mother. The next time I saw him, about a month later, I could hardly believe the improvement, about 90 percent better. He applied MoM morning and evening and is still using it.”

We are sending you our Guide to Skin Care and Treatment with more details on a variety of approaches for acne and seborrheic dermatitis. Your son might also consider a change of diet. We heard this from a reader:

“My 16-year-old daughter had terrible acne. She gave up sugar, dairy and gluten and started taking natural supplements for other reasons, and her acne disappeared within 6 weeks. She has beautiful skin now.”

Her experience is supported by research published in the European Journal of Dermatology (online Sept. 7, 2010).

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  1. EC

    My face, neck, and upper chest and back were coated with acne as a teenager. I tried everything (including Retin-A, which I do NOT recommend), dietary changes, nothing worked. Eventually, a dermatologist prescribed Accutane, which had unpleasant side effects (i.e., Sahara-like dry mouth; it may cause ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and crohn’s disease, so I don’t recommend it.) It took nearly a year, but it finally cleared up my acne. In later years, I continued to get milder acne flare-ups and one day found tea tree oil. One tiny drop topically applied a couple of times a day at the first sign nixes zits immediately. I only wish I’d discovered it earlier.

  2. LA

    I am unable to locate the research referenced in the article (European Journal of Dermatology); the info given is just too vague. Can anyone help?

  3. sdw

    My son didn’t have acne until he went to college. I suggested he may have inherited my celiac disease and should quit eating wheat and dairy. I likewise had similar symptoms when I was his age. He took my advice and his acne cleared up. At least he figured it out years before I did.

  4. VG

    Isn’t MoM white? How do you use it the am and not walk around with a white face?

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