I’m not sure how but somewhere along the way Lacto Calamine, that pink Pepto Bismol-looking ointment became a bit of a cure-all for every skin issue imaginable. “People use it for anything – anytime they have a rash, or acne, or a boil,” says Dr. Kiran Lohia, founder of Lumiere Dermatology in New Delhi.
“It’s actually really disturbing because they come in and they’re like, ‘It’s worse. Why’s it worse?’ I think people assume that it’ll magically erase the problem and just dry everything out.”
That’s probably because Lacto Calamine is primarily made of calamine (a soothing agent) and Fuller’s Earth or multani mitti, a drying agent. “That’s why it might initially seem like it’s working,” says Kiran. “But unless you’re using it to soothe an insect bite or prevent itching, it’s only going to make the problem worse. Take a rash, for example – when you’ve got a rash all your cells are pretty much open, so water flows out and it gets really dry. If you’re going to dry it up even more with Lacto Calamine, the rash actually propagates and gets doubly, triply worse.”
“With acne, you might see an improvement, but only up to a point – it’ll just dry it up a little bit and then it won’t help anymore. There are also chemicals in Lacto Calamine – fragrances, dyes – that can react with your skin and exacerbate the problem. Lacto Calamine was made to address a very specific problem, not as a cure-all for your skin. I wish more people knew that.”
So to recap, use Lacto Calamine for:
- A mosquito bite
- General insect bites
- As an acne mask, but only if you’re convinced it helps. “If you must use it for acne, use it like a mask for an hour and then make sure you wash it off. If you’re using it as an acne treatment, it won’t work,” says Lohia. (Editor’s note: Lacto Calamine also contains tons of glycerin and castor oil, both of which are hugely comedogenic, so maybe skip it altogether?)
Definitely don’t use Lacto Calamine for:
- A moisturiser: “It’s really terrible as a moisturiser because it just dries your skin out instead of hydrating it because of all the Fuller’s Earth."
- Dry skin: (see above).
- A rash: “Please just stop. You're only making it worse!”
- An infection: “Definitely do not use Lacto Calamine on an infection! It’ll dry up the pus but it’ll also create a layer over the skin so that the infection starts festering under it, which is the last thing you want.”
- A tasty treat: I learnt that the hard way at 8.
There you have it! Lacto Calamine: good for insect bites, bad for pretty much everything else.