Can You Use Iodine To Treat Acne? Here's What We Know

If angry, red acne blemishes are dotting your face, why not make them orange? Dabbing on a little golden-brown povidone-iodine might nix those pesky pimples, according to skin care aficionados on TikTok. "My parents are both medical doctors, and they swear by this," creator Regina Fang says in one clip, with a bottle of povidone-iodine in hand. In another viral video, user Nico Olsen claims that the product reduced irritation on her face. TikToker Kierstan Saulter also noticed that a zit on her chin dried up after applying povidone-iodine just once.


For those not familiar with the over-the-counter medication, povidone-iodine — often known by the brand name Betadine — is a liquid applied topically to the skin, often in clinical settings (per Cleveland Clinic). Your doctor may rub it on your cuts to prevent infection or on your skin as an antiseptic before surgery. You might even have it stashed in your medicine cabinet when you need to treat a wound in a pinch.

Topical iodine is known to work for cuts and scrapes, but what about as a spot treatment for pimples? Here's why the experts — and the adult acne sufferers — say this TikTok hack may just work — and what you should know before you try it.

Anecdotal evidence says this surgeon staple eliminates acne

Topical iodine might be a TikTok favorite for dealing with stubborn acne, but so far, there's little scientific or clinical evidence to support the hack. With that said, there isn't any evidence to refute it either. Since povidone-iodine is known to prevent skin infections, and many types of acne spots are infected with bacteria, a swab of the liquid might, in theory, keep zits under control. A 2017 pilot study published in Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology also suggested that povidone-iodine could be used to treat bacterial skin conditions, including acne, because of its antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and moisturizing properties.


Besides this small study, confirmation that the ingredient works on acne is mostly anecdotal. Several beauty junkies on MakeupAlley have left mostly positive reviews for Betadine, commenting that their skin "has never ever been better" and that their skin "cleared up within a month" of using the orange liquid. Multiple reviewers even noted that a doctor or dermatologist suggested the medicine for their skin, so although acne treatment isn't an official on-label use, savvy physicians have likely been aware of this trick for a while.

Povidone-iodine is generally safe, but be aware of side effects

Like many skincare products and ointments, povidone-iodine can cause side effects, so it's wise to do a patch test before applying it to the face. According to, if you experience swelling, skin inflammation, oozing, blistering, burning, itchiness, or other signs of irritation or allergic reaction, stop using the solution and contact your doctor.


In most cases, though, topical iodine is safe to use, as long as you follow the package instructions and choose a formula intended for use on the skin. Keep it away from your eyes (meaning you might want to find another spot treatment for under-eye milia or painful eyebrow breakouts), and watch out for staining — if the liquid leaves an orange mark even after cleansing, use a small amount of rubbing alcohol to wipe it away.

Remember that a solution applied to the skin, like topical iodine, doesn't tackle many underlying causes of acne, such as hormone imbalances or stress. If you continue to notice spots popping up on your face, or if your acne worsens, talk to your doctor or dermatologist about other treatments that may be better suited to your needs.