Acne, also known as acne vulgaris, is a common skin condition that develops when your pores become clogged with oil, dead skin cells, or bacteria. It can be triggered by hormonal changes, excessive sweating, oily cosmetic products, stress, and the side effects of certain medications.
To clear up their breakouts, many people try “natural” home remedies, such as do-it-yourself (DIY) face masks, vitamin supplements, and lifestyle changes. Natural remedies may help to treat and prevent whiteheads and blackheads. However, they are unlikely to treat deep, painful cystic acne.
This article will go over 15 possible home remedies for acne breakouts and what to do when DIY treatments aren’t enough.
Five Skin Types
Before starting any skincare treatment, it’s important to understand your skin type. The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) identifies the following five different skin types:
- Normal skin, which is neither sensitive nor acne-prone
- Oily skin, which feels “greasy” or slick and leads to more frequent breakouts
- Combination skin, which is oily in some areas and lacks moisture in others
- Sensitive skin, which doesn’t respond well to harsh products
- Dry skin, which produces less oil and may appear “tight” or flaky
15 Home Remedies to Naturally Treat Acne
Here are 15 of the most common home remedies that may help you clear up or minimize the appearance of acne breakouts.
Honey has historically been used to treat a number of skin conditions due to its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties and its ability to speed up the wound repair process. One 2017 study found that a mixture of honey and cinnamon extract inhibited the growth of certain kinds of acne-causing bacteria.
Some people use honey as a spot treatment for stubborn pimples. Others combine it with ingredients like oatmeal, lemon juice, cinnamon, or aloe vera to create a DIY acne-fighting face mask. Manuka honey is particularly popular as a natural acne remedy.
Cucumbers have extremely high water content, making them a good option to offer soothing hydration for people with both acne and combination or dry skin. Cucumber slices or juice can be applied directly to the affected area of the skin to reduce swelling and irritation. They can also be combined with other ingredients, such as honey or oatmeal, as a face mask.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is an essential oil that can be extracted from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia tree that has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties. It has been used in traditional and folk medicine for many years to treat mild acne, such as papules and pustules.
Diluted tea tree oil can be directly applied to areas of your skin that have broken out. Many people also use tea tree oil masks and cleansers to minimize the appearance of acne.
Oatmeal soaks, baths, creams, and masks are used to treat many skin disorders, including acne. It soothes, moisturizes, and hydrates the skin, effectively protecting the barrier from damage and breakdown. This may help to reduce the irritation, redness, and pain associated with mild to moderate acne.
Jojoba oil is a popular herbal medicine derived from the seeds of the Simmondsia chinensis shrub. Often prized for its antifungal, antibacterial, and wound-healing capabilities, jojoba oil, when used as the main ingredient in a clay mask, has been found to speed up the healing process for people with mild acne lesions.
One 2020 study found that average serum (blood) levels of zinc, an essential nutrient, are significantly lower in people with chronic acne than in people without it. Research suggests that zinc supplements may be useful in preventing and treating acne because it inhibits the growth of certain bacteria that often cause pimples.
In addition to taking supplements, you can increase your dietary zinc intake by eating foods like oysters, other kinds of seafood, red meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and fortified breakfast cereals.
The polyphenols (antioxidants) in green tea can neutralize free radicals (unstable molecules that may cause cancer and heart disease). This process can help brighten skin, decrease inflammation, and prevent further damage. It has also been found to reduce inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne lesions among people with mild to moderate acne. You can drink green tea or apply it topically (i.e., in a mask) to enjoy its health benefits.
Eucalyptus oil and eucalyptus leaf extract may be beneficial in reducing the appearance of acne scars, decreasing the size of sebaceous glands, cutting back on oil production, and fighting bacterial activity. Some studies found that cream containing eucalyptus oil was more effective in treating acne breakouts than some common over-the-counter (OTC) acne treatments.
Studies suggest that eating foods with a high glycemic index (i.e., foods that increase blood sugar), such as processed and fast foods, white rice, white bread, baked goods, cereal, chips, and white potatoes, may lead to more frequent and severe acne breakouts. This may be due to increased blood sugar levels, which spur your body to produce more sebum (oil).
Following an anti-inflammatory, low-glycemic index diet with plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, and legumes may help to prevent breakouts and reduce oil production. It may also be best to avoid cow’s milk, which has been shown to increase the likelihood of acne breakouts.
Aloe vera is a popular herbal medicine with powerful astringent (cleansing) qualities, which can help to prevent acne breakouts. Aloe vera gel is also soothing and cooling, which makes it a good adjunctive therapy to combat the side effects of stronger acne medications.
Some estimates indicate that lemon juice has been used by around 66% of people with chronic acne vulgaris as a form of complementary medicine. There’s not much clinical evidence as of yet to support its use, and it may be irritating to the skin in some cases.
In some traditional and alternative medicine practices, lemon juice is combined with ingredients like honey and cucumber to treat acne breakouts. Lemon juice also has anti-inflammatory effects when ingested, which could help improve your skin’s overall health.
Stress can be a trigger for acne flare-ups. High levels of stress prompt your body to produce more testosterone, which has been linked to severe acne breakouts.
You may be able to control some of your breakouts by taking steps to manage your stress, such as:
- Prioritizing sleep
- Taking time out to engage in fun hobbies and spend time with loved ones
- Limiting your intake of caffeine and alcohol
- Joining a peer support group
- Practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques, such as yoga, deep breathing exercises, and meditation
- Seeking psychotherapy for anxiety or depression if necessary
There is some evidence that curcumin, an active ingredient in turmeric, can kill some of the most common and harmful acne-causing bacteria. Both when ingested and when applied topically, it can also lower inflammation levels, prevent the growth of abnormal cells, and help minimize the appearance of acne scars.
Research indicates that various sleep conditions, including lowered sleep quality, insomnia (not being able to get to sleep, stay asleep, or both) and frequent nighttime wakings, are linked to a higher incidence of acne breakouts. Your sleep quality and duration can affect your inflammation, hormones, and blood sugar levels, all of which play a role in triggering acne.
Focus on getting a better night’s rest through improved sleep hygiene habits, such as:
- Going to bed at the same time every night
- Avoiding large meals just before bedtime
- Limiting caffeine intake later in the day
- Turning off electronics at least an hour before bedtime
- Keeping your bedroom comfortable, dim, and cool
Echinacea refers to a group of flowering plants that is frequently used as an herbal supplement. In its dietary supplement form, echinacea is believed to promote the body’s natural immune response and help to ward off infection. A 2022 study found that echinacea supplements were effective in treating mild to moderate acne, particularly inflammatory acne.
What to Try If Acne Home Remedies Don’t Help
In addition to natural home remedies, over-the-counter topical medications are often effective in treating acne. Look for products that contain one of the following ingredients:
If at-home and OTC remedies don’t work to clear up your acne, consider working with a board-certified dermatologist (medical doctor specializing in conditions of the skin, hair, and nails). After evaluating your skin and reviewing your symptoms and medical history, they may suggest one of the following treatments:
At-home acne treatments may help to reduce inflammation, clear up whiteheads and blackheads, prevent future breakouts, and improve the overall look and feel of your skin. Some examples of acne home remedies include honey, cucumbers, tea tree oil, oatmeal, jojoba oil, zinc, green tea, eucalyptus oil, aloe vera, lemon juice, turmeric, echinacea, stress management, improved sleep, and anti-inflammatory dietary changes.
If your acne persists or gets worse, reach out to a dermatologist. They can assess your skin, provide effective skincare advice, and prescribe acne medication if necessary.