Acne is one of the most common skin conditions in the world, affecting an estimated 85% of people at some point in their lives.
Conventional acne treatments can be expensive and often have undesirable side effects like dryness, redness and irritation.
This has prompted many people to look into how to cure acne naturally at home. The internet is filled with suggestions, but do natural treatments actually work? This article explores 13 home remedies for acne that are backed by science.
Acne starts when the pores in your skin get clogged with oil and dead skin cells.
Each pore is connected to a sebaceous gland, which produces an oily substance called sebum. Extra sebum can plug up pores, causing the growth of a bacteria known as Propionibacterium acnes, or P. acnes.
Your white blood cells attack P. acnes, leading to skin inflammation and acne. Some cases of acne are more severe than others, but common symptoms include whiteheads, blackheads and pimples.
Many factors contribute to the development of acne, including genetics, diet, stress, hormone changes and infections.
Below are 13 home remedies for acne that you might want to try.
Apple cider vinegar is made by fermenting apple cider, or the unfiltered juice from pressed apples.
Apple cider vinegar contains several organic acids that have been shown to kill P. acnes (4, 5). In particular, succinic acid has been shown to suppress inflammation caused by P. acnes, which may prevent scarring (6).
How to Use It
- Mix 1 part apple cider vinegar and 3 parts water (use more water for sensitive skin).
- After cleansing, gently apply the mixture to the skin using a cotton ball.
- Let sit for 5–20 seconds, rinse with water and pat dry.
- Repeat this process 1–2 times per day, as needed.
Summary: The organic acids in apple cider vinegar may help kill acne-causing bacteria and reduce the appearance of scars. Applying it to the skin may cause burns or irritation, so it should be used carefully.
Zinc is an essential nutrient that's important for cell growth, hormone production, metabolism and immune function.
It is also one of the most studied natural treatments for acne. Research shows that people with acne tend to have lower levels of zinc in their blood than those with clear skin (9).
Several studies have shown that taking zinc orally helps reduce acne.
In one study, 48 acne patients were given oral zinc supplements three times per day. After eight weeks, 38 patients experienced an 80–100% reduction in acne (10). The optimal dosage of zinc for acne has not been established, but several studies have shown a significant reduction of acne using 30–45 mg of elemental zinc per day (11, 12, 13).
Elemental zinc refers to the amount of zinc that's present in the compound. Zinc is available in many forms, and each one contains a different amount of elemental zinc.
Zinc oxide contains the highest amount of elemental zinc at 80%.
The recommended safe upper limit of zinc is 40 mg per day, so it is probably best to not exceed that amount unless under the supervision of a medical doctor. Taking too much zinc may cause adverse effects, including stomach pain and gut irritation.
It is also important to note that applying zinc to the skin has not been shown to be effective. This may be because zinc is not effectively absorbed through the skin.
Summary: Individuals with acne tend to have lower zinc levels than people with clear skin. Several studies show that taking zinc orally can significantly reduce acne.
These are two common acne medications for the skin that have antibacterial properties.
The antioxidants studied were vitamin B3, linoleic (omega-6) fatty acid and sodium ascorbyl phosphate (SAP), which is a vitamin C derivative.
These specific antioxidants are not found in honey or cinnamon, but there is a possibility that other antioxidants may have a similar effect.
Honey and cinnamon also have the ability to fight bacteria and reduce inflammation, which are two factors that trigger acne (23, 24, 25). While the anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial properties of honey and cinnamon may benefit acne-prone skin, no studies exist on their ability to treat acne.
How to Make a Honey and Cinnamon Mask
- Mix 2 tablespoons honey and 1 teaspoon cinnamon together to form a paste.
- After cleansing, apply the mask to your face and leave it on for 10–15 minutes.
- Rinse the mask off completely and pat your face dry.
Summary: Honey and cinnamon have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial properties. Because of this, they may be beneficial for acne-prone skin.
Tea tree oil is an essential oil that is extracted from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia, a small tree native to Australia.
It is well known for its ability to fight bacteria and reduce skin inflammation (26).
When compared to 5% benzoyl peroxide, 5% tea tree oil did not act as quickly, but it did significantly improve acne after three months of use (29).
It also resulted in fewer adverse effects like dryness, irritation and burning, compared to benzoyl peroxide.
Tea tree oil is very potent, so always dilute it before applying it to your skin.
How to Use It
- Mix 1 part tea tree oil with 9 parts water.
- Dip a cotton swab into the mixture and apply it to affected areas.
- Apply moisturizer if desired.
- Repeat this process 1–2 times per day, as needed.
Summary: Tea tree oil has strong anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Applying it to the skin has been shown to reduce acne.
Green tea is very high in antioxidants, and drinking it can promote good health.
There aren't any studies exploring the benefits of drinking green tea when it comes to acne, but applying it directly to the skin has been shown to help.
The major antioxidant in green tea — epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) — has been shown to reduce sebum production, fight inflammation and inhibit the growth of P. acnes in individuals with acne-prone skin (33). Multiple studies have shown that applying a 2–3% green tea extract to the skin significantly reduces sebum production and pimples in those with acne (34, 35, 36). You can buy creams and lotions that contain green tea, but it is just as easy to make your own mixture at home.
How to Use It
- Steep green tea in boiling water for 3–4 minutes.
- Allow tea to cool.
- Using a cotton ball, apply tea to skin or pour into a spray bottle to spritz on.
- Allow to dry, then rinse with water and pat dry.
Even though there isn't any evidence that drinking green tea can fight acne, some research suggests it may still be beneficial.
Summary: Green tea is high in antioxidants that help fight bacteria and reduce inflammation. Applying green tea to the skin has been shown to significantly reduce acne.
Witch hazel is extracted from the bark and leaves of the North American witch hazel shrub, Hamamelis virginiana. It contains tannins, which have strong antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties (38, 39).
That's why it's used to treat a broad range of skin conditions, including dandruff, eczema, varicose veins, burns, bruises, insect bites and acne.
Unfortunately, there aren't any studies on the ability of witch hazel to treat acne specifically.
How to Use It
- Combine 1 tablespoon witch hazel bark and 1 cup water in a small saucepan.
- Soak witch hazel for 30 minutes and then bring the mixture to a boil on the stove.
- Reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for 10 minutes.
- Remove the mixture from the heat and let sit for an additional 10 minutes.
- Strain and store the liquid in a sealed container.
- Apply to clean skin using a cotton ball 1–2 times per day, or as desired.
Summary: Applying witch hazel to the skin has been shown to fight bacteria, reduce inflammation and help heal the skin. It may be beneficial for individuals with acne, but more research is needed.
Aloe vera is a tropical plant whose leaves produce a clear gel.
The gel is often added to lotions, creams, ointments and soaps. It's commonly used to treat abrasions, rashes, burns and other skin conditions.
When applied to the skin, aloe vera gel can help heal wounds, treat burns and fight inflammation (44).
Aloe vera also contains salicylic acid and sulfur, which are both used extensively in the treatment of acne (45). Several studies have shown that applying salicylic acid to the skin significantly reduces acne (46, 47, 48, 49, 50).
Similarly, applying sulfur has been proven to be an effective acne treatment (51, 52). While research shows great promise, the anti-acne benefits of aloe vera itself require further scientific evidence.
How to Use It
- Scrape the gel from the aloe plant out with a spoon.
- Apply gel directly to clean skin as a moisturizer.
- Repeat 1–2 times per day, or as desired.
Summary: When applied to the skin, aloe vera gel can help heal wounds, treat burns and fight inflammation. It may be beneficial for individuals with acne-prone skin, but more research needs to be done.
Omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly healthy fats that offer a multitude of health benefits.
You must get these fats from your diet, but research shows that most people who eat a standard Western diet don't get enough of them (53).
Fish oils contain two main types of omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
EPA benefits the skin in several ways, including managing oil production, maintaining adequate hydration and preventing acne (54, 55). High levels of EPA and DHA have been shown to decrease inflammatory factors, which may reduce the risk of acne (56).
In one study, 45 individuals with acne were given omega-3 fatty acid supplements containing both EPA and DHA daily. After 10 weeks, acne decreased significantly (57). There is no specific recommended daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids, but most health organizations recommend healthy adults consume a minimum of 250–500 mg of combined EPA and DHA daily.
You can also get omega-3 fatty acids by eating salmon, sardines, anchovies, walnuts, chia seeds and ground flaxseeds.
To learn more about fish oil supplements, check out this article.
Summary: Fish oils contain EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids. Taking a fish oil supplement may help decrease acne.
Exfoliation is the process of removing the top layer of dead skin cells. It can be achieved mechanically by using a brush or scrub to physically remove the cells. Alternatively, it can be removed chemically by applying an acid that dissolves them.
Exfoliation is believed to improve acne by removing the skin cells that clog up pores.
It is also believed to make acne treatments for the skin more effective by allowing them to penetrate deeper, once the topmost layer of skin is removed.
Unfortunately, the research on exfoliation and its ability to treat acne is limited.
In one small study, 25 patients with acne received eight microdermabrasion treatments at weekly intervals. Based on before and after photos, this helped improve acne (60).
96% of the participants were pleased with the results and would recommend the procedure to others. Yet while these results indicate that exfoliation may improve acne, more research is needed.
There are a wide variety of exfoliation products available in stores and online, but it's just as easy to make a scrub at home using sugar or salt.
How to Make a Scrub at Home
- Mix equal parts sugar (or salt) and coconut oil.
- Scrub skin with mixture and rinse well.
- Exfoliate as often as desired up to once daily.
Summary: Exfoliation is the process of removing the top layer of dead skin cells. It may reduce the appearance of scars and discoloration, but more research needs to be done on its ability to treat acne.
The relationship between diet and acne has been debated for years.
Recent evidence suggests that dietary factors, such as insulin and glycemic index, may be associated with acne (61).
A food's glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly it raises blood sugar.
Eating high-GI foods causes a spike in insulin, which is thought to increase sebum production. Because of this, high-GI foods are believed to have a direct effect on the development and severity of acne.
Foods with a high glycemic index include white bread, sugary soft drinks, cakes, doughnuts, pastries, candies, sugary breakfast cereals and other processed foods.
Foods with a low glycemic index include fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole or minimally processed grains.
In one study, 43 people followed either a high- or low-glycemic diet. After 12 weeks, the individuals consuming a low-glycemic diet had a significant improvement in both acne and insulin sensitivity, compared to those eating carb-dense foods (62).
Another study with 31 participants yielded similar results (63).
These small studies suggest that a low-glycemic diet may be helpful for individuals with acne-prone skin, but further research is needed.
Summary: Eating high-glycemic foods may increase sebum production and contribute to acne. More research is needed to determine whether a low-glycemic diet can effectively treat or prevent acne.
The relationship between dairy and acne is highly controversial.
However, participants self-reported the data in both of these studies, so more research needs to be done in order to establish a true causal relationship.
Summary: Some studies found a positive association between drinking milk and acne. Limiting milk and dairy consumption may be a good idea for those with acne-prone skin, but more research needs to be done.
What's more, stress can slow wound healing by up to 40%, which may slow the repair of acne lesions (72).
Ways to Reduce Stress
- Get more sleep
- Engage in physical activity
- Practice yoga
- Take deep breaths
Summary: Hormones that are released during times of stress can make acne worse. Reducing stress may help improve acne.
Exercise promotes healthy blood circulation. The increase in blood flow helps nourish the skin cells, which may help prevent and heal acne.
Exercise also plays a role in hormone regulation (74, 75). Several studies have shown that exercise can decrease stress and anxiety, both of which are factors that can contribute to the development of acne (76, 77, 78).
It's recommended that healthy adults exercise for 30 minutes 3–5 times per week. This can include walking, hiking, running and lifting weights.
Summary: Exercise promotes healthy blood circulation, regulates hormones and helps reduce stress.
Acne is a common problem with a number of underlying causes. However, conventional treatments can cause dryness, redness and irritation.
Fortunately, many natural remedies can also be effective. The home remedies listed in this article may not work for everyone, but they just might be worth a try.
Nevertheless, you may want to consult a dermatologist if you have severe acne.