Numerous over-the-counter (OTC) products can treat acne, including salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. But as home remedies increase in popularity for acne treatment, so are other nontraditional methods, like aspirin.
Learn more about how aspirin might be beneficial for acne, as well as how to try it out safely.
Is there any scientific evidence behind this remedy?
You might primarily know of aspirin as a pain reliever. It also contains a substance called acetylsalicylic acid. This ingredient is related to the OTC anti-acne ingredient salicylic acid.
Salicylic acid has drying effects that help get rid of excess oil and dead skin cells. It can help clear up acne and prevent new blemishes from forming.
Salicylic acid has been well-regarded as a scientifically proven method for acne treatment. However, research behind acetylsalicylic acid in the form of aspirin isn’t well-established.
To date, the available clinical studies have looked at the possible anti-inflammatory effects aspirin can have on the skin. It’s thought to help reduce inflammation related to rosacea, psoriatic arthritis, and even skin cancer.
Aspirin and inflammatory acne
Aspirin has the most potential as an anti-inflammatory agent to treat inflammatory acne. This includes cysts and nodules. It’s unlikely to work for noninflammatory acne, like blackheads and whiteheads.
Still, even the potential anti-inflammatory benefits of aspirin for acne aren’t so clear-cut.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends taking aspirin orally as a way to reduce skin swelling related to sunburn. But the AAD does not have any specific recommendations for aspirin in the treatment of inflammatory acne.
Other studies also point to other anti-inflammatory effects of aspirin. One involving 24 adults with histamine-induced skin inflammation concluded that aspirin helped reduce some symptoms, but not the accompanying itch. This study didn’t look at the role of aspirin on acne lesions, though.
If you have inflammatory acne, there’s evidence that topical aspirin might work. But this only applies to helping the underlying inflammation that’s causing your acne.
Inflamed acne itself is attributed to substances such as oil, dead skin cells, dirt, and bacteria deeply clogging pores. By getting rid of the inflammation that’s causing your acne, the substances can eventually work their way out of your pores — on their own. Never pop your blemishes!
How to use it
Only use aspirin topically. Taking aspirin orally won’t have the same effects. You can also increase your risk of side effects from taking aspirin this way if you don’t need it to manage pain or your heart health.
To use aspirin on acne, follow these instructions:
- Use powdered aspirin or completely crush a few tablets (not soft gels).
- Combine the aspirin powder with 1 tablespoon of warm water to create a paste.
- Wash your face with your normal cleanser.
- Apply the aspirin paste directly to the acne. You can use it as a spot treatment or apply over your entire face like a face mask.
- Leave on for 10 to 15 minutes at a time.
- Rinse thoroughly with warm water.
- Follow up with your usual moisturizer.
You can repeat this process as a spot treatment once or twice a day until the acne clears up. If using aspirin for an all-over face mask, you can use it a few times per week.
Using aspirin too much can dry out your skin. Overdrying your skin can also lead to breakouts, so it’s important not to strip away all your skin’s natural oils.
Possible side effects
The most common side effects of using aspirin for acne are skin dryness and irritation. Peeling and redness may occur as a result. Mixing aspirin with other forms of salicylic acid can increase these effects.
Also, you may be more prone to such effects if you use aspirin on your face often. Consider starting out with a once-daily application, increasing it up to twice daily. This will allow your skin time to get used to the aspirin without overdrying your skin. If you have sensitive skin, you may want to try using aspirin every other day to start.
Any acne treatments you put on your face can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. This includes aspirin.
Be sure to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays every single day. Doing so will decrease your risk of sunburn as well as more long-term effects of sun exposure, like premature aging and skin cancer. Here’s how to choose the right sunscreen for you.
As a precaution, avoid using any form of aspirin during pregnancy and breastfeeding, unless your doctor tells you to for certain medical conditions. This can increase the risk of bleeding in your child.
Don’t use aspirin if you’re allergic to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen.
It’s important to talk to your doctor or dermatologist before applying aspirin on your acne — especially if you’re using other types of topicals or if you have any underlying health conditions.
The bottom line
While aspirin may not work for everyone, there’s a possibility that it can help clear up acne when used as a topical treatment only.
For severe inflammatory acne lesions, you’ll need to be extra patient with at-home treatment. It can take one to two months before stubborn acne can clear up.
No matter which form of acne treatment you choose, it’s important to stick with it and give it time to work. Resist the urge to pop your pimples. This will only make your acne worse and increase the potential for scarring.
See your dermatologist if you have any concerns or you’re not seeing the results you want after using aspirin on your acne.