Breakouts happen. And when they do, it’s tough to know what to do. Is a natural remedy the way to go or will a store-bought product do the trick? Well it depends on the acne type and your skin type.

Here are your options — from DIY concoctions to drugstore-priced treatments to help calm inflammation, fight bacteria, and unclog pores.

There can be a lot of contributing factors at play when it comes to acne. The basic cause is oil and clogged pores, but the reasons for excessive oil production and subsequent bacteria-fueled inflammation can range anywhere from hormones to small infections.

While severe acne usually requires more heavy, medicinal lifting in terms of treatment, you can improve more mild breakouts with topical application.

Here’s five recipes for natural ingredients and how they work:

1. Mix together 1/2 teaspoon turmeric + 1 tablespoon honey

Leave on for: 10–15 mins

Why it works: “Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory and can help reduce inflammation in the skin,” says Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, FAAD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale New Haven Hospital, and co-creator of Pure BioDerm.

Powder or plant, turmeric can be turned into a paste for topical application. Mixing it with honey, an antioxidant-rich product that’s also naturally antibacterial and antimicrobial, may help soothe inflamed skin and prevent future breakouts.

2. Mix 1 to 2 drops of tea tree oil into your clay mask

Leave on for: 10–15 mins (no more than 30)

Why it works: Tea tree oil is a tried and true antibacterial and anti-inflammatory,” Robinson says. While research has found it to be an effective natural acne fighter, it can be potent in high doses and when applied directly on skin. “Be cautious as higher concentrations can be irritating to the skin.”

Due to its potential hormone-disrupting properties, dilute 1 to 2 drops with honey or in your calcium bentonite clay mask, which creates a barrier between the skin and possible irritants.

Another option? Mix a few drops of tea tree oil with 12 drops of a carrier oil, like olive, jojoba, or sweet almond. Massage it in like moisturizer (avoiding the eyes) on cleansed skin. Leave on for 5 to 8 mins. Use a warm towel to massage off and continue the rest of your skin care routine (skip toner, if you do this).

Keep in mind when embarking on a tea tree oil journey that studies documenting its effectiveness are mostly long-term, so consistent use will be more successful than one-night spot treatment.

3. Witch hazel in rose water and your clay mask

Leave on for: 10–15 mins (no more than 30)

Why it works: A botanical extract that’s often used as an astringent, witch hazel may help remove excess oil from the skin. It’s also naturally antibacterial, and its anti-inflammatory properties make it a good option to try for angry, red bumps.

For a skin-soothing mask that packs acne-fighting power, try mixing a few drops of witch hazel with rose or white tea water. Use that water to hydrate your bentonite clay mask. “Avoid preparations with alcohol in the base as it can strip the skin and be irritating,” Robinson advises.

4. Blend aloe vera and turmeric or green tea

Leave on for: 15–20 mins

Why it works: “Aloe is a natural calming ingredient,” Robinson says. “It can be helpful if acne is very inflamed and irritated to help calm the skin.”

This plant also has naturally-occurring salicylic acid and sulfur, which makes it an ideal opponent of acne, especially for folks with oily skin.

Mix it with other powerful ingredients like powdered turmeric or green tea to help with oil control and sensitive skin.

Bonus: Aloe may also work from the inside out: One study found that drinking aloe vera juice may help improve mild-to-moderate acne.

5. Left over oatmeal, no sugar

Leave on for: 20–30 mins

Why it works: Oats contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and oat bran specifically is a good source of B complex vitamins, vitamin E, protein, fat, and minerals.

Boil oats with water, as you normally would for a healthy breakfast option, and allow the mixture to cool completely before applying to skin for a soothing mask session.

You really can’t go wrong when using oatmeal for skin issues, but add a few drops of tea tree oil or turmeric for compound results.

Before you apply anything to your face… Make sure your skin is thoroughly cleansed and your pores are ready. To relax your skin, do a self-steam with a hot towel to help loosen dead skin cells and debris. But if you have rosacea, psoriasis, or severe acne, ask a dermatologist. If you don't have one to ask, skip the steam to avoid a potential reaction.

Sometimes a DIY mixture just doesn’t cut it. For products with more potency, an over-the-counter fix may deliver extra acne-fighting oomph:

1. Aztec Secret

Pure calcium bentonite clay, this product is the basis of many DIY acne face masks. What we love is that you can mix and add your own ingredients (tea tree oil, rose water, apple cider vinegar). Research has shown bentonite clay to be an effective detoxifying agent and skin protector.

Cost: $10.95

Good for: oily but sensitive skin that results in chronic acne

Where to buy: Amazon

2. Peter Thomas Roth Therapeutic Sulfur Mask Acne Treatment Mask

The product contains 10 percent sulfur, a natural antimicrobial agent that’s been shown to effectively treat acne. “Sulfur is a great anti-inflammatory,” Robinson says. “It can be particularly helpful for torso acne.”

Cost: $47

Good for: oily and blemish-prone skin

Where to buy: Sephora

Bonus: sulfate- and phthalate-free

3. Dermalogica Medibac Sebum Clearing Masque

This treatment contains both salicylic acid, a common acne fighter, and zinc, an anti-inflammatory mineral that may help relieve redness and irritation. The clay works to draw out the oils while the other ingredients encourage your skin to exfoliate without being irritated.

Cost: $38.83

Good for: chronic acne and inflamed skin

Where to buy: Amazon

Bonus: fragrance- and coloring-free

4. Activated Charcoal & French Clay Powder for DIY Masks & Skin Treatments

The green clay and charcoal in this product may help eliminate excess oil, while the zinc fights redness and inflammation. Additional vitamin C and spirulina will help deliver antioxidants and soothe your skin into a nice glow. As a dry product, this mask can also be mixed with yogurt, aloe, or rose water for extra benefits.

Cost: $14.99

Good for: sensitive, oily, to dehydrated skin that’s prone to whiteheads

Where to buy: Amazon

Bonus: paraben- and cruelty-free, vegan, and hypoallergenic

5. Paula’s Choice Radiance Renewal Night Mask with Arbutin and Niacinamide

This overnight mask contains niacinamide, which has been found to be an effective acne-reducing treatment. “Niacinamide is a B vitamin which is a great anti-inflammatory and can help reduce redness or erythema of the skin,” Robinson says. “This can be particularly helpful for patients who are experiencing post-inflammatory erythema or redness of the skin as their acne is clearing.”

Cost: $36.00

Good for: dry, dull, dehydrated, and sensitive skin

Where to buy: Amazon

Bonus: fragrance-free

6. De La Cruz 10% Sulfur Ointment Acne Medication

Sulfur is again the magic bullet here, and this straightforward, no-frills treatment offers maximum strength power.

Cost: $6.29

Good for: oily skin and spot treating

Where to buy: Amazon

Bonus: free of preservatives, fragrances, and coloring

7. Ebanel Korean Facial Face Bubble Mask Sheet

Dry or irritated skin may feel revived with this detoxifying sheet mask that combines volcanic ash and bentonite, along with ingredients like vitamin C and peptides to hydrate and repair skin with antioxidants. Hyaluronic acid, collagen, and fruit extracts will also help soften your skin to the touch.

Cost: $13.25

Good for: dehydrated, dull, and acne-prone skin

Where to buy: Amazon

Bonus: cruelty-free and without parabens, sulfates, mineral oil, and alcohol

8. GLAMGLOW SUPERMUD® Activated Charcoal Treatment Mask

This cult classic mask includes an array of acids that help promote cell turnover and clear congested pores. The active ingredients include kaolin (a soft white clay), mandelic acid (a gentle exfoliator), and eucalyptus, which may help promote healing and decrease inflammation.

Cost: $59.00

Good for: dehydrated, dull, and acne-prone skin

Where to buy: Sephora

Bonus: free ofparabens, sulfates, and phthalates

9. Origins’ Out of Trouble™ 10 Minute Mask

If excess oil is at the root of your breakout, this product may help fix the issue with active ingredients like zinc and sulfur.

Cost: $26.00

Good for: combination and oily skin

Where to buy: Sephora

Bonus: certified clean with no sulfates, parabens, formaldehydes, mineral oil, and more

10. Innisfree Super Volcanic Pore Clay Mask

Oily complexions may also benefit from this clay mask, which can even be used as a spot treatment. The active ingredients include volcanic ash, kaolin, bentonite clays, and lactic acid, an effective natural exfoliant.

Cost: $14.88

Good for: combination and oily skin with clogged pores

Where to buy: Amazon

Bonus: certified clean with no sulfates, parabens, formaldehydes, mineral oil, and more

Once you’re done masking, it’s important to adjust your routine to let your skin rest and heal. Make sure you sidestep any irritants or obstacles that could sabotage your success.

For example:

  • If you opted for an acid-heavy treatment, avoid layering any other type of acid on your skin that day.
  • Avoid over-washing your skin before or after treatment.
  • Avoid using active acne-fighting ingredients in every step of your routine.
  • Always apply moisturizer — and always, always use sunscreen before stepping outside.

While masking can be a great way to combat breakouts, you should only mask once or twice a week. You don’t want to completely dry out your skin or take away its natural ability to fight acne and blemishes.

Most of the masks mentioned above are great go-to spot treatments or weekly maintenance measures, but make sure you have a solid acne-fighting regimen in place for your everyday routine.


Michelle Konstantinovsky is a San Francisco-based journalist, marketing specialist, ghostwriter, and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumna. She’s written extensively on health, body image, entertainment, lifestyle, design, and tech for outlets like Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, Teen Vogue, O: The Oprah Magazine, and more.