Acne is one of the most common skin conditions in the world, affecting an estimated 85% of young adults (
Conventional acne treatments like salicylic acid, niacinamide, or benzoyl peroxide are proven to be the most effective acne solutions, but they can be expensive and have undesirable side effects, such as dryness, redness, and irritation.
This has prompted many people to look into remedies to cure acne naturally at home. In fact, one study found that 77% of acne patients had tried alternative acne treatments (2).
Many home remedies lack scientific backing, and further research on their effectiveness is needed. If you’re looking for alternative treatments, though, there are still options you can try.
This article explores 13 popular home remedies for acne.
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 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 may contribute to the development of acne, including:
- hormone changes
Standard clinical treatments are the most effective for reducing acne. You can also try home treatments, though more research on their effectiveness is needed. Below are 13 home remedies for acne.
Apple cider vinegar is made by fermenting apple cider, or the unfiltered juice from pressed apples.
Apple cider vinegar contains organic acids, such as citric acid, that have been found to kill P. acnes (
Research has shown that succinic acid, another organic acid, suppresses inflammation caused by P. acnes, which may prevent scarring (
While certain components of apple cider vinegar may help with acne, there’s currently no evidence to support its use for this purpose. Some dermatologists advise against using apple cider vinegar at all, as it may irritate the skin.
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.
It’s important to note that applying apple cider vinegar to your skin can cause burns and irritation. If you choose to try it, use it in small amounts and dilute it with water.
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’s relatively well studied compared with other natural treatments for acne.
Research indicates that people with acne tend to have lower levels of zinc in their blood than those with clear skin (
Several studies have also shown that taking zinc orally may help reduce acne.
For example, a 2014 review found that zinc is more effective at treating severe and inflammatory acne than treating moderate acne (
Elemental zinc refers to the amount of zinc that’s present in the compound. Zinc is available in many forms, and they contain varying amounts 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’s probably best to not exceed that amount unless you’re under the supervision of a medical doctor.
Taking too much zinc may cause adverse effects, including stomach pain and gut irritation.
It’s 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.
Individuals with acne tend to have lower zinc levels than people with clear skin. Several studies suggest that taking zinc orally may reduce acne.
A 2017 study found that the combination of honey and cinnamon bark extract exerted antibacterial effects against P. acnes (
Other research has indicated that honey on its own can block the growth of or kill P. acnes (17).
Although, this finding doesn’t necessarily mean that honey effectively treats acne.
A study in 136 people with acne found that applying honey to the skin after using antibacterial soap was no more effective at treating acne than using the soap on its own (
While the anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties of honey and cinnamon may reduce acne, more research is needed.
How to make a honey and cinnamon mask
- Mix 2 tablespoons of honey and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon 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.
Honey and cinnamon have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. They may help reduce acne, but more studies are needed.
Tea tree oil is an essential oil that’s extracted from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia, a small tree native to Australia.
Another small study found that, compared with benzoyl peroxide, participants using a tea tree oil ointment for acne experienced less dry skin and irritation. They also felt more satisfied with the treatment (
Given that topical and oral antibiotics can cause bacterial resistance if used long term for acne, tea tree oil may be an effective substitute (
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 the affected areas.
- Apply moisturizer if desired.
- Repeat this process 1–2 times per day, as needed.
Tea tree oil has strong anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Applying it to the skin may reduce acne.
Green tea is very high in antioxidants, and drinking it can promote good health.
It may also help reduce acne. This is likely because the polyphenols in green tea help fight bacteria and reduce inflammation, which are two main causes of acne (
There isn’t much research exploring the benefits of drinking green tea when it comes to acne, and more studies are needed.
In one small study with 80 women, participants took 1,500 mg of green tea extract daily for 4 weeks. By the end of the study, women who took the extract had less acne on their noses, chins, and around their mouths (
Many studies also indicate that applying green tea directly to the skin may help with acne.
Research shows that the main antioxidant in green tea — epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) — reduces sebum production, fights inflammation, and inhibits the growth of P. acnes in individuals with acne-prone skin (
You can buy creams and lotions that contain green tea, but it’s 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 the tea to cool.
- Using a cotton ball, apply the tea to your skin or pour it into a spray bottle to spritz it on.
- Allow it to dry, then rinse it off with water and pat your skin dry.
You can also add the remaining tea leaves to honey and make a mask.
Green tea is high in antioxidants that help fight bacteria and reduce inflammation. Some research indicates that applying green tea extract to the skin may 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 (
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.
Currently, there appears to be very little research on witch hazel’s ability to treat acne specifically.
In one small study funded by a skin care company, 30 individuals with mild or moderate acne used a three-step facial treatment twice daily for 6 weeks.
Witch hazel was one of the ingredients in the second step of the treatment. Most participants experienced significant improvement in their acne by the end of the study (
How to use it
- Combine 1 tablespoon of witch hazel bark and 1 cup of water in a small saucepan.
- Soak the 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 it 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.
It’s important to note that commercially prepared versions may not contain tannins, as they are often lost in the distillation process.
Applying witch hazel to the skin may reduce irritation and inflammation. 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 (38).
While research shows promise, the anti-acne benefits of aloe vera itself require further scientific research.
How to use it
- Scrape the gel from the aloe plant out with a spoon.
- Apply the gel directly to clean skin as a moisturizer.
- Repeat 1–2 times per day, or as desired.
You can also buy aloe vera gel from the store, but make sure that it’s pure aloe without any added ingredients.
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, but more research is needed.
Omega-3 fatty acids are 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 (
Fish oils contain two main types of omega-3 fatty acids — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
High levels of EPA and DHA have been shown to decrease inflammatory factors, which may reduce the risk of acne (
In one study, 45 individuals with acne were given omega-3 fatty acid supplements containing both EPA and DHA daily. After 10 weeks, their acne decreased significantly (
There’s no specific recommended daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids. The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that healthy adults consume around 250 mg of combined EPA and DHA each day (
You can also get omega-3 fatty acids by eating salmon, sardines, anchovies, walnuts, chia seeds, and ground flax seeds.
Fish oils contain two main types of omega-3 fatty acids — EPA and DHA. Taking a fish oil supplement may help decrease acne.
Exfoliation is the process of removing the top layer of dead skin cells. You can use chemicals to achieve this, or exfoliate mechanically by using a brush or scrub to physically remove the cells (
Exfoliation may improve acne by removing the skin cells that clog pores.
It may also make acne treatments for the skin more effective by allowing them to penetrate deeper, once the topmost layer of skin is removed.
Currently, the research on exfoliation and its ability to treat acne is limited.
In one small study, 38 patients with acne received eight microdermabrasion treatments at weekly intervals. The participants with acne scars showed some improvements following the treatments (
Another small study found that six weekly microdermabrasion treatments helped stimulate skin repair (
While these results indicate that exfoliation may improve skin health and appearance, more research is needed on acne.
There are a wide variety of exfoliation products available, but you can also make a scrub at home using sugar or salt.
Note that mechanical exfoliation, such as with harsh scrubs or brushes, can be irritating and damage the skin. As such, some dermatologists recommend gentle chemical exfoliation with salicylic- or glycolic-acid-based products.
If you choose to try mechanical exfoliation, be sure to gently rub your skin to avoid damaging it.
How to make a scrub at home
- Mix equal parts sugar (or salt) and coconut oil.
- Gently rub your skin with the mixture and rinse well.
- Exfoliate as often as desired, up to once daily.
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.
Research suggests that dietary factors, such as insulin and glycemic index, may be associated with acne (
A food’s glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly it raises your blood sugar.
Eating high GI foods causes a spike in insulin, which likely increases sebum production. As a result, high GI foods may directly affect the development and severity of acne.
Foods with a high glycemic index include processed foods, such as:
- white bread
- sugary soft drinks
- sugary breakfast cereals
Foods with a low glycemic index include:
- whole or minimally processed grains
In one study, 66 people followed either a normal or low glycemic diet. After 2 weeks, the individuals consuming a low glycemic diet had lower levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), a hormone involved in acne development (
Another study in 64 people found that those with moderate or severe acne ate diets with more carbohydrates and a higher glycemic load than those without acne (
These small studies suggest that a low glycemic diet may help those with acne-prone skin. Additional larger, longer studies are needed.
Eating high glycemic foods may increase sebum production and contribute to acne. More research is needed to determine whether a low glycemic diet can treat or help prevent acne.
The relationship between dairy and acne is highly controversial.
One study in people ages 10 to 24 found that drinking whole milk three or more days each week was linked to moderate or severe acne (
In another study including 114 participants, those with acne were found to drink significantly more milk than people who didn’t have acne (
On the other hand, a study involving over 20,000 adults found no association between milk consumption and acne (
Participants self-reported the data in these studies, so more research needs to be done to establish a true causal relationship.
The relationship between milk and acne needs further study.
Some studies have found a positive association between drinking milk and acne. Limiting milk and dairy consumption may help prevent acne, but more research is needed.
Stress may also affect gut bacteria and cause inflammation throughout the body, which could be linked to acne (
What’s more, stress can slow wound healing, which may slow the repair of acne lesions (
However, each of these studies was relatively small, so more research is needed.
One study in 80 participants found no association between stress intensity and acne. However, it noted that acne severity may be related to people’s ability to cope with stress (
Ways to reduce stress
- get more sleep
- engage in physical activity
- practice yoga
- take deep breaths
Hormones that are released during times of stress may make acne worse. Reducing stress may help improve acne.
There’s little research on the effects of exercise on acne. Still, exercise affects bodily functions in ways that may help improve acne.
For example, exercise promotes healthy blood circulation. The increase in blood flow helps nourish the skin cells, which may help prevent and heal acne.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get 150 minutes of aerobic exercise and engage in strength training activities two days per week (
This can include walking, hiking, running, and lifting weights.
Exercise affects several factors that may improve acne. These include promoting healthy blood circulation and helping reduce stress.
Acne is a common problem with a number of underlying causes.
Experts agree that conventional treatments like salicylic acid, niacinamide, or benzoyl peroxide are still the most effective, though some may find these irritating.
Many people choose to try natural remedies. Most home remedies for acne have not been shown to be clinically effective, but they’re available as alternative treatment options.
Nevertheless, you may want to consult a dermatologist if you have severe acne.