Our skin is a reflection of our overall health, which is why glowing, beautiful skin often results from proper care, hydration and eating a nutrient-dense diet. On the other hand, skin ridden with whiteheads, blackheads and other types of pimples can indicate oxidative damage, poor nutrition and hormonal imbalances — making it all the more important to find home remedies for acne.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne is the most common skin condition in the United States. (1) Occasional breakouts and chronic acne plague tens of millions of Americans of all ages every year. About 85 percent of teens experience some type of acne, but even many adults deal with at least occasional breakouts too. About half of teens and young adults suffering from acne will have severe enough symptoms to seek out professional help from a dermatologist.
From mild to severe, acne can cause painful and unsightly outbreaks on the face, back, chest and even arms. Left untreated, acne can also lead to diminished self-esteem and long-term hyperpigmentation or scarring. Genetics, changing hormone levels, lack of sleep and stress are all contributing factors to acne.
The good news is this: many safe home remedies for acne, blackheads, whiteheads, and hyperpigmentation due to acne scars are all available. Below I’m sharing my favorite natural home remedies for getting rid of pimples and keeping them from returning. If you’re someone who has chosen to use potentially dangerous prescription drugs and/or topical medications on your skin, instead of natural home remedies for acne, then know that clearing your skin naturally is possible, as is minimizing acne scars. A healthy diet, applying essential oils, proper gentle cleansing and balancing hormones are all home remedies for acne you can restore your skin’s health, reduce unsightly pimples or other types of irritation, and prevent scars.
What Is Acne?
Acne vulgaris is the term for a group of skin conditions that cause most acne pimples. (2) Acne is typically categorized into two main types: non-inflammatory and inflammatory acne. Acne is also described as mild, moderate or severe acne, or sometimes given a grade of either grade I, II, III or IV acne. (3)
The main types of acne include:
- Non-inflammatory acne—characterized by whiteheads and blackheads, but not cysts/nodules.
- Inflammatory acne— usually caused by small infections due to P. Acnes bacteria.
- Cystic acne (also called nodulocystic acne)— an intense form of acne that results in large, inflamed cysts and nodules that appear on the skin
- Acne Fulminans— a severe form of inflammatory acne that usually affects adolescent males on jaw, chest and back.
- Acne Mechanica:— triggered by excess pressure, heat, and friction. Often affects athletes, causing small bumps and some inflamed lesions.
Here is how acne is graded depending on the type of symptoms it causes:
- Grade I— causes mild whiteheads, blackheads, and small pimples that are not inflamed.
- Grade II— Moderate acne that causes frequent breakouts of pustules and papules.
- Grade III— large amount of inflammation, numerous papules and pustules, and some nodules.
- Grade IV— the most severe form of acne, causing many nodules, cysts, pustules, and papules that often appear on the face, back, chest, neck, and buttocks.
Signs and Symptoms
Acne symptoms will depend on the specific type of acne someone has and the underlying cause of the skin irritation/inflammation. The most common symptoms that acne causes include:
- Blackheads, or small black dots on the skin, usually around the nose, forehead or chin. These are also called “comedones” and result from debris getting trapped inside of a follicle.
- Whiteheads, which can form when pus builds under the skin and forms a “head”. These result from follicles getting plugged with sebum and dead skin cells.
- Papules and pustules (the technical name for pimples) which cause small or medium sized bumps on the skin that are round, red and don’t always have a visible “head”. These are caused by “moderate” types of acne and are not as severe as cysts or nodules. (5)
- Cysts or nodules, which are severe pimples that are infected and painful. They can form within deeper layers of the skin, become very swollen or tender, and take longer to heal then papules and pustules.
- Dark spots on the skin (hyperpigmentation).
- Scars, most often left behind from nodules or cysts, especially if they have been “popped” or picked.
- Increased sensitivity to products, heat, sweat and sunlight.
- Decreased self esteem, self consciousness, anxiety and depression.
The main causes of acne include:
- Clogged pores, caused by things like excess oil production and dead skin cells. Sebum is the type of oil released into hair follicles that can become trapped beneath surface of the skin and clog pores.
- Hormone fluctuations or imbalances. For example, when androgen hormones increase oil production rises. This often happens in teens and young adults suffering from acne, especially women experiencing PMS, irregular periods, pregnancy, early menopause, and other hormonal conditions such as poly cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
- Poor diet, such as the “Standard American Diet” that includes lots of refined grains, sugar and unhealthy fats.
- High amounts of stress and related problems like psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety.
- Use of certain medications, including corticosteroids, androgens, birth control pills and lithium (6).
- Sleep deprivation.
- Friction and irritation to the skin, such as from sports equipment and backpacks that can lead to acne breakouts on the chin, forehead, jawline and back.
- Genetic predisposition.
- Smoking and other causes of inflammation.
Once believed to strike most often during teen years, acne is now affecting millions of adult women, many of which never had a problem with acne in the past. Some women (and men too) will only deal with acne during puberty and their teenage years, but others will suffer well into adulthood, especially during times of stress and hormonal changes. While acne among adult women is usually linked to hormonal shifts and imbalances that occur during the menstrual cycle, or when transitioning into menopause, it’s important to consider elevated stress levels, a lack of sleep and a poor diet might also be root causes.
A review published in the Archives of Dermatological Research found evidence that sleep deprivation, stress and other aspects of “modern life” are linked to adult female acne. The researchers point out that “Modern life presents many stresses including urban noises, socioeconomic pressures and light stimuli. Women are especially affected by stress during daily routine. Women also have a higher risk of developing psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety. Sleep restriction is added to these factors, with several negative consequences on health, including on hormonal secretion and the immune system.” (7)
Most people either choose to live with acne, or out of frustration turn to medications or chemical treatments that often have side effects or simply don’t work at all. Dermatologists can prescribe medications to treat acne, including gels, lotions, cleansers and even antibiotics. The harsh chemicals used in over-the-counter and prescription acne products can cause further irritation to already-sensitive or inflamed skin, so using these is not always the best option, or safe for continued use.
According to doctors, which is the best medicine for treating acne?
- Two ingredients used in many acne treatments are called benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. Concentrated vitamin A derivatives are also sometimes used, in addition to sulfur or zinc compounds.
- Benzoyl peroxide helps kill bacteria found inside pores, which helps prevent pore clogging. This can reduce infections, redness and inflammation, but sometimes causes negative reactions like dryness, burning and peeling. Always start with a lower concentration to test your reaction, such as a lotion with 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide.
- Salicylic acid is another common active ingredient that helps remove excess cells that trap sebum and bacteria inside pores. It can also cause redness and dryness, especially on sensitive skin. Start with a product containing 0.5 percent to 3 percent salicylic acid.
- Dermatologists sometimes prescribe antibiotics to help reduce the amount of bacteria getting trapped inside pores. Examples of antibiotics prescribed to treat acne include clindamycin, doxycycline, erythromycin, and tetracycline. (8)
- Once acne is resolved, how do dermatologists remove acne scars? A peel might be recommended to remove the appearance of dark spots or scars, such as a glycolic peel. Peels and other acne treatments can increase photo-sensitivity, so you’ll need to protect your skin from the sun.
Home Remedies for Acne
Everyone’s skin is different, so keep in mind that effectively treating acne breakouts at home requires a multi-disciplinary approach. The home remedies for acne described below can be used in combination to provide the best results. However, keep in mind that while you overcome acne it’s also very important to avoid the biggest mistakes that can make skin irritation or scarring worse:
- Picking blemishes
- Over cleansing with harsh chemicals and cleansers
- Believing only topical care of the skin is necessary to fight acne
- Not giving skin the chance to adapt to new care
- Failing to stay properly hydrated
- Failing to start treating acne from the inside, out
1. Cleanse Gently
Getting rid of stubborn pimples, blackheads and whiteheads starts with thorough but gentle cleansing of the skin. Try my recipe for Homemade Honey Face Wash to cleanse skin without causing irritation. It features apple cider vinegar, honey, coconut oil, probiotics and essential oils (like tea tree oil). The honey soothes the skin, the coconut oil helps to fight bacteria and fungus, and the tea tree oil helps to invigorate the skin. Dampen skin with warm water, and massage into face and neck. Rinse well and pat dry. Do this each morning and evening and, if needed, after workouts. Refrain from cleansing more often, as this can irritate the skin and cause an overproduction of oil.
If you find that acne appears around your hairline, commercial hair products may be to blame. Shampoo, conditioner, hair spray, gels and mousses contain acne-causing ingredients, including petroleum, parabens, silicone, sulfates, panthenol and other chemicals. Try my Homemade Honey Citrus Shampoo that is void of harmful chemicals and leaves hair soft and manageable. Follow with a touch of coconut oil or my Homemade Conditioner made from apple cider vinegar and essential oils.
Like hair products, makeup and skin care products contain ingredients that can cause acne. Common offenders include lanolin, mineral oil, aluminum, retinyl acetate, alcohol, oxybenzone, triclosan, parabens, polyethylene, BHA and BHT, and formaldehyde-based preservatives. Read ingredient labels to avoid putting these types of chemicals on your sensitive skin.
2. Tone to Restore pH Balance
Toning is an important step in proper skin care. It helps to remove any residue after cleansing and helps to restore the skin’s natural pH levels.
You can use pure apple cider vinegar (with the mother culture) as your evening and morning toner. Apple cider vinegar is packed with potassium, magnesium, acetic acid and various enzymes that kill bacteria on the skin. Chronic acne can be the result of bacteria and fungi that continue to spread and grow on the surface of the skin. With a cotton ball, smooth ACV over skin paying particular attention to active breakouts and acne prone areas.
3. Use Healing Masks
To hydrate and heal your skin, try applying masks a couple of times per week. Yogurt, honey, cinnamon, essential oils and other ingredients can be used to create soothing masks that help to hydrate skin and fight common causes of acne. Here are two mask recipes that are easy-to-make home remedies for acne:
- Yogurt and Honey Mask: Mix one tablespoon of raw honey with one tablespoon of yogurt. Apply to face, paying particular attention to hairline, jawline and other acne prone areas. Relax for 10 minutes and gently wipe off with a damp cloth.
- Cinnamon and Honey Mask: Mix two tablespoons of raw honey, one teaspoon of coconut oil and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. Smooth over face. Keep away from eyes, as the cinnamon can be an irritant. Relax for 5–10 minutes and gently remove with damp cloth. Honey and cinnamon used together helps to fight acne because of its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial properties.
Add a couple of drops of tea tree oil to either of the masks above during an active acne breakout. Tea tree oil is considered one of the best home remedies for acne.
4. Exfoliate Regularly (But Gently)
Clogged pores and dead skin both contribute to acne. (9) It’s important to exfoliate properly to remove buildup, however keep in mind that commercially available scrubs are ridden with chemicals that can further irritate skin.
DIY scrubs to fight acne and keep skin fresh are easy to make and economical. First, you need something that is gritty. Sea salt, brown sugar and ground oatmeal are good choices. In addition, you need a base. Coconut oil, kefir and honey are all good choices. These bases help to fight bacteria, fungi and candida overgrowth on the skin while the textured ingredients help to unplug pores and remove dead skin.
To make your own exfoliate mix two tablespoons of the dry ingredient of choice with 1–2 tablespoons of the base of choice. Rub into skin in a circular motion. Start at the forehead and work your way down, paying particular attention to problem areas. Remove with a damp cloth, and rinse well.
5. Spot Treat with Tea Tree Oil
Acne responds well to melalecua, more commonly known as tea tree oil. It’s used the world over as an antiseptic and to treat wounds. Like coconut oil, honey and cultured milk products, it fights bacteria and fungi.
According to medical research, tea tree oil gels containing 5 percent tea tree oil may be as effective as medications containing 5 percent benzoyl peroxide. (10) Researchers do indicate that tea tree oil may work more slowly for some individuals, so try to be patient. To make a simple home remedy for acne using tea tree oil mix 4–8 drops of tea tree oil and one teaspoon of coconut oil or jojoba oil. Dap lightly onto the problem areas. Slight tingling is normal, but if the application causes lots of burning then discontinue use. Always use a carrier oil, as tea tree oil can be too harsh when applied directly to skin.
There are also several other ingredients you can use on skin to reduce inflammation, such as chamomile oil and aloe vera. These can especially be beneficial if your skin is irritated due to using products containing salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or both.
6. Fight Bacteria With Holy Basil
In this study, sweet basil oil slightly outperformed holy basil oil in topical applications. Holy basil oil tea, or Tulsi tea, supports healthy blood sugar and hormone levels. As these two conditions are linked with acne, consuming herbal tea daily will help to balance hormones naturally, fighting acne from the inside out, making this one of the best cross-over home remedies for acne. Additionally, Holy basil tea can be applied topically to the skin as a toner, serving as another of the many home remedies for acne. Either sweet basil or holy basil essential oils can also be added to the masks, cleansers or exfoliating recipes mentioned above.
Related: How to Get Rid of Nodular Acne
Contrary to popular belief, acne-prone skin still needs to be moisturized. Using topicals that focus on drying out the skin tricks the skin into producing even more oil, thereby further contributing to clogged pores and more acne.
What is the best product for acne if you have dry skin? Coconut oil is one of the most versatile and healthy oils on earth. While it can be too heavy for some skin, coconut oil is generally an excellent moisturizer. A study published in Biomaterials found that lauric acid found in coconut oil demonstrates the strongest bacterial activity against acne caused by bacteria. (12) There is an increasing demand for coconut oil beauty products because the lauric acid, antioxidants and medium-chain fatty acids hydrate and restore skin and hair.
To make a homemade daily skin moisturizer, warm ¼ teaspoon of coconut oil in the palms of your hands. Smooth over your cleaned face and neck. Allow to soak into the skin for five minutes. Gently wipe off excess oil with a dry cloth. The amount that has been absorbed is all your skin needs, but any excess may cause a breakout.
8. Avoid Too Much Sun Exposure
For acne-prone skin during breakouts, it’s important to protect against sun exposure. Ultraviolet rays stimulate pigment producing cells, increasing the risk of acne scarring. (13) The best option is to use natural sunscreens and to only get an appropriate amount of direct sun exposure daily (about 15–20 minutes most days).
Commercial sunscreens are packed with harmful chemicals that can irritate sensitive skin and acne-prone skin. Research shows that coconut oil has an SPF value of 8, as does olive oil. (14) To use as sun protection, apply a moderate amount to exposed skin every couple of hours and try to avoid spending too much time in direct sunlight during “peak” hours, which is about from 10am-3pm each day.
9. Take a Probiotic Supplement
Remember, fighting acne requires both external treatment and an internal treatment. Live probiotics support healthy digestion and immune system functioning, plus improves skin health by fighting acne. According to a recent study published in Dermatology Online Journal, researchers indicate that probiotic foods and supplements are promising and safe home remedies for acne. (15) The study indicates that larger trials are still needed, but evidence thus far is promising for using probiotics to improve gut health and fight acne.
10. Take Guggul
For individuals suffering from the cystic form of acne, a controlled clinical trial has found that Guggul supplements (also known as guggulsterone) outperformed 500 milligrams of tetracycline by a small margin. (16) In the study, 25 milligrams of guggulsterone taken twice daily for three months resulted in the reduction of acne, but more importantly, 50 percent fewer participants had acne relapses. Researchers noted that patients with oily skin responded remarkably better to guggul than others in the study.
11. Eat A Healthy, Low-Glycemic Index Diet
There’s evidence that eating a low glycemic diet, meaning one that doesn’t include lots of processed grains/flour products and added sugar, is one the best home remedies for acne because it can help prevent it. Glycemic index measures how quickly foods raise blood sugar. Processed and refined foods, like those common in the Western diet, are high-glycemic, while meats and whole plant foods are low on the glycemic scale.
Glycemic load is a measure of glycemic index times carbohydrates minus fiber. Most of the time, refined and processed food will have a high glycemic index AND high glycemic load, while certain vegetables will have a higher glycemic index, but very low glycemic load on the body.
In 2007, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that glycemic load can greatly affects acne. 43 males with acne, aged 15 to 25, were separated into two groups. For twelve weeks, one group ate a diet that was 25 percent protein and 45 percent low-glycemic carbohydrates. The other group ate carbs without any control of glycemic index, resulting in a higher glycemic diet. At the end of the study, the acne had decreased in the low-glycemic group by almost twice the rate of the high-glycemic group! (17)
As part of the protocol to treat acne from the inside out, it’s important eat foods that don’t cause blood sugar spikes or increased inflammation. Here are tips for following a acne-free diet:
- Focus on eating lots of leafy green vegetables, berries and clean protein.
- Increase consumption of wild fish, grass-fed meat and cage-free chickens.
- Healthy fats are essential to good skin health and treating acne breakouts at home, so include foods rich in omega-3s like wild-caught salmon.
- Add zinc-rich foods such as kefir, yogurt, lamb, pumpkin seeds and chicken. According to a recent study published in BioMed Research International, there is a correlation between low zinc levels and the severity of acne. (18)
- Eat more high fiber foods since fiber found in vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds supports cleansing the colon and growth of good bacteria in the gut.
- Add vitamin A-rich foods to your diet, including spinach, carrots and beef liver.
Foods to avoid for acne-free skin include hydrogenated oils, gluten, wheat, sugar and conventional cow’s milk dairy products.
- If you must have your dairy milk, consume goat’s milk or raw milk, as researchers have found that conventional milk products can contribute to acne. (19) In addition to conventional dairy, it’s important to exclude known allergens or foods you have a sensitivity to — common food allergens include gluten, tree nuts, soy, peanuts and shellfish.
- Sugar and carbohydrate rich foods — Consuming excess amounts of sugar and grain products can feed yeast and candida in the body increasing acne.
- Gluten and wheat — These foods cause inflammation of the gut, which also affects the skin.
- Chocolate — Is high in compounds that can trigger acne. Eliminate chocolate completely if possible but if you consume it then make sure it’s pure dark chocolate.
- Fried and fast foods — These foods contain a number of ingredients that cause inflammation including hydrogenated oils, sodium, chemicals, flavorings and sugar.
- Hydrogenated oils — Causes oily skin and are one of the main causes of acne. Hydrogenated oils can be found in foods like pizza and in packaged foods that contain soybean oil, corn oil, canola oil, and vegetable oil.
12. Use Essential Oils to Reduce Acne Scars
If you’ve ever suffered from acne in the past, then you’re probably wondering how to get rid of acne scars that can remain for months or even years. Treating acne scars takes patience and perseverance. The sooner you start treating a scar, the better possible results. The vast majority of individuals who get acne will experience some degree of scarring. The most important thing you can do to prevent scarring? During a breakout, never pick or pop pimples, whiteheads or blackheads!
For 6–12 months after an acne breakout, stay out of the sun as much as possible to avoid making dark spots and scars worse. When you are in the sun, use an all-natural sunscreen to protect skin. If scars do develop, dot a drop of rosehip seed oil or carrot seed oil on the scars twice per day until you notice a difference in the scar.
Coconut oil, lavender essential oil, honey and gentle exfoliation can also help prevent scars, depending on your skin tone and texture. To naturally help treat acne scars you can make a paste of raw honey, lavender essential oil, tea tree oil and frankincense oil. Check out my recipe for a homemade acne scar removal face mask.
Risks and Side Effects
Acne will sometimes go away on its own with time, especially if you get acne as a teenager or during a stressful period of your life. But if you’re suffering from ongoing cystic acne then it’s best to visit a doctor for help, since this usually points to a bigger problem.
Big, inflamed, painful cysts under your skin indicate that an underlying health problem may be to blame, such as PCOS, a thyroid problem, etc. Talk to your doctor about potential causes and ways to treat acne holistically depending on your unique situation.
- Acne (acne vulgaris) describes several different types of skin conditions that cause acne symptoms like whiteheads, blackheads, papules, pustules, cysts and discoloration or scars.
- Causes of acne include clogged cores, bacterial infections, hormonal imbalances or fluctuations, inflammation, a poor diet, stress and lack of sleep,
- Some of the top home remedies for acne and acne scars are gently cleansing skin, toning, moisturizing, balancing hormones, protecting skin from sun damage, using essential oils and eating a healthy diet.
- After you have gotten rid of acne using home remedies for acne, it’s important to stick with a healthy diet, drink plenty of water, keep up with your new skin care routine and change your pillowcase every week to prevent breakouts from returning.