Acne is something that has affected most people at some point in their lives. For some, it comes and goes with puberty, but for others the breakouts and inflammation continue well into adulthood.
Adult acne is especially a problem for women. They are more likely to develop acne than men and also more likely to have severe acne. (1) This is probably because one of the possible causes of acne is hormone changes and/or imbalances.
The two most used conventional treatments for recurring breakouts are products containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. However, many women (and men) would rather use natural products on their skin instead of harsh treatments.
The good news is that if you want to keep it natural, there are several home remedies for acne that can be very effective.
The Root Cause of Acne
As with any other problem, getting to the root cause is the only way to "fix" it. Whether you've been dealing with acne all your life or just had it pop up, topical treatments can be extremely helpful but won't necessarily get rid of the cause of your breakouts.
There is no one cause for acne. Rather, there are multiple possible causes. So before we get into home remedies for acne, let's take a closer look at why you might be breaking out:
- Hormones- Hormonal fluctuations are thought to be one of the major causes of acne, especially for women. This is the reason breakouts happen at puberty when hormones are changing. For adult women this might mean dealing consistently with acne or having flare ups at certain times: your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, menopause, etc.
- Bacteria- The leading bacteria that causes acne is called Propionibacterium acnes. While you may be tempted to think of it as an evil invader, this bacteria is actually naturally found on healthy skin. The problem comes from an overgrowth of P. acnes, which can happen for several reasons. This is why antibacterial treatments can be successful for treating acne, but unfortunately they often kill good bacteria as well.
- Overproduction of sebum- Sebum is a substance naturally produced by your skin and needed for skin health. However, some skin types overproduce sebum, which can clog pores and fuel the growth of P. acnes. This could be due to genetics or other factors.
- Lifestyle- Stress, lack of sleep, smoking, and other lifestyle factors can contribute to acne. There's also increasing scrutiny on the effects of a poor diet on skin health. (2)
- All of the above- Unfortunately, it's possible to have all of the above affecting your skin. For example, a change in hormones from stress might lead to your skin overproducing oil, which causes bacterial growth and acne. The good news is that anything you do to help your overall health will also help your skin.
As you can tell, acne is a complex issue. The home remedies for acne in this post can help you deal with the breakouts themselves, but it's definitely worth going deeper to see if you can get rid of your acne at the source.
Herbs, Oils, & Home Remedies for Acne
Tea Tree Oil
You can use tea tree to spot treat breakouts or mix a drop in with your facial cleanser when you wash your face. Typically, a carrier oil is used to dilute essential oils, but putting oil on your face can trigger more acne. You can use aloe gel instead to dilute tea tree before applying.
One study found that tea tree was as effective as benzoyl peroxide for acne with fewer adverse effects. However, it took tea tree longer to act, so use it consistently for best results. (4)
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has tons of uses for health and skincare. You can use it as a toner after washing your skin to fight acne, restore the pH of your skin, and reduce oiliness.
Cider vinegar contains a few different acids, including acetic and succinic, that have been shown to tame overgrowth of acne bacteria. (5) Make sure you use raw apple cider vinegar because it has the most benefits. You can create a simple toner by mixing 1 part vinegar with 2 parts water (use more water for sensitive skin). Apply with a cotton ball after cleansing.
Witch hazel comes from the bark of a shrub known as Hamamelis virginiana. Extracts made from the bark have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and help with many skin conditions.
In fact, witch hazel has made its way into commercial toners and other skincare products because of its effectiveness. You can buy a ready-made product or make your own toner by simmering witch hazel in water for 20-30 minutes and bottling the strained liquid.
Burdock is not as popular an herb, but it may be one of the best home remedies for acne. You can use it both internally and externally to calm breakouts and clear toxins out of your body.
A tea made with burdock root can be used as a wash for irritated and inflamed skin. You can also take burdock as a tea or tincture to cleanse from the inside out. Accumulated toxins put stress on your skin, which is one of the pathways for toxins to exit your body. Burdock root is one of the best cleansers with a long history of helping skin issues, including acne. (5)
Raw honey is another ingredient with many skincare benefits. It contains antioxidants and live enzymes that can fight against bacterial overgrowth.
Honey on its own isn't strong enough to actually treat acne, but it can help with breakouts, especially when mixed with other ingredients like tea tree or cinnamon. Try a face mask made with 2 tablespoons raw honey and 1/2-1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or spot treat with the mixture instead.
Rosemary essential oil can be especially helpful if you have acne combined with oily skin. It's been shown in lab studies to be effective against the type of bacteria that cause acne. (6)
Rosemary oil can also help to prevent excess sebum production, which will help your pores to keep from getting clogged. Dilute it with a carrier oil, face wash, or aloe vera gel before using.
Calendula is one of the best herbs for skincare, soothing irritated skin and promoting healing. It has antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties. (7)
You can use the dried herb to make a wash or use a calendula-infused cream. Calendula is especially beneficial if you have dry skin with acne or to help with dry skin caused by using acne products.
Aloe Vera Gel
Aloe vera is a particularly good choice for acne sufferers because it provides oil-free hydration for skin. It also contains salicylic acid (used in higher concentrations to treat acne) and aloin, which is anti-inflammatory. (8)
Like honey, aloe vera gel works best combined with other home remedies for acne. You can add essential oils to it, combine aloe with sugar to make a face scrub, or use it as a moisturizer.
White Willow Bark
White willow bark contains a natural source of salicin, which is a precursor to salicylic acid. It has antibacterial and astringent properties making it helpful for controlling sebum production.
You can buy the dried bark at your local health store or bulk herb store and use it to make a tea by simmering in water. Use it as is for your toner or mix with apple cider vinegar for greater effectiveness.
Citrus Essential Oils
Citrus essential oils, especially lemon, orange, and grapefruit, can all help with acne and oily skin. They naturally brighten your skin as well and can help lighten acne scars.
Lemon oil has demonstrated an ability to fight acne bacteria in studies, and orange oil is good for balancing oily skin. (9) All citrus essential oils can cause photo-sensitivity, so be sure to apply them at night.
Chasteberry refers to the fruit of the Chaste Tree, a shrub native to the Mediterranean and Central Asia. The berries have long been used to balance female hormones, especially to relieve PMS and menopausal symptoms.
If your acne is mostly hormone-related, chasteberry can help if used over a period of time. Consult with a natural practitioner for the dose and frequency best suited to your needs.
Although they won't have an immediate effect, herbs like dandelion and red clover are great home remedies for acne. They work from the inside out to clean out toxins that may be causing your breakouts.
Getting Through Acne
Acne isn't fun no matter what stage of life it shows up in. You can deal with it naturally by using one or several of these home remedies for acne, but remember that it might take a bit of experimenting to find out what works for your skin.
Don't forget to take a look at other factors that might be causing your acne, and consult with an expert as needed to help you get clear skin!