Natural Treatments for Acne That Work

  • Tara Andresen

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Top 8 Natural Acne Remedies That Get Results

Let’s face it, living with acne is no picnic; if anything, it’s like having a bad house guest. It pops up at the least convenient times and hangs around forever. And no matter how politely you mention it, it never gets the hint that it should just go away.

Perhaps one of the worst aspects of living with acne is the long line of companies willing to take your money to sell you the latest breakthrough cure. Anything from light therapy masks to prescription drugs with some alarming potential side effects. People have been hawking their treatments for acne at least since the reign of Cleopatra when sulfur was being touted as a miracle therapy.

And for as long as people have been selling acne cures, other people have been buying them. Today, in America alone, an estimated $2.5 billion is spent on acne cures and treatments every year. But is there solid science behind any of it? And are there any alternative therapies available?

What is acne?

Acne is a long-term skin disease characterized by clogged hair follicles. Oil and dead skin cells get trapped in the open pores, which can lead to whiteheads, blackheads, pimples and more.

There are many other factors involved in acne as well, including bacteria, genetics, hormones and stress.

Not only is acne the world’s most common skin disease, it’s also the eighth most common disease worldwide. It affects up to 90% of teens in the West and can be a persistent problem for people as old as 40.

Can you just go on a special anti-acne diet?

For years, people have been pushing the myth that junk food is the major cause of acne. Even dermatologists used to shame their patients this way. But the fact is that there’s very little conclusive evidence that shows a link between oily, greasy foods and acne.

There was one curious study in 1969 that was supposed to settle the matter as to whether chocolate caused acne. Even though the study didn’t find a link, it was admittedly a small sample size. And the study was funded by Hershey’s. So, let’s take that with a grain of salt.

There is some more recent evidence to suggest that sugar and dairy products might increase your risk for acne, but as of yet more research is still required.

What about the stuff in the drug store?

If you browse the aisles of your local pharmacy for acne remedies, you’ll see two active ingredients popping up on product labels over and over: salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide (BPO).

Salicylic acid is an exfoliating agent. The basic idea is you use it to unclog your pores and that should stop acne before it can start.

Using salicylic acid is known to sometimes cause dry skin. But how is it on pimples? Well, like many aspects of acne, there’s not a lot of hard evidence either way.

Then there’s BPO, which was originally used as an industrial bleach before its antibacterial properties were fully realized. BPO has a well-documented track record of killing Propionibacterium acnes (or P. acnes), the bacteria often linked with acne. It’s even where the condition gets its name from.

But, in this case, bacteria isn’t everything. P. acnes is also present on the faces of people without acne, which has lead us to the current thinking that genetics plays a leading role in determining if you’ll get acne or not. Killing the bacteria may not be enough.

If you decide to try BPO, bear in mind that there’s no evidence to suggest higher concentrations are more effective. Look for the lowest dose possible to minimize potential side effects. And be prepared for bleach stains. BPO leaves white spots everywhere it goes.

How about natural remedies?

Of course, most people would prefer to find a natural acne treatment. Fortunately, there are lots of alternatives—natural ways to deal with this condition that don’t involve harsh chemicals or bleaches.

1. Cultivate a gentle skincare regimen

A common mistake when treating acne is to over wash, especially the areas of the face and neck. Try to avoid harsh soaps, especially if they’re perfumed, and try to only wash twice a day, morning and evening.

If your acne congregates around your hairline, you might be sensitive to one of your hair products. Anything from shampoo to mousse. Try getting by with as little product as possible and see if things get any better.

2. Exfoliate with care

Yes, acne has to do with pores getting clogged. But overdoing it on the exfoliation could actually aggravate your situation at times. As with washing, exfoliation should be kept on the gentle side.

Also, check that the exfoliant your using has ingredients you can easily pronounce. If you’re wary of the chemicals in commercial exfoliants, check out some of the DIY scrub recipes you can find online.

3. Tone naturally

After you’ve washed, try toning with pure apple cider vinegar. Vinegar is nature’s antibacterial agent, so if you’ve got a malicious congregation of P. acnes on your face, looking to stir up some trouble, give them a swipe with some cider vinegar on a cotton ball. Give some extra loving attention to active breakouts and your recurrent trouble spots.

4. Try a healing mask

Try to find time to do a mask a couple of times a week. They help hydrate and heal your skin while fighting the typical signs of acne. As with exfoliants above, there are lots of all-natural mask recipes online if you’re wary of the chemicals in commercial products. Look for masks that contain plain yogurt, cinnamon and essential oils, especially tea tree oil (see below).

5. Moisturize with coconut oil

Another common acne myth is that oily skin doesn’t need to be moisturized. Some people actually to dry out their skin instead. But this only makes things worse, then your oil glands kick into overdrive to compensate.

Try moisturizing with coconut oil instead. The lauric acid in the oil is great at killing P. acnes bacteria. Put a quarter teaspoon of oil in the palm of your hand, warm it up, and apply it to your face and neck. Let it sit for five minutes, then use a dry cloth to gently remove the excess.

6. Try tea tree oil for spot treatments

Also known as melaleuca, tea tree oil has long been used for its antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties. And, it’s anti-acne, to boot. It’s a nice alternative to BPO that won’t bleach your pillowcases. Tea tree oil is available in many natural acne-fighting formulas that are safe to apply directly to the skin. As an undiluted essential oil, it’s too harsh for topical applications and should be cut with coconut or jojoba oil first. About 4–8 drops of tea tree oil to a teaspoon of the other oil.

7. Avoid the sun

It’s best to avoid the sun if you’re acne prone. And that goes double if you’re prone to acne scars. UV light stimulates the production of the pigment melanin, which could increase the likelihood of scarring.

If you have to be out in the sun, avoid chemical sunscreen in favor of a mineral-based product. Look at the list of active ingredients. You want to avoid chemicals like octocrylene, avobenzone or octinoxate in favor of naturally occurring compounds like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

And do your best to stay inside between the peak hours of 10 am and 3 pm.

8. Consider anti-bacterial Thai sweet basil

In 2006, the International Journal of Cosmetic Sciences published a study about using basil derivatives to fight P. acnes bacteria. Thai sweet basil performed the best, with holy basil coming in second, with the research team concluding:

These findings indicate the possibility to use Thai sweet and holy basil oil in suitable formulations for acne skin care.

Now the experiments were all done on cultures in Petry dishes. No human subjects were involved. But if you were making your own scrub or mask and wanted to add a few drops of sweet basil oil in to see if it would help, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Ready to discover what works best for you?

If acne has been an unwelcome guest in your house for far too long, hopefully one of the remedies above can give you some much-needed relief.

The important thing to remember is that every case of acne is unique. What works for some people may not work as well for you. There might be a little trial and error involved before you find the right treatment—or combination of treatments—that’s right for you.

Finding a natural solution for your specific skin condition

Living with acne can be disheartening, but it doesn’t have to be a life sentence. Perhaps all you need is a thorough assessment of your symptoms by a skilled clinician.

If you’d like to find out more about what herbal medical and naturopathic remedies can do for your acne, contact Dr. Tara Andresen today.