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.
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 8 popular home remedies for acne.
What causes 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.
1. Apply apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is made by fermenting apple cider or the unfiltered juice from pressed apples. Like other vinegars, it’s known for its ability to fight many types of bacteria and fungi. 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. Lactic acid, another acid in apple cider vinegar, may also improve the appearance of acne scars. 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.
2. Take a zinc supplement
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. The recommended safe upper limit of zinc is 40 mg per day, so it’s probably best not to 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.
3. Make a honey and cinnamon mask
Honey and cinnamon have the ability to fight bacteria and reduce inflammation, which are two factors that trigger 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.
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.
4. Spot treat with tea tree oil
Tea tree oil is an essential oil that’s extracted from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia, a small tree native to Australia. It’s well-known for its ability to fight bacteria and reduce skin inflammation. What’s more, several studies have found that applying tea tree oil to the skin may reduce acne.
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.
5. Apply green tea to your skin
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.
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.
Multiple studies have found that applying green tea extract to the skin significantly reduces sebum production and pimples in those with acne. 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.
6. Moisturize with aloe vera
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.
Aloe vera contains salicylic acid and sulfur, which are both used extensively in the treatment of acne. Research has found that applying salicylic acid to the skin reduces acne. Several studies have also indicated that aloe vera gel, when combined with other substances like tretinoin cream or tea tree oil, may improve acne.
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.
7. Exfoliate regularly
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.
There is 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 of 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.
8. Exercise regularly
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.
Exercise also plays a role in hormone levels and regulation. Several studies have suggested that exercise can decrease stress and anxiety, both of which can contribute to the development of 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.