When you think of acne, you’re probably thinking of a teenager going through their awkward phase. But if you’re an adult with acne, you know that the struggle is real — and you’ve done enough reading to not want to use all those harsh chemicals you were prescribed as a teenager.
Isotretinoin, for example, is a popular treatment for severe acne because it addresses all of the underlying causes of acne. But it also has a variety of serious side effects and potential interactions. And the truth is, you want to do better for your body.
Here, we’re breaking down ten natural alternatives to heal your acne.
What is Acne?
But first, let’s talk about what acne actually is.
Acne is a skin disorder affecting the hair follicles and oil glands. Basically, you have pores, which are small holes in your skin connecting to oil glands underneath.
The pores connect to the oil gland through what’s called a follicle. This is where oil carries dead cells to the surface to keep your skin happy and healthy.
What Causes It?
Unfortunately for you, this is also the place where a lot of bacteria likes to congregate. And sometimes, the oil in the follicle forms a clump with the hair, which is how you get acne.
There are a variety of factors that can influence when you get acne and how much. Hormones are a big player and greasy makeup is known to make things worse.
The basic goal of acne treatment is threefold: to treat existing acne, prevent more acne from forming, and avoid acne scars.
Natural acne treatment aims to complete this goal without subjecting your skin to unnecessary chemicals that damage your skin, keeping it as clean and natural as Mother Nature intended.
With this in mind, here are ten of our favorite natural acne remedies and how to use them.
1. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar isn’t just good for paleo Worcestershire sauce — it’s also a potent natural acne treatment!
This is in part because of how it’s made, which is a two-step process similar to how alcohol is produced.
First, crushed apples or apple cider is exposed to yeast. This ferments the sugars and turns them into alcohol. Then, bacteria is added to the alcohol, which continues the fermentation process and turns the alcohol into acetic acid.
Unfiltered apple cider vinegar also contains strings of proteins, bacteria, and enzymes (called the “mother”) which provide extra health benefits.
The acidic nature of apple cider vinegar is what makes it useful for acne treatment. It can also dry out your skin if you use it in excess, so use apple cider vinegar as a spot treatment.
How to Use It
Adding apple cider vinegar to your acne treatment process is pretty simple.
To start, create a mixture that’s one part apple cider vinegar and three parts water. If you have sensitive skin, increase the water.
After your normal cleansing routine, apply the mixture to your skin with a cotton ball (remember: spot treatment). Wait five to twenty seconds before rinsing your skin and patting dry.
You can do this once a day in the morning or evening based on your preference. If your acne is more intense, you can do this routine twice a day.
2. Honey Masks
Who knew that honey could help clear your skin?
But, a word of friendly advice: the honey you use to sweeten your strawberry lemonade isn’t going to help here.
That’s because the honey most people buy at the store isn’t actually the kind that has honey’s medicinal effects. The honey you eat for breakfast is processed with heat and added water, which negates the health effects honey could have on your skin.
Instead, you want to use Manuka honey, which is a variety of raw honey native to New Zealand. You can use other varieties of raw honey if they’re easier to find since the key is to buy honey that hasn’t been processed, but Manuka honey is the type most credited with honey’s health benefits.
The key here is to make use of the antioxidants in honey, which include vitamin B3, omega-6 fatty acid, and sodium ascorbyl phosphate.
Pair it with turmeric or cinnamon in a mask and you’re golden (literally).
Turmeric has been used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years.
These days, we know that the punch of turmeric comes from curcumin, which is the main active ingredient in turmeric and is a powerful antioxidant with strong anti-inflammatory effects.
To use it, mix half a teaspoon of turmeric into one tablespoon of honey and apply to wet skin, leaving on for about five minutes.
And if you have some turmeric left over, you can use it as a natural dye for your Easter eggs.
As with honey, you won’t be using the cinnamon you buy in the store.
Instead, you want Cinnamomum zeylanicum, also called “true cinnamon”. This is the stuff that has all the anti-parasitic, anti-microbial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects.
For a mask, mix two tablespoons of honey with one teaspoon of cinnamon. This will create a paste which you can apply to your face. Leave it on for ten to fifteen minutes before rinsing off.
3. Zinc Supplements
Fun fact: zinc is one of the most studied home remedies for acne.
That makes sense because zinc levels in your body are closely related to acne. One 2014 study found that people with clear skin tend to have higher zinc levels than those who are more prone to acne.
Don’t believe it?
Another study had 48 patients taking oral zinc supplements three times a day. Eight weeks later, 38 of those patients reported an 80-100% reduction in their acne.
If you’re adding zinc to your diet, don’t go above the recommended maximum of 40mg per day. Not only does your body not digest all the extra zinc, having too much zinc in your system actually has adverse effects on your health.
4. Tea Tree Oil
If you love your essential oils, you’re going to love tea tree oil.
Tea tree oil is made by using steam to distill the leaves of the tea tree, Melaleuca alternifolia. And while it may seem counterintuitive to treat oily skin with oil, but it actually helps balance the oil on your skin.
In fact, tea tree oil is just as effective as benzoyl peroxide, a popular acne medication.
How to Use It
Use a carrier oil whenever applying essential oils to your skin. You do NOT want to apply the oil directly to the skin. A good carrier option is a pure coconut oil.
5. Green Tea
Drinking green tea hasn’t been shown to directly help acne, but applying it to acne does.
That’s because application brings your skin in direct content with all the good stuff in green tea, like epigallocatechin-3-gallate, the superstar antioxidant.
How to Use It
To use green tea, you can start by making your favorite brew. The water should be boiling hot, and the tea should steep for about three to four minutes.
Using a cotton ball, apply the cooled green tea to your skin. Once the tea has dried on, you can rinse your face and carry on with your day.
6. Witch Hazel
Witch hazel is another big hitter in the world of essential oils, and for good reason.
It has major anti-inflammatory effects and can help protect the skin against cell damage. It has also been traditionally used as a treatment for poison ivy and rashes, as it has potent anti-microbial effects.
And while it’s doing that, it also works as a moisturizer.
How to Use It
Start by combining one tablespoon of witch hazel bark with one cup of water in a saucepan. After 30 minutes of soaking, bring the mix to a boil. Once it is boiling, reduce it to a simmer for ten minutes. Then, remove the saucepan from the heat and let it sit an additional ten minutes.
From here, you can strain out the bark and store the liquid in a sealed container for future use. When using it for acne, apply to your skin with a cotton ball once or twice a day.
7. Aloe Vera
Aloe is one of those natural medicines that managed to oversaturate popular culture.
For good reason–aloe works wonders.
Aloe gel contains two hormones: Gibberellins and Auxin. These two hormones are what provide aloe its anti-inflammatory qualities. They’re also what makes aloe a great choice for burns–Gibberellins, in particular, stimulates the growth of new skin cells.
You have two options with aloe vera: you can either buy the aloe plant and scrape out the gel to use, or buy aloe gel from the store. Just make sure the store-bought stuff is pure aloe without extra ingredients.
8. Fish Oil Supplements
This isn’t technically a topical medicine, but fish oil can help level out your insides so that your skin is healthier.
The main reason to take fish oil supplements if the high omega-3 fatty acid content. These have a variety of benefits, including managing blood pressure, reduce the likelihood of heart attack, and reduce triglycerides.
The omega-3s in fish oil benefits the skin by managing oil production, which is one of the key factors behind acne. You have to ingest omega-3s as part of your diet in order to get their effects, so make sure to take your 250mg with breakfast.
9. Moroccan Rhassoul Clay
If you know the idea behind a mud mask, then you’re on the right track when it comes to rhassoul clay.
Rhassoul clay is native to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, and untreated clay has a naturally silky feeling. It has a high silica and magnesium content, which makes it great for the skin, and it has been shown to improve skin elasticity while diminishing blemishes and blackheads.
The simplest way to use rhassoul clay is to put it in a face mask. Combine the clay with some water to create a paste. Like most face masks, you put it on and allow it to dry completely before you rinse your face clean.
10. Avoid Dairy and Sugar
Technically, this isn’t a specific supplement, but it’s good for both your general health and your skin health.
In general, when you eat foods with a high glycemic index (basically, sugary foods that spike your blood sugar), this causes a spike in insulin, which then affects sebum production (which is part of the acne production process).
If you needed a compelling reason to go sugar-free, this is it.
If you find yourself craving something sweet, try sticking to things that are lower on the glycemic index, like fruits (berries).
Then, there’s dairy. If you’re lactose-intolerant, your love of ice cream, cheese, or milk in your cereal may be causing you to break out. A good way to test this is by cutting back on dairy in your diet for a while and then seeing how your skin reacts when it’s reintroduced.
Note: most people aren’t actually lactose intolerant, so check other avenues before you eliminate all dairy from your diet.
Better Health, Healing Acne
And there you have it–ten great tips to treat your acne a little more naturally.
Of course, healing acne goes beyond the morning treatments and creams–it also has to do with what you eat. We’d like to help with that.
It’s all part of the process of living a happier, healthier life, from your skin to your gut all the way to your toes. Why wait another day?