Acne is one of the most common skin conditions in the world, affecting an estimated 85% of people at some point in their lives.
Conventional acne treatments can be expensive and often have undesirable side effects like dryness, redness, and irritation.
This has prompted many people to look into how to cure acne naturally at home. The internet is filled with suggestions, but do natural treatments actually work?
This article explores 13 home remedies for acne that are backed by science.
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 up 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 contribute to the development of acne, including genetics, diet, stress, hormone changes, and infections.
Below are 13 home remedies for acne that you might want to try.
1. Apply Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is made by fermenting apple cider, or the unfiltered juice from pressed apples.
Like other tablespoons of vinegar, it is known for its ability to fight many types of bacteria and viruses (Trusted Source).
Apple cider vinegar contains several organic acids that have been shown to kill P. acnes (4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source).
In particular, succinic acid has been shown to suppress inflammation caused by P. acnes, which may prevent scarring (6Trusted Source).
Also, lactic acid has been shown to improve the appearance of acne scars (7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source). What’s more, apple cider vinegar may help dry up the excess oil that causes acne in the first place.
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 is important to note that applying apple cider vinegar to your skin can cause burns and irritation, so it should always be used in small amounts and diluted with water.
2. Take a Zinc Supplement
Zinc is an essential nutrient that’s important for cell growth, hormone production, metabolism, and immune function.
It is also one of the most studied natural treatments for acne. Research shows that people with acne tend to have lower levels of zinc in their blood than those with clear skin (9Trusted Source).
Several studies have shown that taking zinc orally helps reduce acne.
In one study, 48 acne patients were given oral zinc supplements three times per day. After eight weeks, 38 patients experienced an 80–100% reduction in acne.
The optimal dosage of zinc for acne has not been established, but several studies have shown a significant reduction of acne using 30–45 mg of elemental zinc per day (11Trusted Source, 12Trusted Source, 13).
Elemental zinc refers to the amount of zinc that’s present in the compound. Zinc is available in many forms, and each one contains a different amount of elemental zinc.
Zinc oxide contains the highest amount of elemental zinc at 80%.
The recommended safe upper limit of zinc is 40 mg per day, so it is probably best to not exceed that amount unless under the supervision of a medical doctor. Taking too much zinc may cause adverse effects, including stomach pain and gut irritation.
It is 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.
3. Make a Honey and Cinnamon Mask
Both honey and cinnamon are excellent sources of antioxidants (14, 15, 16Trusted Source, 17Trusted Source, 18Trusted Source).
Studies have found applying antioxidants to the skin is more effective at reducing acne than benzoyl peroxide and retinoids (19, 20Trusted Source, 21, 22).
These are two common acne medications for the skin that have antibacterial properties.
The antioxidants studied were vitamin B3, linoleic (omega-6) fatty acid and sodium ascorbyl phosphate (SAP), which is a vitamin C derivative.
These specific antioxidants are not found in honey or cinnamon, but there is a possibility that other antioxidants may have a similar effect.
Honey and cinnamon also have the ability to fight bacteria and reduce inflammation, which are two factors that trigger acne (23Trusted Source, 24Trusted Source, 25Trusted Source).
While the anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial properties of honey and cinnamon may benefit acne-prone skin, no studies exist on their ability to treat acne.
How to Make a Honey and Cinnamon Mask
- Mix 2 tablespoons honey and 1 teaspoon cinnamon together 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.
4. Spot Treat With Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is an essential oil that is extracted from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia, a small tree native to Australia.
It is well known for its ability to fight bacteria and reduce skin inflammation (26).
What’s more, several studies show that applying 5% of tea tree oil to the skin effectively reduces acne (27Trusted Source, 28Trusted Source).
When compared to 5% benzoyl peroxide, 5% tea tree oil did not act as quickly, but it did significantly improve acne after three months of use (29Trusted Source).
It also resulted in fewer adverse effects like dryness, irritation, and burning, compared to benzoyl peroxide.
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 of 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.
5. Apply Green Tea to Your Skin
Green tea is very high in antioxidants, and drinking it can promote good health.
There aren’t any studies exploring the benefits of drinking green tea when it comes to acne, but applying it directly to the skin has been shown to help.
This is likely because the flavonoids and tannins in green tea are known to help fight bacteria and reduce inflammation, which are two main causes of acne (30Trusted Source, 31, 32).
The major antioxidant in green tea — epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) — has been shown to reduce sebum production, fight inflammation and inhibit the growth of P. acnes in individuals with acne-prone skin (33Trusted Source).
Multiple studies have shown that applying a 2–3% green tea extract to the skin significantly reduces sebum production and pimples in those with acne (34Trusted Source, 35Trusted Source, 36Trusted Source).
You can buy creams and lotions that contain green tea, but it is 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 the skin or pour it into a spray bottle to spritz on.
- Allow to dry, then rinse with water and pat dry.
You can also add the remaining tea leaves to honey and make a mask.
Even though there isn’t any evidence that drinking green tea can fight acne, some research suggests it may still be beneficial.
For example, drinking green tea has been shown to lower blood sugar and insulin levels, which are factors that can contribute to the development of acne (37Trusted Source).
6. Apply Witch Hazel
Witch hazel is extracted from the bark and leaves of the North American witch hazel shrub, Hamamelis virginiana. It contains tannins, which have strong antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties (38Trusted Source, 39Trusted Source).
That’s why it’s used to treat a broad range of skin conditions, including dandruff, eczema, varicose veins, burns, bruises, insect bites, and acne.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any studies on the ability of witch hazel to treat acne specifically.
However, there are several studies that show applying witch hazel to the skin can fight bacteria, reduce inflammation and help with healing (40Trusted Source, 41Trusted Source, 42Trusted Source, 43Trusted Source).
How to Use It
- Combine 1 tablespoon witch hazel bark and 1 cup water in a small saucepan.
- Soak witch hazel for 30 minutes and then bring the mixture to a boil on the stove.
- Reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for 10 minutes.
- Remove the mixture from the heat and let sit for an additional 10 minutes.
- Strain and store the liquid in a sealed container.
- Apply to clean skin using a cotton ball 1–2 times per day, or as desired.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that commercially prepared versions may not contain tannins, as they are often lost in the distillation process.
7. 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 (44Trusted Source).
Aloe vera also contains salicylic acid and sulfur, which are both used extensively in the treatment of acne (45).
Several studies have shown that applying salicylic acid to the skin significantly reduces acne (46Trusted Source, 47Trusted Source, 48Trusted Source, 49Trusted Source, 50Trusted Source).
Similarly, applying sulfur has been proven to be an effective acne treatment (51Trusted Source, 52Trusted Source).
While research shows great promise, the anti-acne benefits of aloe vera itself require further scientific evidence.
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.
8. Take a Fish Oil Supplement
Omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly healthy fats that offer a multitude of health benefits.
You must get these fats from your diet, but research shows that most people who eat a standard Western diet don’t get enough of them (53Trusted Source).
Fish oils contain two main types of omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
EPA benefits the skin in several ways, including managing oil production, maintaining adequate hydration and preventing acne (54Trusted Source, 55Trusted Source).
High levels of EPA and DHA have been shown to decrease inflammatory factors, which may reduce the risk of acne (56Trusted Source).
In one study, 45 individuals with acne were given omega-3 fatty acid supplements containing both EPA and DHA daily. After 10 weeks, acne decreased significantly (57Trusted Source).
There is no specific recommended daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids, but most health organizations recommend healthy adults consume a minimum of 250–500 mg of combined EPA and DHA daily.
You can also get omega-3 fatty acids by eating salmon, sardines, anchovies, walnuts, chia seeds, and ground flaxseeds.
To learn more about fish oil supplements, check out this article.
9. Exfoliate Regularly
Exfoliation is the process of removing the top layer of dead skin cells. It can be achieved mechanically by using a brush or scrub to physically remove the cells. Alternatively, it can be removed chemically by applying an acid that dissolves them.
Exfoliation is believed to improve acne by removing the skin cells that clog up pores.
It is also believed to make acne treatments for the skin more effective by allowing them to penetrate deeper, once the topmost layer of skin is removed.
Unfortunately, the research on exfoliation and its ability to treat acne is limited.
Some studies show that microdermabrasion, which is a method of exfoliation, can improve the skin’s appearance, including some cases of acne scarring (58Trusted Source, 59Trusted Source).
In one small study, 25 patients with acne received eight microdermabrasion treatments at weekly intervals. Based on before and after photos, this helped improve acne (60Trusted Source).
96% of the participants were pleased with the results and would recommend the procedure to others. Yet while these results indicate that exfoliation may improve acne, more research is needed.
There are a wide variety of exfoliation products available in stores and online, but it’s just as easy to make a scrub at home using sugar or salt.
How to Make a Scrub at Home
- Mix equal parts sugar (or salt) and coconut oil.
- Scrub skin with the mixture and rinse well.
- Exfoliate as often as desired up to once daily.
10. Follow a Low Glycemic Load Diet
The relationship between diet and acne has been debated for years.
Recent evidence suggests that dietary factors, such as insulin and glycemic index, may be associated with acne (61Trusted Source).
A food’s glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly it raises blood sugar.
Eating high-GI foods causes a spike in insulin, which is thought to increase sebum production. Because of this, high-GI foods are believed to have a direct effect on the development and severity of acne.
Foods with a high glycemic index include white bread, sugary soft drinks, cakes, doughnuts, pastries, candies, sugary breakfast cereals, and other processed foods.
Foods with a low glycemic index include fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole or minimally processed grains.
In one study, 43 people followed either a high- or low-glycemic diet. After 12 weeks, the individuals consuming a low-glycemic diet had a significant improvement in both acne and insulin sensitivity, compared to those eating carb-dense foods (62Trusted Source).
Another study with 31 participants yielded similar results (63Trusted Source).
These small studies suggest that a low-glycemic diet may be helpful for individuals with acne-prone skin, but further research is needed.
11. Cut Back on Dairy
The relationship between dairy and acne is highly controversial.
Drinking milk and consuming dairy products exposes you to hormones, which may cause hormonal changes and lead to acne (64Trusted Source).
Two large studies reported that higher levels of milk consumption were associated with acne (65Trusted Source, 66Trusted Source).
However, participants self-reported the data in both of these studies, so more research needs to be done in order to establish a true causal relationship
12. Reduce Stress
The hormones released during periods of stress may increase sebum production and skin inflammation, making acne worse (67, 68Trusted Source, 69).
In fact, multiple studies have linked stress to an increase in acne severity (70Trusted Source, 71Trusted Source).
What’s more, stress can slow wound healing by up to 40%, which may slow the repair of acne lesions (72Trusted Source).
Certain relaxation and stress-reduction treatments have been shown to improve acne, but more research needs to be done (73Trusted Source).
Ways to Reduce Stress
- Get more sleep
- Engage in physical activity
- Practice yoga
- Take deep breaths
13. Exercise Regularly
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 regulation (74Trusted Source, 75Trusted Source).
Several studies have shown that exercise can decrease stress and anxiety, both of which are factors that can contribute to the development of acne (76Trusted Source, 77Trusted Source, 78Trusted Source).
It’s recommended that healthy adults exercise for 30 minutes 3–5 times per week. This can include walking, hiking, running and lifting weights.
The Bottom Line
Acne is a common problem with a number of underlying causes. However, conventional treatments can cause dryness, redness, and irritation.
Fortunately, many natural remedies can also be effective. The home remedies listed in this article may not work for everyone, but they just might be worth a try.
Nevertheless, you may want to consult a dermatologist if you have severe acne.