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. 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 13 popular home remedies for acne.
What’s in this article:
- Apply apple cider vinegar - This vinegar made by fermenting apple cider may fight acne-causing bacteria
- Take a zinc supplement - An important nutrient that may reduce acne when taken orally
- Make a honey and cinnamon mask - Honey and cinnamon together target acne-causing bacteria and inflammation
- Spot treat with tea tree oil - This antibacterial and anti-inflammatory essential oil calms skin irritation
- Apply green tea to your skin - This antioxidant tea lowers blood sugar levels to help fight acne
- Apply witch hazel - Derived from the witch hazel shrub, this extract fights skin irritation
- Moisturize with aloe vera - Gel from this tropical plant soothes skin to reduce inflammation
- Take a fish oil supplement - A blend of healthy fats that decrease inflammation to reduce the risk of acne
- Exfoliate regularly - This process removes the top layer of dead skin cells to clarify skin
- Follow a low glycemic load diet - This diet avoids processed foods that spike insulin to calm acne-prone skin
- Cut back on dairy - Reducing dairy intake combats acne-related hormonal changes
- Reduce stress - Relaxation and stress reduction balance hormones and reduce inflammation
- Exercise regularly - Exercise promotes blood circulation and helps nourish skin cells and heal 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.
Apply apple cider vinegar
How it works: Apple cider vinegar Contains organic acids to kill bacteria, suppress inflammation, and improve the appearance of acne scars.
Apple cider vinegar is made by fermenting apple cider, or the unfiltered juice from pressed apples.
Like other kinds of vinegar, 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.
Suggested read: 6 health benefits of apple cider vinegar
Take a zinc supplement
How it works: Raises levels of zinc in the blood to help reduce severe and inflammatory acne.
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.
For example, a 2014 review found that zinc is more effective at treating severe and inflammatory acne than treating moderate acne.
The optimal dosage of zinc for acne has not been established, but several older studies have observed a significant reduction in acne using 30–45 mg of elemental zinc per day.
Elemental zinc refers to the amount of zinc that’s present in the compound. Zinc is available in many forms, and those forms contain varying amounts 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’s probably best to not 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 is not effective. This may be because zinc is not effectively absorbed through the skin.
Suggested read: Zinc: Benefits, deficiency, food sources and side effects
Make a honey and cinnamon mask
How it works: Honey and cinnamon exert antibacterial properties when combined to help fight acne-causing bacteria.
Honey and cinnamon can 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.
Spot treat with tea tree oil
How it works: Has gentle anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties to help treat acne.
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 tea tree oil
- 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.
Suggested read: 14 benefits and uses for tea tree oil
Apply green tea to your skin
How it works: Contains plant-based compounds and antioxidants that help treat acne when consumed or applied to the 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.
In one small study with 80 women, participants took 1,500 mg of green tea extract daily for 4 weeks. By the end of the study, women who took the extract had less acne on their noses, chins, and around their mouths.
Research has also found that drinking green tea may lower blood sugar and insulin levels, which are factors that can contribute to the development of acne.
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 green tea
- 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.
Apply witch hazel
How it works: Contains tannins, organic substances with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory uses for treating a variety of skin conditions.
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.
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.
Currently, there appears to be very little research on the ability to treat acne specifically.
In one small study funded by a skincare company, 30 individuals with mild or moderate acne used a three-step facial treatment twice daily for 6 weeks.
Witch hazel was one of the ingredients in the second step of the treatment. Most participants experienced significant improvement in their acne by the end of the study.
Research also suggests that witch hazel may fight bacteria and reduce skin irritation and inflammation, which can contribute to acne.
How to use witch hazel
- Combine 1 tablespoon of witch hazel bark and 1 cup of water in a small saucepan.
- Soak the 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 it 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.
It’s important to note that commercially prepared versions may not contain tannins, as they are often lost in the distillation process.
Moisturize with aloe vera
How it works: Contains naturally occurring salicylic acid and sulfur to heal skin and improve acne.
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 aloe vera
- 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.
Take a fish oil supplement
How it works: Contains omega-3 fatty acids to fortify a regular diet and decrease inflammation related to acne.
Omega-3 fatty acids are 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.
Fish oils contain two main types of omega-3 fatty acids — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
High levels of EPA and DHA have been shown to decrease inflammatory factors, which may reduce the risk of acne.
In one study, 45 individuals with acne were given omega-3 fatty acid supplements containing both EPA and DHA daily. After 10 weeks, their acne decreased significantly.
There’s no specific recommended daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids. The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that healthy adults consume around 250 mg of combined EPA and DHA each day.
You can also get omega-3 fatty acids by eating salmon, sardines, anchovies, walnuts, chia seeds, and ground flax seeds.
Suggested read: 17 science-based benefits of omega-3 fatty acids
How it works: Removes dead skin cells to unclog pores and improve the appearance of the skin.
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.
Some studies suggest that microdermabrasion, a method of exfoliation, can improve the skin’s appearance, including some cases of acne scarring.
In one small study, 38 patients with acne received eight microdermabrasion treatments at weekly intervals. The participants with acne scars showed some improvements following the treatments.
Another small study found that six weekly microdermabrasion treatments helped stimulate skin repair.
While these results indicate that exfoliation may improve skin health and appearance, more research is needed on acne.
There are 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 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.
Follow a low glycemic load diet
How it works: Lowers blood sugar and insulin levels to reduce oil production.
The relationship between diet and acne has been debated for years.
Research suggests that dietary factors, such as insulin and glycemic index, may be associated with acne.
A food’s glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly it raises your blood sugar.
Eating high GI foods causes a spike in insulin, which likely increases sebum production. As a result, high GI foods may directly affect the development and severity of acne.
Foods with a high glycemic index include processed foods, such as:
- white bread
- sugary soft drinks
- sugary breakfast cereals
Foods with a low glycemic index include:
- whole or minimally processed grains
In one study, 66 people followed either a normal or low glycemic diet. After 2 weeks, the individuals consuming a low glycemic diet had lower levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), a hormone involved in acne development.
Another study in 64 people found that those with moderate or severe acne ate diets with more carbohydrates and a higher glycemic load than those without acne.
These small studies suggest that a low glycemic diet may help those with acne-prone skin. Additional larger, longer studies are needed.
Cut back on dairy
How it works: Helps balance hormonal changes associated with acne.
The relationship between dairy and acne is highly controversial.
Milk and dairy products contain hormones like IGF-1, which is associated with acne. Other hormones in milk may cause hormonal changes and lead to acne.
One study in people ages 10 to 24 found that drinking whole milk three or more days each week was linked to moderate or severe acne.
In another study including 114 participants, those with acne were found to drink significantly more milk than people who didn’t have acne.
On the other hand, a study involving over 20,000 adults found no association between milk consumption and acne.
Participants self-reported the data in these studies, so more research needs to be done to establish a true causal relationship.
Finally, several research reviews have suggested an association between dairy consumption and acne.
The relationship between milk and acne needs further study.
How it works: Relaxation helps balance hormones and gut bacteria related to oil production and inflammation.
The link between stress and acne is not fully understood. The hormones released during periods of stress may increase sebum production and inflammation, making acne worse.
Stress may also affect gut bacteria and cause inflammation throughout the body, which could be linked to acne.
What’s more, stress can slow wound healing, which may slow the repair of acne lesions.
Multiple studies have found an association between stress and acne.
However, each of these studies was relatively small, so more research is needed.
One study in 80 participants found no association between stress intensity and acne. However, it noted that acne severity may be related to people’s ability to cope with stress.
Certain relaxation and stress reduction treatments may improve acne, but more research needs to be done.
Ways to reduce stress
- get more sleep
- engage in physical activity
- practice yoga
- take deep breaths
Suggested read: 16 simple ways to relieve stress and anxiety
How it works: Increases blood flow, regulates hormones, and decreases stress and anxiety to prevent and heal acne.
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.
Suggested read: Top 10 health benefits of regular exercise
Acne is a common problem with several 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 are not clinically effective, but they’re available as alternative treatment options.
Nevertheless, you may want to consult a dermatologist if you have severe acne.