Let’s face it: Few things can crush your confidence faster than an outbreak of pimples.
Though it may not be very comforting, you and your zits have plenty of company. At some point in most people’s lives, acne makes an unwanted appearance on the face, neck, back, chest or shoulders. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne is the most common skin condition in the United States, affecting up to 50 million Americans annually (1).
What Causes Acne?
Acne is an inflammatory condition that develops when hair follicles become clogged with oil and dead skin cells (2). The blocked hair follicles become inflamed or infected with bacteria and produce red, painful or raised bumps. Whiteheads or blackheads may also show up.
While acne can strike at any age, it is most common among teenagers. A boost in hormonal activity causes the sebaceous glands to grow and produce more sebum, an oily substance. Hormonal changes during pregnancy and certain birth control pills can also increase sebum, which can cause acne (3) .
“Although a variety of factors can potentiate the inflammatory cascade that leads to those dreadful breakouts (e.g., high stress, hormones, poor diet), at the end of the day, one of the primary drivers for waking up with a big old zit on the middle of your nose goes back to having an imbalance in the body,” says Genevieve Greco, a Wellness Consultant at LuckyVitamin and Certified Holistic Health Coach.
How to Treat Acne
The good news is, you can beat acne. One of the first things you should do is assess your skin-care routine, says Jordana Mattioli, a New York City-based aesthetician. Stop using products that clog pores or irritate your skin, which can trigger acne, she advises. “Stick with lightweight products to hydrate.”
Daily cleansing will wash away most acne-causing bacteria, while exfoliating every other day will remove damaged cells and excess oil before it gets stuck in pores, Mattioli says.
No matter the source of your inflammatory trigger, “taming the flame” is key to calming down skin disruptions like acne, Greco says. While there are a variety of acne products on the market, many of them only tackle the inflammation that is present on the outside of the body. “If you want to hunker down and support your body’s internal inflammatory processes, then you have to focus on what products help tame the ‘fire’ from within,” she recommends.
Adding anti-inflammatory supplements to your diet may help, Mattioli says. What you eat may also affect your skin, so it’s important to cut down on sugar and processed foods, she adds.
6 Natural Remedies for Acne
As you make changes to your skin-care routine, diet and lifestyle, here are six natural remedies for acne to consider, along with product recommendations:
Sometimes called the “skin vitamin,” due to its ability to support proper skin cell health and regeneration, vitamin A can help reduce blemishes when applied to the skin. It is important to note to be mindful when applying a topical vitamin A product, as it may cause redness in those with sensitive skin.
“Vitamin A in topical products is very effective for treating acne because it keeps oil flow regular and works as a powerful antioxidant,” Mattioli says. “This should be applied in the evenings on clean, exfoliated skin.”
What to Try:
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil has natural antimicrobial properties, Greco says, which may help balance the ratios of beneficial versus acne-causing bacteria when applied topically. Look for lightweight lotions or gels that contain 5 percent tea tree oil, Mattioli suggests.
Avoid applying to sensitive skin, such as the skin under your eyes, as tea tree in large amounts can cause dryness. “Start (by using it) once a day, applying the product to clean skin,” Mattioli says. “After two weeks, you can increase to twice a day, only if needed.”
What to Try:
Since acne is an inflammatory condition, remedies that fight inflammation can be helpful. When applied topically, probiotics provide a protective shield, fight bugs that trigger inflammation and produce calming “signals” that stop skin cells from sending “attack” messages to the immune system, leading to outbreaks (4).
“A healthy gut is imperative for clear skin,” Mattioli says. “Probiotics in a topical product can be beneficial but we are in the very early phases of knowing which strains are most effective.”
You can also get your daily dose of probiotics in a supplement that contains Lactobacilli and/or Bifidobacterium or in yogurts containing live cultures (5).
“By supplementing with specific strains of bacteria, those of which have been studied to have beneficial effects on skin health, you will not only be able to benefit from the anti-inflammatory effects they have, but may also benefit from their ability to assist in the breakdown of the foods you eat and therefore better absorb skin-supportive nutrients,” Greco explains.
If you want to get the best of both worlds, supplementing with an oral probiotic in addition to a probiotic face cream or serum is your best bet, Greco says.
What to Try:
Dietary sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids, such as wild-caught salmon, walnuts and chia seeds, are great to incorporate into your daily anti-inflammatory regimen, Greco says, but supplementing can also be beneficial. “A high quality omega-3 supplement can bring your body back into balance, alleviating some of the inflammation associated with acne and other skin disruptions,” she says.
Mattioli swears by fish oil. If you are vegan or pregnant, look for omega-3 supplements that use algae, she suggests.
What to Try:
A potent antioxidant, green tea can be effective at fighting acne. It’s “helpful for calming the skin and great for the redness that comes with most acne,” Mattioli says.
In fact, a lotion of 2 percent green tea extract helped reduce acne in two studies of teenagers and young adults with acne (6).
What to Try:
Aloe vera may improve your skin’s appearance. Rich in antioxidants, it offers protective and healing benefits, an anti-redness enzyme to reduce redness and inflammation, and natural antibacterial properties, Mattioli says.
Aloe vera is “a great ingredient to see high up on the ingredient list in a product,” she says. If you decide to use aloe vera on its own, make sure the product does not contain color or added ingredients.
What to Try:
Whatever supplements or beauty products you choose, give your skin-care regimen a chance to work. It may take four to six weeks before you see an improvement in your skin, according to our experts.