If you’ve tried looking up home remedies for acne, chances are you’re a bit overwhelmed and skeptical. Can apple cider vinegar really clear your acne in three days? Is honey as magical ✨ as people say it is? And what about essential oils?
You’re absolutely right to be skeptical—countless articles promote home remedies for pimples that have never been medically reviewed. At Exposed Skin Care, we do our research 🔬, and we never recommend a product that doesn’t work. To keep you on the right track, we’ve explained the three main causes of acne, and compiled a list of five home remedies that address those issues, and five that definitely do not.
Inflammation + Bacteria + Oil Production = Acne
All acne starts with skin inflammation 🔥. Bacteria and oil production are naturally a part of your skin’s functioning, and they rarely create acne. But once the skin becomes inflamed—boom, acne. Because of this, we recommend erring on the side of gentle remedies rather than remedies that are too harsh.
How Does It Work?
Inflammation is the main, medically reviewed cause of severe acne. When inflamed, the pores constrict and trap oil, dead cells, and sometimes acne-causing bacteria 🦠. If a limited number of bacteria are present in the pore, then it will often turn into either a blackhead or a whitehead.
Contrary to popular myth, blackheads are not actually caused by dirt. They get their dark color because the pore doesn’t close completely, so air gets in and oxidizes the oil, which turns it a darker color. It’s how an apple turns brown when you bite into it and then leave it on the counter. Whiteheads result if the pore closes completely, and the inflammation traps the oil and dead cells beneath the surface of the skin. Treatments with anti-inflammatory properties are therefore crucial to combat acne.
Oil production is a main cause of acne because very little inflammation 🔥 is necessary to clog the pores if your skin is over-producing oil. However, it can also exacerbate issues created by acne-causing bacteria. The bacteria primarily associated with acne, P. acnes, consume the oil our skin makes as their main food source, so under ideal circumstances, they can actually help prevent oil buildup. But when too much oil is produced, they have extra food and their numbers can multiply rapidly, increasing the likelihood that they will get trapped in a pore when the skin becomes inflamed and cause a pimple or cyst.
Five Home Remedies for Acne That Really Work
Treatment of acne can be a slow, frustrating process. The best acne treatments take a few weeks 🗓️to really work, and even then, they might not work for you specifically. It can be hard to use a product or remedy for several weeks only to see no results (or worse, more acne) and have to start all over again. We want to save you that frustration by recommending the five best solutions for pimples: honey, tea tree oil, zinc, green tea extract, and lemon juice 🍋.
1. Honey: The Closest Thing to a Real Miracle Cure
We don’t like to call anything a “cure-all” or a “miracle cure,” or say something is guaranteed to work, but honey comes pretty darn close. Raw honey is both an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory agent. It can help absorb excess oil and speed up the wound healing process. This makes it a great home remedy for acne scars as well.
It’s important to use raw honey because added ingredients can dilute its helpful properties or even irritate the skin. Some sources suggest that a particular kind of honey 🍯, called Manuka honey, could be even more helpful in treating acne, but you can still see good results from regular raw honey. You don’t have to buy the most expensive honey. “Raw” just means that when you check the ingredient list, “honey” is the only ingredient listed.
As an additional note: honey can be combined with many of the other DIY remedies for acne in this list to add to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. This increases its acne-fighting power 💪, which makes it a great (albeit sticky!) base for home-made face masks.
2. Tea Tree Oil: Bye-Bye Bacteria
Cystic acne is notoriously difficult to treat even with prescription options, so many people don’t consider home remedies for cystic acne. But tea tree oil is an excellent option. Tea tree oil is an essential oil that can kill bacteria and reduce inflammation, if used in the right concentration. Some research suggests it could be strong enough to be effective in treating cystic acne.
Multiple scientific studies show that tea tree oil is not just antibacterial, but in concentrations as low as 0.5%, it can also kill P. acnes bacteria 🦠 specifically. Some products offer tea tree oil in higher concentrations, but the research says that a 3% concentration and a 10% concentration have the same effectiveness. The only difference is that the higher concentration is much more likely to cause serious irritation, which leads to inflammation 🔥 and more acne.
At Exposed Skin Care, we saw how useful tea tree oil could be for everyone with acne, so we included it at safe concentrations in several of our products, like our Acne Treatment Serum.
3. Zinc and Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Historically, the link between diet and acne is a controversial one, but the notion that there’s no correlation between them has changed a lot over the past decades.
The efficacy of zinc for acne, especially, has been quite extensively reviewed medically, and the data suggest that people with acne tend to have a deficiency of zinc. It is thought that regularly taking a zinc supplement, or eating more foods rich in this mineral, may help treat acne. It reduces inflammation 🔥 and oil production by balancing the hormones.
More research is needed, but it also appears that taking zinc gluconate or methionine-based zinc can improve the efficacy of certain acne treatments, such as a combination of retinoids and benzoyl peroxide.
It’s important not to take too much zinc because it can mess up your copper levels, but other than that, zinc has almost no side effects.
Another safe way to alleviate acne, and many other skin conditions, is to take omega 3 fatty acids. A recent review of the data said this about the intake of omega 3 fatty acids:
“Other studies have examined the effects of omega-3 fatty acid and γ-linoleic acid consumption in individuals with acne, showing individuals with acne benefit from diets consisting of fish and healthy oils, thereby increasing omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid intake.”
4. Green Tea Extract: The Best Home Remedy for Sensitive Skin
This is probably one of the best ways to treat acne at home if you have sensitive or dry skin. Green tea ☕ is a very soothing ingredient, with excellent anti-inflammatory properties. Drinking it can help reduce inflammation in general, but it provides the most benefits for acne when it’s applied directly to the skin. There are a couple of ways you can do this.
Green tea ice cubes are great as a spot treatment for highly inflamed or painful acne, since ice and this tea both reduce inflammation and numb pain. We also recommend mixing it with honey, tea tree oil, aloe vera, etc., to make a face mask. You can also use green tea for acne through Exposed Skin Care products. Many of our products include green tea extract 🍃, like our Clear Pore Serum, because we understand the importance of protecting the skin.
5. Lemon Juice: Excellent, but Use with Caution
Lemon juice can be a very powerful acne-fighting ingredient 💪, but it comes with a few warning labels. First, lemon juice sold by the bottle typically isn’t as effective. For the best results, you’ll want to use fresh lemons. Second, lemon juice 🍋 should never be used alone because it will almost definitely irritate the skin. We recommend combining it with one or two of the other ingredients on this list to dilute its harshness. Third, it can create light or dark spots when left on dark skin for too long or when used in high concentrations.
Despite these warnings, lemon juice remains one of the most effective home remedies, especially if you primarily have blackheads or whiteheads. It exfoliates the skin effectively, meaning it can help remove dead skin cells and excess oil that could be clogging pores.
Five Acne Home Remedies To Avoid
Some DIY remedies simply don’t work, or can actually make acne worse. Avoid the setbacks and stay far away from the following: apple cider vinegar, baking soda, toothpaste, coconut oil, and oatmeal.
1. Apple Cider Vinegar: Too Acidic
This is a popular home remedy on the Internet, but unfortunately, there’s no science to suggest it actually works. If anything, there’s proof that it makes acne even worse. The most common explanation for this vinegar’s efficacy is that its acidity helps exfoliate the skin. But the truth is, it is too acidic. Although excess oil can cause acne, we still need a thin layer of oil to protect our skin from irritants, and the vinegar can easily strip the skin of all oil, leaving it irritated and exposed.
Some people believe this treatment really works because it stings and burns, but that’s a common myth. Stinging and burning are clear signals from your skin that it’s being damaged, and that never helps improve acne. Left on the skin too long, it can even cause chemical burns ⚠️. This is definitely one to avoid.
2. Baking Soda: Too Alkaline
Baking soda poses the opposite problem: instead of being too acidic, it’s too basic. Everything has a pH rating between 0 and 14, where 0 is the most acidic, like battery acid; 14 is the most basic, like lye; and 7 is neutral, like water. Our skin is naturally slightly acidic, so applying a basic substance like baking soda can throw off our natural pH, which is sure to cause irritation and potentially more acne.
As an added note, some sources recommend combining baking soda with apple cider vinegar, and we just want to express what a truly terrible idea this is. Baking soda and apple cider vinegar can be used to unclog a bath tub drain 🛁, which means it is far too harsh for your skin.
3. Toothpaste: The Wrong Chemicals
Because toothpaste effectively kills the germs in your mouth, some sources claim it can also kill P. acnes bacteria 🦠 and “dry out” acne. This might be the most popular of the home treatments that simply do not work. Just because something can kill one type of bacterium, that doesn’t mean it kills all bacteria, and this is one of the main problems with toothpaste. It’s designed for your teeth, not for your skin.
This leads us to the next issue: your teeth are much tougher than your skin. Your teeth can stand up to some of the harsh chemicals in toothpaste, such as sodium lauryl sulfate, fluoride, and baking soda, which we already know is bad for the skin. These chemicals can irritate the skin, cause inflammation, and lead to acne. In fact, if you have acne around your mouth 👄, toothpaste is one of the most likely culprits.
4. Coconut Oil: Hello, Clogged Pores
Coconut oil isn’t too harsh 🥥. In fact, it’s gentle and may be good for dry or sensitive skin—if it didn’t clog pores. Before applying anything with oil in the name, you should check where it is on the comedogenicity scale, a scale from 0 to 5, which measures how likely something is to clog your pores. Coconut oil ranks as a 4, meaning it is very likely to clog pores, so even though it can make your skin soft and keep it from drying out or getting irritated, it can also clog pores and lead to blackheads and whiteheads.
5. Oatmeal: Too Much Exfoliation
One of the DIY recipes for pimples that sounds good but can really do some damage to your skin is the honey-oatmeal mask. It’s true that honey is one of the best ingredients for any DIY skin care solution, but it can’t make up for the excessive exfoliation power of oatmeal. Although it’s good to exfoliate the skin and remove excess dead skin cells and oil, oatmeal takes things too far. When rubbed over the facial skin (which is much thinner and more sensitive), oatmeal can do more damage than good.
Some recipes call for cooked oatmeal, which may be less abrasive, but we still don’t recommend it. If you’re looking for a good exfoliating agent, we recommend cutting open a green tea bag and adding that to a tablespoon of honey 🍯 instead.