Which Acne Home Remedies Work?

The Best (and Worst) Acne Home Remedies

It seems like everyone has a few acne home remedies that have been passed down from family members or read about on a website somewhere. They are super popular.

But do any acne home remedies actually work? Some can work, in the right cases. Others are just plain ineffective; a few can be downright irritating to your skin.

Before you use any at-home remedy to treat your pimples, research it well to ensure it's safe to put on your skin. Here are the best (and worst) acne home remedies.

Natural or Alternative Acne Treatments

Natural skin care remedies
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For those interested in natural ways to care for skin and body alike, alternative acne treatments may pique interest.

If you decide to go this route, take the time to educate yourself. You should know that most alternative acne treatments have not been extensively studied. In fact, the vast majority of herbs, extracts, tinctures, and the like only have folklore and anecdotal evidence behind them.

Be skeptical of any natural skin care product, herbal salve, tea, etc. that claims to be a "miracle" acne treatment. Acne can't be cured, and these likely will have zero effect on blemishes.

That said, there are a few alternative treatments that may have some promise as a treatment for acne. Specifically tea tree essential oil, zinc, and green tea extract. More research needs to be done even on these ingredients, but at least they have some scientific backing behind them.

DIY or "Kitchen" Remedies

Herbs and botanicals
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Many people love mixing up their own handmade skin care products. It’s a fun hobby. Plenty of books and internet pages have recipes for handmade acne “treatments.”

Could the secret to clear skin really be right in your own kitchen? Probably not. If simple kitchen ingredients worked well, the acne medications of today never would have been developed.

That’s not to say there are no benefits to these handmade skin care preparations. They can make your skin feel softer, and are an inexpensive yet decadent way to pamper yourself.

Just use common sense when making kitchen facial masks. Many popular acne home remedies call for lemon, garlic, cloves, or cinnamon. These are simply not skin-safe. When applied to the skin, they can cause contact dermatitis.

If you do decide to DIY your own skin care, please use only trusted recipes and use discretion. If anything burns or stings, rinse it off right away.

Over-the-Counter Acne Products

Over-the-counter skin care products
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Over-the-counter acne treatments aren’t typically what come to mind when people think home remedies, but they are definitely the most effective. Sold at your local drug stores and big box stores, skin spas, even the neighborhood grocery store, OTC treatments are easy to find and generally inexpensive.

OTC products make it easy to treat your acne at home, provided you get one that contains the right ingredients. The most effective acne-fighting ingredient available over the counter is benzoyl peroxide. You can find benzoyl peroxide in facial cleansers, body washes, medicated pads and treatment lotions. It doesn't matter what brand name product you get, just look at the active ingredient.

To give your OTC acne treatment routine a bigger boost, pair your benzoyl peroxide product with one containing salicylic acid. This can help clear acne more effectively. 

As far as acne home remedies go, OTC treatments will give you the most bang for your buck. But they don't work instantaneously; you'll need to use them for three months continuously before you'll see a big improvement. Also, over-the-counter products will not clear severe acne; for that you'll need a prescription acne medication.

Toothpaste

Toothpaste tube against blue background, close-up
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While some people swear it works for individual pimples, toothpaste isn't going to clear a case of acne.

Many toothpastes contain triclosan, which is meant to kill bad breath germs. Triclosan is also an ingredient in some acne treatment products.

But toothpaste also contains other ingredients that can irritate the skin when left on for long periods of time. Who wants to irritate an already inflamed zit?

Skip the toothpaste and use an acne spot treatment instead.

Urine

Urine in a test cup
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Urine has to be the most intriguing, if not slightly disturbing, of all acne home remedies. Everyone has heard some version of it: Take a baby’s wet diaper and apply it to the face, or use your own urine first thing in the morning.

People swear this works. But have you ever talked to anyone who actually tried it and have used it successfully? We haven't either.

There is no evidence that urine of any sort clears acne, so there is no need for you to try this remedy for yourself (thank goodness).

Dietary Changes

Plate of vegetables and quinoa
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Let's be clear: Diet alone doesn't cause acne. So, simply cutting out chocolate or fried foods won't make pimples disappear.

You could have the healthiest diet ever and still get pimples. Conversely, some people subsist on a steady diet of junk foods and never break out.

Some studies have shown a link between certain foods (chiefly dairy products and carbs) and acne severity for some people. If certain foods seem to make your acne worse, you can definitely avoid them. Most people, though, don't notice a correlation between what they eat and their acne.

Dietary changes alone won't clear up acne. Diet plays a minor role in acne development, if it has any influence at all. A healthy diet is good for you in so many ways, but don't count on it to clear your skin.

A Word from Verywell

Honestly, unless you get just an occasional minor pimple, most acne home remedies aren’t going to have an appreciable effect on your skin. They can have a supporting role but the basis of your clear-skin routine should be proven acne treatment medications. This can be over-the-counter acne products if you have mild acne.

For moderate acne or severe acne, you’ll save yourself a lot of disappointment, frustration, and (in some cases) money, by seeing a doctor instead. A dermatologist can prescribe medications that will work for you. Remember, if you are seeing a dermatologist, ask her if it's OK to use any home remedies before trying them out on your skin.

Sources:

Cao H, Yang G, Wang Y, et. al. "Complementary Therapies for Acne Vulgaris." Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2015; 1:CD009436. 

Katta R, Desai SP.  "Diet and Dermatology: the Role of Dietary Intervention in Skin Disease." Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology.  2014; 7(7): 46-51.

Melnik BC. "Linking Diet to Acne Metabolomics, Inflammation, and Comedogenesis: An Update." Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigative Dermatology. 2015 Jul; 8:371-88. 

Whitney KM, Ditre CM. "Management Strategies for Acne Vulgaris." Clinical Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology  2011; 4:41-53.

Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, Alikhan A, Baldwin HE, et. al. "Guidelines of Care for the Management of Acne Vulgaris." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2016; 74(5):945-73.

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