Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 5/02/2021
Acne is a common skin condition. Although it’s most common in teens, research shows that 40 to 54 percent of people continue to get acne after the age of 25.
While the most effective treatments for acne are science-based medications such as retinoids, antibiotics and peeling agents such as salicylic acid, many people like the idea of treating acne using natural products.
Although the science behind natural acne treatments is mixed overall, some products do seem to offer real benefits for your skin.
We’ve listed the best natural acne treatments below, along with further information on how you can treat and prevent acne breakouts from affecting your skin.
Acne develops when your pores -- the small openings in your skin -- become clogged due to a combination of sebum and dead skin cells.
Sebum is the natural, oil-like substance that’s secreted by your sebaceous glands. It’s essential for lubricating and protecting your skin. However, when too much sebum builds up on your skin, it can clog your pores.
When sebum combines with dead skin cells left behind by your skin’s cellular turnover process, it can cause comedonal acne such as whiteheads and blackheads to develop.
Sometimes, the skin surrounding the clogged pore may become inflamed, causing red, painful acne lesions such as papules and pustules.
More severe forms of acne, such as nodular acne and cystic acne, form when bacteria multiply inside a clogged pore that’s deeper within your skin.
Most acne treatments, whether natural or artificial, work by targeting one or more of the factors listed above -- sebum, dead skin cells, inflammation and/or bacteria.
Numerous different factors can contribute to your production of sebum and dead skin cells that may cause acne. These include your hormones, genetics, diet and certain habits, such as your use of oil-based makeup and other skin care products.
You can learn more about these factors and how they can contribute to acne breakouts in our guide to the causes of acne.
Because acne breakouts can differ in type and severity from person to person, there’s no “best” natural acne treatment for everyone.
However, several natural products and ingredients have shown promise as treatments for acne, either on their own or when used in combination with acne medications.
Tea tree oil, or melaleuca oil, is an essential oil that’s produced using leaves extracted from the Australian tea tree. It has a lengthy history as a natural medicine used by the Aboriginal people of Australia to treat various ailments.
Numerous studies have looked at the effects of tea tree oil on acne, with several showing that it may offer benefits for mild to moderate acne.
In one study, a group of 60 people with mild to moderate acne were treated using either tea tree oil gel or a non-therapeutic placebo.
After 45 days, the group of people treated with tea tree oil gel showed a significant improvement in total acne lesion count compared to those treated with the placebo.
Another study, which looked at a combination of tea tree oil, aloe vera and propolis, found that it was more effective at treating mild to moderate acne lesions than a cream containing the topical antibiotic erythromycin.
Our full guide to tea tree oil for acne explains more about the potential benefits of tea tree oil as a skin care ingredient.
While the research on green tea and acne is mixed overall, a few studies have found that it may offer benefits for acne and skin inflammation.
For example, a study published in 2013 stated that green tea contains a natural catechin called epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG, which may help to reduce the amount of sebum your skin produces.
Since sebum plays a key role in acne development, this may help to reduce your risk of getting acne breakouts if you have oily skin.
A different study found that men who applied a green tea emulsion to their cheeks experienced a reduction in skin sebum levels over eight weeks. The study authors concluded that a topical treatment containing green tea should be further researched as an acne treatment.
Green tea is also rich in antioxidants, which may help to improve your general health and offer protection against disease.
However, there’s currently no scientific research that shows a direct association between green tea consumption and clearer, acne-free skin.
Jojoba oil is an essential oil that’s produced from the seeds of the jojoba plant, or simmondsia chinensis.
While research is limited on its effects, a study published in 2012, that involved more than 190 patients, found that jojoba oil may help to treat mild acne.
In this study, more than 130 people with acne were treated over the course of six weeks using clay masks containing jojoba oil. After six weeks, the people who were treated with the masks showed a 54 percent mean reduction in total acne lesion count.
A review published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences in 2018 also noted that jojoba oil offers anti-inflammatory effects and is effective at enhancing the absorption of other topical medications.
As such, skin care products containing jojoba oil could have a place in acne treatment beside certain topical acne treatments.
While some natural acne treatments appear to offer real benefits for your skin, others are a little lighter when it comes to scientific evidence.
Below, we’ve listed acne treatments that either aren’t supported by any reliable science, or just don’t have enough research to be considered effective treatments for acne right now.
Although aloe vera can help to soothe sunburned skin, there isn’t much evidence that it does anything for acne.
In our guide to aloe vera for acne, we couldn’t find any reputable, high quality studies to show that aloe vera has any acne-related benefits when used by itself.
However, one study published in 2014 found that a combination of aloe vera and tretinoin was more effective at treating acne than tretinoin on its own.
Turmeric is a plant that’s part of the ginger family. It’s widely used as a spice in East Asian and Indian food, but is also popular as a natural health ingredient.
Many people believe turmeric is an effective natural treatment for certain ailments because it’s rich in curcumin, an antioxidant.
One study looked at the potential of curcumin and blue light therapy to control growth of the P. acnes bacteria, which can worsen acne. The study found that while curcumin and blue light therapy together were toxic to P. acnes bacteria, curcumin on its own wasn’t.
While turmeric may offer some benefits for skin, more research is needed to know whether it’s effective at treating acne.
Apple cider vinegar is a favorite of natural health enthusiasts. While there’s no doubt that it’s a good cooking ingredient, there’s no reliable evidence showing that applying apple cider vinegar to your skin helps to treat or prevent acne.
In fact, because apple cider vinegar is quite acidic, applying it directly could damage your skin may cause issues such as dryness and irritation.
Coconut oil is one of the trendiest natural health foods around, marketed as everything from a healthy cooking oil to a potential acne treatment.
However, the science is mixed on its effects for acne. Although there’s some evidence that the medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) in coconut oil may be effective at stopping P. acnes growth, other research has found that coconut oil is highly likely to clog pores.
Many other natural acne treatments, such as honey, garlic and others, are recommended for both mild acne and more severe breakouts.
Like many of the ingredients listed above, the scientific evidence to support these ingredients tends to be mixed, with relatively few large-scale, reliable studies available.
Our guide to home acne remedies goes into more detail about some of these treatments and the evidence, or lack thereof, behind them.
While natural acne treatments and home remedies may help to get rid of minor acne breakouts, the most effective treatments for acne are science-based, FDA-approved medications.
If you have moderate or severe acne, it’s best to talk to a healthcare provider about using acne medication to control your breakouts and prevent your acne from coming back.
Popular science-based treatments for acne include:
Benzoyl peroxide. This over-the-counter acne medication works by stopping the growth of acne-causing bacteria, such as P. acnes.
Topical retinoids. Several topical retinoids are used to treat acne, including retinol and the more powerful tretinoin, which is an ingredient in our Prescription Acne Cream.
Retinoids work by increasing the rate at which your skin produces new cells, which can help to prevent cellular buildup in your hair follicles.
Antibiotics. Several topical and oral antibiotics are used to treat acne. These work by preventing the growth of several types of acne-causing bacteria.
Since acne can vary so much in severity, you may need to use different medications from other people to treat and control your breakouts. You can learn more about the most effective options for treating acne in our guide to the best science-based acne treatments.
While there’s no “best” natural acne treatment, studies suggest that tea tree oil, green tea and jojoba oil may offer the strongest benefits for your skin.
If you have mild acne, these treatments may help you to control breakouts and stop your acne from getting worse.
However, if you have moderate or severe acne, you’ll likely get better results from real, proven medications than from natural remedies for acne.
To get started controlling your acne, you can view our selection of acne medications online and consult with a licensed healthcare provider to find out what’s best for you.
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