Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 11/26/2020
Acne is a common, pesky skin disease that can cause everything from the occasional pimple to severe, painful breakouts.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, up to 50 million Americans are affected by acne every year, with around 85 percent of all people between the ages of 12 and 24 getting at least minor acne at some point.
In short, acne is extremely common. Perhaps because it’s such a common skin issue, there are countless home remedies for acne that are purported to clear up breakouts and stop acne from coming back.
Like home remedies for other diseases, not all of the home remedies for acne are backed up by science. However, a few are, with real studies showing that they may help to clear up breakouts and improve your skin.
Below, we’ve dug into the science behind the most common home remedies for acne to find out which work and which don’t. In certain cases, we’ve also looked at the quality of the research to see which remedies may not be quite as “proven” as they initially seem.
Finally, we’ve explained what you can and should do if you’re affected by acne, whether it’s just an occasional pimple or severe acne that affects your confidence.
Acne develops when your hair follicles, or pores, become clogged due to a buildup of sebum (a type of oil that’s produced by your skin) and dead skin cells.
As you may know, your skin constantly repairs and regenerates itself through a process known as skin cell turnover. During this process, your skin sheds its old skin cells to replace them with new ones. Over time, these dead skin cells can build up on the surface of your skin.
At the same time, the sebaceous glands inside your pores help to protect your skin by secreting an oily substance called sebum. Sebum helps your skin to retain water and plays a major role in shielding it from the elements.
Your body’s production of sebum is closely associated with your levels of androgen hormones, such as testosterone — a topic we’ve explained in our guide to androgens and acne.
When your sebaceous glands produce too much sebum, or too many dead cells build up on the surface of your skin, the combination of these two substances can collect inside your pores and cause them to clog, creating acne.
When bacteria becomes trapped inside a clogged pore, it can develop into an inflamed, painful acne lesion.
All acne treatments, including the most effective home remedies, work by targeting either one or several of the factors responsible for acne: dead skin cells, sebum or bacteria.
Some work higher up the chain by targeting the hormones responsible for skin cell production or sebum. For example, certain birth control pills — which are often prescribed to treat acne — work by controlling the hormones responsible for sebum production.
Understanding this process makes it easier to understand how acne treatments work, including some popular home remedies. It can also make it easier to identify when an acne remedy may not be as effective as it sounds.
Below, we’ve listed 10 popular home remedies for acne. If you’ve ever searched online for home acne treatments or browsed an acne-focused natural health website, you may have seen some of these before.
For each home remedy, we’ve looked at the scientific data to find out whether or not it’s effective and, if it is, how it works.
Apple cider vinegar is an extremely popular natural health product that’s promoted for virtually every ailment, from high cholesterol to the symptoms of the common cold.
Made from fermented apples, apple cider vinegar is something you can buy at just about any supermarket or health store. It’s a common cooking ingredient that’s used for countless meat marinades and sauces.
While there’s some evidence that apple cider vinegar has antimicrobial properties, there isn’t much in the way of reputable scientific evidence to support it as a treatment for acne.
For example, while some of the organic acids in apple cider vinegar have been found to help fight bacterias such as P. acnes, there’s no evidence showing that apple cider vinegar itself is helpful as an acne treatment.
On the other hand, there’s some evidence that using apple cider vinegar topically could harm your skin.
Apple cider vinegar is quite acidic, with a pH of about two to three. Some people have suffered burns after applying apple cider vinegar directly to their skin based on internet-based skincare advice.
Small studies, although not specifically focused on acne, have found that topical use of apple cider vinegar can also contribute to skin irritation.
Both green tea and topical acne products that contain green tea extract are often recommended as a treatment for acne.
Like many other natural remedies, green tea does appear to have real health benefits.
It’s been widely studied in animals and in vitro settings, with research indicating that the catechins found in green tea may help to prevent obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
There’s also some evidence that green tea may help to treat acne. For example, one study from 2013 found that a compound called epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG, which can be found in green tea, plays a key role in reducing the amount of sebum secreted by the skin.
Another study from 2012 found that people who used a topical green tea emulsion had less oily skin after eight weeks.
While these studies are promising, it’s worth noting that there hasn’t been a lot of real research on green tea and acne, meaning that it’s hard to draw any conclusions right now.
Tea tree oil is a popular essential oil that’s promoted as everything from a natural deodorant to a topical antifungal treatment. It’s made from the leaves of the tea tree, or Melaleuca alternifolia, a type of tree that’s native to Australia.
Like several other essential oils, tea tree oil is often recommended as a home remedy for acne breakouts.
Although the total amount of research isn’t particularly large and the quality is very mixed, a few scientific studies have found that tea tree oil may have some benefits as a natural treatment for certain types of acne.
For example, a study published in 2017 found that people who applied tea tree oil gel to skin affected by acne experienced an improvement over the course of 12 weeks. However, this study was very small, with only 14 participants in total.
Another study from 2018 found that a combination of tea tree oil, propolis (bee glue) and aloe vera was more effective at reducing acne lesions than erythromycin — an antibiotic that’s often used to treat certain forms of acne.
Finally, a review of 35 studies noted that there’s some evidence, albeit low in quality, that tea tree oil may help to reduce acne lesion count.
Coconut oil is arguably one of the most popular natural health ingredients right now, touted as a treatment for everything from heart disease to obesity. It’s also commonly promoted as a natural alternative to topical acne creams and medications.
Several of coconut oil’s supposed health benefits are subject to controversy, with research often conflicting with popular opinion about whether or not it’s truly healthy.
When it comes to treating and preventing acne, there’s relatively little evidence that coconut oil is helpful. Overall, some evidence suggests that coconut oil may have benefits for acne, while other research shows that it’s likely to make acne worse.
Before looking at that, let’s go over the points in coconut oil’s favor. First, there’s evidence that the medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) in coconut oil might help to kill certain types of bacteria, including the P. acnes bacteria that often causes inflamed acne.
Some studies have also found that the fatty acids in coconut oil may help to fight inflammation, which is a major factor in some types of acne. However, these studies weren’t carried out on humans and focused on general inflammatory response rather than inflammatory acne.
On the other hand, a 2019 study concluded that coconut oil is comedogenic (meaning it has a high likelihood of contributing to clogged pores and acne) and noted that it has no antibacterial properties.
Overall, the jury is still out on coconut oil as a treatment for acne. While it may have benefits, it’s a very comedogenic substance that could also contribute to acne, especially if you already have oily skin.
Aloe vera is a mainstay of over-the-counter skincare treatments. It’s a key ingredient in creams, balms and other products aimed at everything from preventing wrinkles to making sunburn less uncomfortable.
It’s also a popular home acne remedies, used both on its own and in combination with essential oils and ingredients such as lemon juice to purportedly calm the skin and get rid of acne.
Although there are few acne-related studies of aloe vera by itself, some research suggests that aloe vera may be effective when used with other acne treatments.
For example, a study published in 2014 found that a combination of aloe vera and tretinoin was more effective than tretinoin by itself as an acne treatment. However, the study was very small in scale, with only 60 participants in total.
Other research has noted that aloe vera can be effective for treating inflammation — a key component of certain types of acne.
Overall, the research is promising but rather limited. While aloe vera might help to treat acne, it simply hasn’t been studied enough to confidently say that it is or isn’t an effective home remedy for acne breakouts.
Zinc, which is widely available as an over-the-counter supplement, is often recommended as a treatment for acne that doesn’t require a prescription.
Unlike many other over-the-counter acne treatments, zinc supplements are usually taken orally rather than topically. They’re also backed up by a fair amount of scientific evidence suggesting that they may help to reduce acne.
For example, a study published in 2010 found that people who used a supplement containing zinc and antioxidants three times per day saw a significant reduction in acne lesions over the course of 12 weeks of treatment.
An older study from 2001 found that zinc was effective at treating inflammatory acne, although less so than the antibiotic minocycline.
Finally, a separate study found that zinc levels were negatively correlated with acne, meaning people with acne typically had lower levels of zinc than those with clear skin.
In short, zinc does appear to have benefits for treating acne. It’s also an important mineral for other biological processes, including managing your sense of smell and taste and maintaining your immune system.
Jojoba oil is a type of oil produced from the seeds of simmondsia chinensis, commonly referred to as the jojoba plant. It’s commonly promoted as a beauty-boosting oil that’s chemically similar to the natural oils produced by the skin.
If you’ve ever checked the ingredients list of certain over-the-counter facial cleansers, you may have seen jojoba oil listed as an ingredient.
There’s some evidence to suggest that jojoba oil may be effective as a skincare ingredient and natural acne treatment.
For example, a 2018 scientific review noted that jojoba may have anti-inflammatory effects, meaning it could be helpful for controlling the inflammation that can develop when acne lesions become infected.
A study from 2012 that featured almost 200 people also found that topical jojoba oil in the form of a clay mask reduced the number of inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne lesions over a six week treatment period.
In short, there’s real evidence that jojoba oil may have benefits as an acne treatment. However, it’s important to put this in context. While these two studies are certainly positive, the amount of research that’s available on jojoba oil as a skincare ingredient is very limited in scale.
Honey, especially raw honey that’s free of added ingredients, is often recommended online as a natural remedy for just about any type of skin issue, including acne breakouts.
While there is some scientific evidence to support honey’s skincare benefits, there isn’t much on its potential value as an acne treatment.
For example, in vitro studies (meaning studies conducted inside laboratory dishes or test tubes) have found that honey can inhibit the growth of certain types of bacteria, including the P. acnes bacteria that’s a common cause of inflamed, infected acne.
However, the fact that a substance kills bacteria in a lab environment doesn’t necessarily mean that it will have the same effects as a topical acne treatment for humans.
A separate study from 2016, this time carried out on humans, looked at the potential effects of kanuka honey as a topical acne treatment.
This study involved 136 people with acne, all of whom were given antibacterial soap to apply to areas of their skin affected by acne. In addition to the soap, one group was also given a topical 90 percent medical-grade kanuka honey product.
After 12 weeks, a small percentage of people in both groups experienced improvements, with a slightly higher number of people in the honey group. However, the researchers concluded that there wasn’t any evidence to suggest that the honey was more effective than the soap alone.
Put simply, while these studies are interesting, they just aren’t enough to confidently state that honey is helpful for treating acne. While it shows some effects in small studies, there’s no real, large-scale research to suggest that it’s very effective as a home remedy for acne.
This is also true for many of the other skin-related benefits of honey, such as its reputation as a useful treatment for wounds. While studies do exist, the overall quality of the evidence isn’t very good, making it hard to draw conclusions in any direction.
Garlic is another incredibly popular do-all ingredient that features prominently in a lot of home remedies for ailments such as acne.
As is common with home remedy ingredients, garlic does have real health benefits. It’s highly nutritious, with large amounts of vitamin B6, vitamin C, selenium and manganese. It’s also a powerful, easy-to-cook seasoning that can enhance the flavor of many common dishes.
With this said, the evidence that garlic has any effect on acne is limited, with very little research on its benefits as a potential acne treatment.
One study to investigate garlic as an acne treatment found that garlic juice helps to prevent the growth of the bacteria P. acnes, which is a common bacteria found in inflamed, infected types of acne.
While this may look promising, this study only looked at the effects of garlic juice in a laboratory dish, not on human skin. As such, it’s difficult to view it as real evidence that garlic, whether it’s eaten or applied topically, is effective at killing the bacteria responsible for acne.
Additional research has found that garlic may affect the growth of certain bacteria, including the Staphylococcus epidermidis bacteria that’s often found on the skin. However, this study makes no mention of garlic’s potential value as an acne treatment.
Overall, although garlic is generally good for your health as a cooking ingredient, there isn’t any proof that it helps to get rid of acne.
Drinking water is often recommended as a natural way to get rid of acne, especially for people with dry skin.
While there’s no question that staying hydrated is important for your general health, there’s not as strong of a link between drinking plenty of water and preventing acne as many people think.
In fact, one review of scientific studies found that drinking water doesn’t seem to have any good or bad effects on skin health.
On the other hand, some studies have found that drinking water may have some benefits for the skin. For example, a small study published in 2015 found that drinking a larger amount of water may have a positive impact on skin physiology
Overall, research into water consumption and skin health is quite limited, with the findings that are available mixed in terms of outcomes.
While some home remedies may be helpful for mild acne breakouts, it’s best to talk to an expert if you have moderate or severe acne that doesn’t go away on its own.
Acne is almost always treatable, with FDA-approved acne medications available to help you get rid of existing acne, prevent future acne breakouts and enjoy clear skin throughout the year.
These include ingredients in over-the-counter acne products, such as benzoyl peroxide, as well as ingredients in prescription acne creams such as clindamycin and tretinoin. For some women, options like the birth control pill can also help to bring acne under control.
For severe, cystic or persistent acne, medications such as isotretinoin can often help to bring breakouts and painful pimples to a stop.
You can learn more about these treatments and others in our complete guide to science-backed medications for getting rid of acne.
While some home remedies for acne are backed up by scientific data, others aren’t. As such, it pays to check the science before you rely on an essential oil, cooking ingredient or other home remedy to get rid of whiteheads, blackheads, pimples or other types of acne.
If you have acne, the best thing to do is to talk to a professional. Safe, effective treatments are available that can bring your acne under control, letting you enjoy clearer skin and a life free of frustrating acne breakouts for years to come.